On the 26th of April, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant caught fire resulting in one of the most devastating nuclear incidents the world has ever seen. The USSR denied anything was wrong until a nuclear power plant in Sweden picked up irregular radiation readings. 36 hours after the initial explosion, the government ordered the evacuation of the city of Pripyat and a 30km exclusion zone was established. This zone remains in place today with strict rules surrounding entry. Nature has started to reclaim much of the area that is very much left as it was in 1986. It’s an astonishing place to visit. (Read more about the abandoned city of Pripyat here).
You are permitted to enter the Chernobyl Nuclear Exclusion Zone but there are strict rules around visiting. Once you follow the rules and stay with your guide, you should be safe. Lots of people worry about the level of radiation but a short visit won’t cause any issues. The typical radiation exposure you experience on a Chernobyl tour can range from 130 to 2610 microsieverets per hour, or the equivalent of a long haul flight.
These are the rules that anyone entering the Chernobyl Nuclear Exclusion Zone must abide by:
- You can only enter with a tour guide authorised by the Ukrainian government. You pass checkpoints going into the zone at the 30km and 10km points. You must pass through radiation scanners at both of these checkpoints on the way out.
- You can’t stay inside the zone for more than 12 hours at a time without special permission from the government and even then, it’s only for extraordinary cases (filming, scientific research etc).
- You must show identification when entering and carry it with you at all times. You can’t place your identification on any surface while inside the zone.
- Entering the zone without an authorised tour guide is illegal and highly dangerous. Armed guards patrol the perimeter and you may be in danger of entering heavily radiated areas if you try to enter anywhere other than the main access routes.
- Certain areas remain off-limits. The machine cemetery, for example, contains heavily radiated vehicles. A number of areas are marked with radioactive or forbidden entry signs. Stay away from them!
- Your clothing must be appropriate for visiting. Open toe sandals and flip flops are forbidden, as are shorts and shirts. Your arms must be covered so no t-shirts or vests. Hats and caps are recommended. As much of your skin as possible must be covered.
- Only enter buildings if a guide says it is okay to do so. The buildings can be unstable with a lot of debris and broken glass around.
- Alcohol is forbidden inside the zone. Anyone intoxicated will not be allowed in. The guards may check at the 30km entry point if they suspect you’ve been drinking.
- All weapons are prohibited, as are fireworks.
- Smoking or vaping in the open air is forbidden. You can do neither anywhere within the 10km zone.
- You are not permitted to eat or drink outside. Drinking water from any open water source such as rivers, wells or lakes is strictly forbidden.
- Do not touch ANYTHING! Objects, structures and vegetation can’t be touched under any circumstances. You are also not permitted to sit on the ground or place any personal item on any surface.
- Do not take anything out of the zone.
- Eat only in designated areas approved by the tour guides.
You actually get quite close to reactor 4 where the explosion took place. Nowadays, it’s covered by the New Safe Confinement Shelter but you can stand about 50 metres away and it’s safe to do so. It covers the original confinement unit built by the liquidators after the disaster.
The only statue of Lenin still standing in Ukraine is in the zone. It can’t be removed or demolished so it remains in situ and is a popular stop on tours. Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Duga II radar is also within the zone. It’s a massive installation that was used to detect incoming long range missiles during the Cold War. It’s affectionately called The Woodpecker because of the noise it gave off on radio scanners.
Of course, the main attraction is the city of Pripyat which was evacuated in just 90 minutes in 1986 because of its novel design. It was planned as a Soviet city of the future with good access and wide avenues which made the evacuation very simple.
Visiting Chernobyl is probably one of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had. I would highly recommend seeing what it’s like for yourself. Pair it with a trip to Kiev, a city with a lot of surprises and wonderful people.