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Recently I read in my Lonely Planet and on some news site like for example this one, that the site of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe is open for tourists. There are also tour operators that offer visits to the destroyed city and the nuclear power plant. They state that the only visit "safe" places, i.e. places that are not really contaminated.

I personally have no plan to go there, because I think it is too dangerous and I also don't like disaster tourism. But nevertheless I will be in Kiev soon, and a friend accompanying me plans to go there. So I have some questions:

Is it really possible to differentiate places in the Chernobyl area that are less contaminated than others? Are these tours safe? Is it ethically correct to visit such places?

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You can go there - a friend of mine did, I'll ask him for details. Also, you can measure radioactivity using Geiger counters. – Ankur Banerjee Sep 22 '11 at 15:32
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If you don't want to go there, you can always visit Prypiat in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. – Ankur Banerjee Sep 22 '11 at 15:32
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I know one or two people who've visited Chernobyl (I'll try to remember who, to try to get them answer this). Some points: There are organised tours that make it pretty easy to get there. I got the impression that it's reasonably safe, mostly because 1) they don't take you to places with the most radiation and 2) you simply don't spend that much time in the area that it would matter. As mentioned, you can monitor it with a Geiger counter while there. (I'd worry much more about long-term health effects for the tour guides...) – Jonik Sep 22 '11 at 20:24
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@Jonik actually that makes sense, I've read that it is possible to actually enter the alienation zone without too much hassle. Some areas (like the sarcophagus for instance) are obviously off limits, but everything else seems to be fair game. – reno812 Sep 23 '11 at 15:08
    
@Jonik: I have just asked a question about how to get to Chernobyl (on the assumption it's 'safe' and worth visiting.) Do you have any information about the site itself you might be able to add to that question? – David M Apr 11 '12 at 16:01
up vote 11 down vote accepted

I actually remember on Netflix watching an episode of a TV show where these adventists actually spent 48 hours in Chernobyl. Turns out the town is so isolated that the people and camera crew actually had to transfer from a passenger train in the Ukrane and finish the rest of the commute in a freight train car for 48 hours from the main transit hub.

From there, they actually interviewed some people who actually were living fairly normally despite the geiger meter being about 8x the safe radiation level, and they were saying how the reason they still lived there was because of family tradition.

Surprisingly the people never wore hazmat suits but still survived, although they were taking a ton of iodine and did get sick after awhile, but in the show they did go near the powerplant (still covered with cement blocks) and the radiation was ~32x higher than the safe limit -- even at 2-3 miles from the plant.

I wish I had the name of the show in my head, but I'm pretty sure the channel was Sy-Fi or something like that -- and overall it was a pretty interesting episode, especially how they showed the residents still living there actually have genetic changes to adapt to the higher radiation (although the area near the plant is literally a dead zone)

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Perhaps half a year ago, I saw a documentary on ARTE about radiation in Chernobyl and its effects. They showed a scientist who was living in the area, and who was farming his own vegetables and fruits. He said that he once did an analysis of the things he is growing, and he knows exactly what is safe to eat. If I recall correctly, he said that you can eat the flesh of a cherry but not its kernel. But don't quote me on that! – feklee Feb 2 '13 at 12:57
    
8x the safety limit is not going to make you sick. If you want to see some crazy radiation exposure there: youtube.com/watch?v=VDvCoLEpB0c The Russian team was unprotected inside the reactor building itself. – Loren Pechtel May 27 '13 at 17:02
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the radiation won't make you get radiation sickness, depending on how long you're exposed. I'd be more worried about exposure to toxic heavy metal oxides mixed in with the soil and water, making it into your food, and blowing up into the air you breathe. And even those are by now diluted enough you'd need prolonged (months) exposure to notice any effects, let alone lasting effects. – jwenting May 28 '13 at 6:19

I visited Chernobyl recently.
It is perfectly safe as long as you follow your guide and obey the rules and don't wonder off on your own and don't touch anything that might be contaminated.
Follow your guide and rent a Geiger counter before you go. Your Geiger counter will beep when it detects high levels of radiation, when that happens move out of the the area. When it beeps loud and fast, your receiving a high dose, you have 2 minutes to move quickly out of that area and into a safe one, I don't think you need to learn about how to read and measure sieverts on the Geiger counter, all Geiger counters are set to go off as soon as they detect radiation.

Your guide and your Geiger counter will keep you safe. When you end your tour and leave the zone you will go to your last check point and enter a room to be examined, if the detector detects radiation on your clothes you will have to strip down and leave your clothes there, this is the only worse part of the tour, but this rarely happens.
Other than that, don't put your hands in your mouth, and at the last check point wash your hands and hose down your shoes.

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They do their best to keep you safe and from too much exposure. I worry about the guides, often those people get high doses from repeated exposure. I am sure it will pay, at least better than other options around there, but I for one would not want to risk them. – Willeke Dec 25 '15 at 9:45

How did I miss this question?? I've done this! Before it was even considered 'touristy' (we had to apply to the Ukrainian government for permission in 2008).

Now on the safety aspect, I was assured by my science teacher travel buddy and the scientists there that it's perfectly fine to go for a day. As for the radiation, apparently even spending a weekend in Devon is equivalent to 7 xrays, and this is less than that.

A lethal dose of radiation is in the range of 3-5 sieverts (300-500 roentgens) when administered within an hour. Levels on the tour range from 0.15 to several microsieverts per hour (15 to several hundred microroentgens an hour). A microsievert is one-millionth of a sievert. We didn't see it go higher than 14 microsieverts, from memory, and that was only in the amusement park area in Pripyat - surprisingly higher than when we were closer to the reactor.

If you'd like to read more about the trip which I did in 2008, I wrote an article about it for TNT Magazine in London.

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The comment about Devon sounds high - to the point of suspicion. It would be good to see a citation. – User 17670 May 27 '13 at 16:31
    
@User17670 - a quick search will find many articles on the matter, including this piece on naturally occurring radon gas – Mark Mayo May 27 '13 at 23:28
    
Mmm... there's no comparison to x-rays, or sources. I don't believe "spending a weekend in Devon is equivalent to 7 xrays" – User 17670 May 28 '13 at 17:03
    
Gah, I can't find the article now, but it's not like I pulled it out of my behind - like I said - "apparently". Interestingly while looking for it, I did come across this which looks like they've ripped us off completely. – Mark Mayo May 28 '13 at 23:12

Read The Dark Tourist For a very vivid and entertaining account of the author Dom Joly's tour of Chernobyl.

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This is taken from the Wikipedia entry for Prypiat:

The city of Chernobyl, a few kilometers south from Pripyat, has some accommodation including a hotel, many apartment buildings, and a local lodge, which are maintained as a permanent residence for watch-standing crew and tourists.

Seems like at least there is a local effort to accomodate the few tourists that get there. Not the most inspirational location but I for once think that it would have some educational value to visit a place like that.

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