One of the most watched series this year has been the HBO series ‘Chernobyl’, which documents, with some artistic licence it should be said, the events that surrounded the explosion of reactor 4 in wee hours of the morning of the 26th of April 1986.
The Official Soviet death toll from the disaster was and remains only 31 people. Estimates put the actual death toll somewhere between 4000 and 90000. The radiation was very quickly picked up in Sweden, a long way from the nuclear reactor and much of Europe, especially Germany was sent into panic. The miniseries tells of how three heroes went back into the reactor to let water out as it was heating the water to the point that reactors one and two were likely explode too. They were expected to die very quickly, but in fact lived many years – I think two are actually still alive.
A couple of years ago, the sarcophagus that was built to contain the reactor was failing and had to be reinforced. So even today it is far from stable. The criticism of the mini-series has mostly come from Russia and pro-nuclear power proponents, which I guess is not surprising. The criticism is based around a more sensational view of how the government of the USSR worked at the time and particularly the KGB. And that it isn’t 100% fact. One character is, for example, a combination of several scientists. Personally, I found it an amazing production and thoroughly recommend it.
When I first heard about it, which wasn’t that long ago so my head must have been buried in the sand somewhere, I knew it was something I had to see. For some reason, possibly due to over active morbid curiosity, I find this sort of thing fascinating. In fact, Chernobyl is one place I have often thought of visiting.
Yes, that’s right, Chernobyl is actually visitable on a tour in the Ukraine. It sits in northern Ukraine, not far from the Belorussian border. The town Pripyat is where the reactor is located, a town built to house workers at the plant and their families. You can visit Pripyat, have a guide who will tell you the history of the disaster, and even visit (presumably this means get within a safe distance from) the reactors.
You are given a dosimeter with which you can keep track of the radiation, and tour companies promise you will be completely safe from radiation. Now the thing is, although I’ve yet to do this tour, I totally would and just writing about it makes me disappointed it’s not on the itinerary for this year’s trip.
Are their risks? I can’t see how there wouldn’t be. And this is making a tourist destination out of a horrid disaster that, if it wasn’t for the efforts of a few brave men who went into the reactor and others who stood up and told the truth about what happened, could have been incomprehensively worse. It could have affected all of Europe. Up to 60 million people could have died.
So is it wrong on moral grounds? And on grounds of just being stupid in regards to putting oneself in danger? People, Ukrainians, offer tours. The guides must go in so many times. The tours must pose a risk to their health, mustn’t they?
But for me, well, I would choose to trust that the runners of the tours know what they are doing and that you are safe. That you are only exposed to a very minimal amount of radiation for a short space of time. The town, which is a ghost town obviously these days, would make for some incredible photographs. And this spot is the spot of history. Not triumph, not achievement, but of disaster, but that is history. Imagine scuba diving to the Titanic as a tour. It was feasible you know that it would be incredibly popular.
Is morbid curiosity a good driver for travel and exploration. Probably not. But I confess, it does, to some extent, drive me. And maybe one day I will get to Chernobyl. And everyone I know will think I’m crazy for going. But you know what, I don’t think I’ve ever been crazy for going any of the places I’ve been, although I’ve sure been told I was. For now, the Ukraine isn’t in my plans. But it is one country I really want to visit.
What do you think? Have you been? Would you consider visiting? Why or why not? Have you been to a place where you were considered by those you knew crazy for going there? Please comment below! And May the Journey Never End!