Feeling inspired to visit the place where the world’s major nuclear catastrophe happened? These are some useful tips to prepare for the trip to Chernobyl.
What Year Was Chernobyl
First, let’s start with the answers on ‘What is Chernobyl? and When exactly did Chernobyl happen?
A nuclear accident that happened in Ukraine on April 26, 1986, is commonly referred to as ‘Chernobyl’ – derived from the name of Chernobyl town, where the nuclear plant was located.
The disaster occurred due to the explosive destruction of the 4th power unit of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The RBMK-type reactor was completely destroyed, and a large amount of the deadly dangerous radioactive substances were immediately released into the air.
Chernobyl is considered to be the largest accident in the whole history of nuclear energy. Such evaluation is based on the assumed number of its victims and the economic damage it caused.
Shortly after the accident happened, around 80 thousand of Pripyat’s residents were evacuated from the 30-kilometers zone, which is now commonly known as ‘Execution Zone’. Nevertheless, as long as the exposed reactor’s core was open, the radioactive contamination continued spreading to the territory of the USSR and some parts of Europe.
The destroyed reactor required immediate blockage – protective ‘sarcophagus’, which were constructed and installed by December 1986. However, over time the first shelter was substantially deteriorated, so, in 2017 the new ‘sarcophagus’, named the Chernobyl Safe Confinement was built.
This shelter is the biggest ground mobile construction, which was financed by Russia, Ukraine, some western countries, the EBRD, and created by the French company VINCI Construction Grand Projects. The new shelter’s goal is to contain the rest of the radiation for about 100 years and then, allow for disassembling the reactor and burying its parts.
Where Is Chernobyl
The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl happened in Ukraine, in a 3 km distance from the city of Pripyat. The town Chernobyl is located in a woodland inside the exclusion zone, and its population before the nuclear accident was numbered about 12 500 people.
The city near Chernobyl is located on the bank of the Pripyat River, which is close to the border with Belarus. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was a city-forming enterprise, attracting the young specialists from all Soviet Union countries. When the disaster happened, the city population was around 47 500 people, most of whom made their living working at the power plant.
After 1986, when the evacuation was initiated and people left their lives there forever, Pripyat became known as a ‘ghost city’. However, you can visit Pripyat now. The city is popular among the tourists’ thanks to its Soviet interiors that left untouched since 1986. This is what was Chernobyl like before the accident.
Today’s Pripyat looks more like a natural reserve, as the period of 33 years without any human intervention played its role. Adjacent to the power plant pine forest, named ‘Red’, because of the rustled trees effect in response to radiation, became largely populated by various kinds of animals and birds.
So, if there is a city, and even a pine forest, how big is Chernobyl then? The area affected by the disaster is called the Chernobyl Execution Zone and covers the 30 Kilometre radius from the Power Plant. In total, the Chernobyl area at present days extends to 2,600 km2 and going further up to Belarus in the north. It is taken under special military control and is still devoided of inhabitants.
To be precise about where is Chernobyl located – it takes 132 km or around 2-2.5 hours to drive by car from Kyiv.
Is Chernobyl Still Dangerous?
Visiting Chernobyl today is a quite popular attraction for tourists visiting Ukraine. Therefore, the answer to ‘is Chernobyl safe now’ is obvious. The tourists can visit Chernobyl, and, moreover, they can visit even the Chernobyl Power Plant.
Indeed, there are some places in the Execution Zone with significantly increased, and, even deadly, radiation level. A careless stay in such places can cause radiation injuries and sickness. So, is Chernobyl really safe?
- Over time the total level of radiation substantially decreases overall mainly because of the efforts of cleaning the area.
- The dangerous radiation level is still high only in close proximity to the plant, mainly following the tracks of the most powerful emissions from the reactor, and in some parts, of the territory of the nuclear power plant itself. Such areas have restricted access and no tourists are allowed there.
- The highest radiation levels that can cause any form of radiation sickness remained only inside of the huge shelter – Chernobyl Safe Confinement, which keeps the ruined reactor behind its reinforced concrete walls.
So, you can even visit the Chernobyl Power Plant, but only in some specific radiation-free areas. The routes of all tourists’ trips are laid outside of all unsafe places.
Many people are often wondering ‘when the Chernobyl will be safe’ or ‘when will it be safe to live in Chernobyl’?
It should be said that Chernobyl is already relatively safe, at least to the extent at which tourist services can be provided. However, people still can not live in Chernobyl. Scientists estimate that 24 000 years needed to pass, before the moment, when Chernobyl will be safe to live permanently in again.
Therefore, when we can only assume how long exactly it is needed before Chernobyl is completely safe, and when can humans live in Chernobyl again, the short-term tours to the Zone are gaining popularity.
Chernobyl tourism is quite unique in the world’s touristic landscape, due to its shocking history. The Forbes magazine even says that ‘Chernobyl’ is the most exotic tourist destination on Earth’. However, you can visit Chernobyl, as well as you can tour Pripyat to learn more about this mysterious catastrophe any time you like.
The first tourists appeared in the Execution Zone at the end of the 90th, when the radiation level has already decreased and all of the valuable personal things of Pripyat’s inhabitants were moved and sold.
