The site of the worst nuclear accident in history is going to open for business as soon as next year. Take a hike around the facilities and check out the catfish in the cooling pond.
Those who tour serial killers' houses or collect Titanic memorabilia can add a little more human suffering to their leisure activities by touring the site of the world's worst nuclear accident. A nuclear reactor blew in the 1980s, dumping radiation over 77,000 square miles of land. Twenty-five years after the disaster, the government of the Ukraine will allow tourists into the site.
The "exclusion zone" extends roughly nine miles in any direction around the reactor. Although it will be technically open, there will be no exploration, and no solitary nature hikes. Certain places within the zone have relatively low – and safe - levels of radiation. A short move to other areas, particularly where the reactor dumped the most of its material, would multiply the level of radiation by ten thousand. Tourists will be guided to the safe zones, and will be prohibited from visiting areas that are too hot.
There will also be no eating of local produce. Although people who live near Chernobyl do eat locally grown food, some of which make Geiger counters tick too much for comfort, tourists will have their food and water packed in from far outside the radioactive zone. Finally there will be no willy-nilly breathing. People working in Chernobyl are given respirators and safety clothes to venture into certain area. Tourists will not be allowed near any sites that may have airborne radioactive particles. Thrill seekers can hope for windy days.
Some will be disappointed that they can't collect souvenirs, although they will probably be taking a little bit of Chernobyl home with them. To make sure that this bit isn't too much, those who make repeated trips to the site will get dosimeters, to keep track of the doses of radiation they pick up every time they go.
Who are the locals hoping to draw in? There are European Cup fans who will presumably get tired of seeing day after day of soccer when the Ukraine hosts the event in 2012 and will want to take a day trip to see the sarcophagus of the reactor or feed the catfish in the cooling ponds. There are eco-tourists, who want to see the effects of nuclear fallout up close. Some are even selling it as an "adventure vacation," although most adventure vacations involve heights or scuba gear or something other than wandering around a town getting filled up with radiation the way a piñata is filled with candy.
Seriously though, the site of such a large and destructive disaster might be interesting, and it sounds like steps will be taken to manage the risk. If an up-close and personal look at the apocalypse doesn't sound like fun, there are areas around Chernobyl that may be of more widespread interest. Since the government cleared people away from the area, and the level of overall radiation is still relatively high, the outer areas around the reactor became densely populated nature ‘reserves'. Once the people moved out, species that had not been there for centuries moved in. Although the wildlife is affected by the radiation, it is not as deeply affected as it was by human population. The countryside has turned extremely beautiful...just bring your own trail mix.