After the 2002 UN report that the Execution Zone can be visited without any health dangers, the number of Chernobyl tourists started increasing by 1000 – 1500 people a year. The famous computer game “S.T.A.L.K.E.R” issued in 2007 also hugely contributed to the popularity of the Zone.
Chernobyl tourism became public only in 2010. However, due to the conflicts of governmental bodies in charge of Zone, tourism was restricted until 2011. Today we can visit Chernobyl easily, but there are some rules that each Chernobyl tourist must obey:
- Before the visit, a special request for the tour should be sent to the state body in charge (usually the tourist company with which you book the visit takes care of it)
- You can not visit Chernobyl on your own, and, you can not visit Chernobyl without a guide, as it’s illegal and dangerous, as you may get to the places with a high radiation level
- All the visitors should be over 18
- Photo and video is limited
- Wear only tight-fitting clothes
- Do not eat or smoke in the outside
- Do not touch the constructions and plants
- Avoid sitting or putting objects on the ground
- Do not take anything from the Zone with you
- Do not drink groundwater in the Zone area
- Do not retreat from your tourist route
- Upon departure, all visitors undergo double dosimetric control.
There may be some other restrictions, which are usually communicated by the guide before the tour. Remember, that tours to 30 km Execution Zone can take up to 5 days. In the territory, there are 3 hotels and one canteen #19, which belongs to the Power Station and which also used to offer lunches there before the disaster. Tours to 10 km Zone around the reactor should not exceed 1 day.
The most popular places in Chernobyl are:
- Pripyat itself
- Exclusion zone
- Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
- Chernobyl-2 or Duga Radar
- New shelter – Chernobyl Safe Confinement
- Cooling pond channel
- Azure swimming pool
- Amusement park
- Hospital MSCh-126
- Buryakivka machinery graveyard
- Cemetery of barges and abandoned ships
Apart from the official tourist operators, there are always people in Chernobyl, who can smuggle you to the Zone illegally. Usually, such guides are stalkers, who learned about Chernobyl by themselves and can tell you their own vision. However, going with ‘stalkers’ can result in paying the fine for illegal entry.
The total number of tourists visited Chernobyl in 2018 is 70 000. This year about 100 000 were expected, but after the release of the HBO TV-show demand is expected to increase by another 30–40%. So, think about booking the tour in advance!
How to Get to Chernobyl
The best way to get to Chernobyl from the UK is to fly to Kyiv, and then travel to Pripyat by bus or by car. You can find the suitable flight deals here https://www.skyscanner.net
The airplanes from the UK lands in 2 Kyiv airports: Boryspil (KBP) and Zhuliany (IEV).
Sample of flights
In order to get to Chernobyl from the Zhuliany airport by car – take P02 or M07 road. The trip takes around 2h 50 mins.
The trip from Boryspil takes 2 h 18 mins (168 km) down the Р02 road as well.
The other way is to take a public bus. There are regular buses going from Boryspil and Zhuliany to the closest big city to Chernobyl – Slavutich. However, without a special permit, you can not access the Chernobyl area by yourself. Therefore, you should book your transfer in advance with your tour operator.
StalkerWay provides comfortable transfer to the Zone straight from the airport.
Visit Pripyat with StalkerWay
StalkerWay provides 8 different tours to Chernobyl.
1 day Chernobyl tour
Day tour to Chernobyl lasts for 12 hours, which is enough to see all the unique places: Pripyat, which is known as the ghost town; Kopachi village, where a kindergarten is; nuclear power plant, which is the most popular tourist destination and The Red forest.
The price starts from 90 €.
All StalkerWay prices include transfer (back and forth to Kyiv), meals, services of a professional English speaking guide, Geiger-Muller dosimeter, respirator, compulsory insurance, and permits to visit all 3 safe areas of alienation.
Two Day Chernobyl Tour
The tour’s price starts from 235 € with an opportunity of a 10% discount when traveling with 3 or more friends.
During this tour, you will see Prypiat, Exclusion Zone and OTH-SW Duga Or Chernobyl-2.
The price starts from 105 €.
Kyiv Urbex Tour
During two hours tour with adventures in the dungeons and on the roofs of Kyiv, you will be able to learn about ancient tunnels and to see stalactites and stalagmites with your own eyes.
The price for this tour is from 35 €.
Shooter tour (Standard)
The 165 € price for the tour includes transfer (back and forth to Kyiv), lunch, services of a professional English speaking guide, compulsory insurance, 100 shots.
Shooter tour (Profy)
The tour costs 250 € and provides
- 10 bullets Fort-21 pistol (9*18);
- 10 bullets Nagant revolver (7.62*38);
- 10 bullets Glock-17 pistol shots (9*19);
- 20 bullets F-500 pump-action shotgun (calibre 12);
- 20 bullets АК-47 (or АКМ) shots (7.62*39);
- 20 bullets М-16 (or М4) shots (223 REM (5.56*45);
- 10 bullets Dragunov Sniper Rifle SVD (7.62*54);
- 10 bullets Z-10 shots (7.62*51);
- With Safety Training, equipment and instruction
Military tours: AFV
This tour with paintball shooting in the Chernobyl zone costs 110€ per person from the group of 10. The fewer people are in the group – the higher individual price.
Military tours: BTR
This paintball activity tour with BTR tank driving in Kyiv costs from 80€ per person in a group of 10. The fewer people are in the group – the higher individual price.