The enduring fascination of Chernobyl and Pripyat — now with package tours.


Disaster Tourism: Holidays in Chernobyl is a Deutsche Welle documentary about an unlikely form of tourism.

The business in post-radioactive tourism is booming. The accident at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986 was the worst nuclear disaster in history. So what’s it like there today? Is it deadly silent? On the contrary. Thousands of tourists flock to the scene of the catastrophe every year.

Tour operators in Chernobyl are expecting more than 100,000 visitors in 2019. Tourists from all over the world come to take a tour of the ghost towns and learn more about the consequences of a nuclear accident. The organizers insist the area has been extensively cleaned up in the last few decades, so a brief stay shouldn’t pose any risk, but some areas are still heavily contaminated. Chemistry graduate Serhij Myrnyj was responsible for radiation monitoring after the accident. Today he is the biggest provider of tours to Chernobyl, trying to improve the region’s reputation and boost the economy through tourism. He now wants Chernobyl to receive UNESCO World Heritage Site status and so open up new prospects for the region. For the tourists, the trip to the restricted area is a unique experience, but for others it’s a tough existence. Former resident who returned home illegally after the evacuation live on the contaminated land here like recluses.

The updated sarcophagus containing the stricken reactor’s lethal core is built to last 100 years, but the radioactivity itself will be with us for 100,000 years.

The City the Chernobyl Disaster Left Behind, Then and Now, by Darmon Richter (Atlas Obscura)

Archival images of Pripyat before the accident offer a stunning contrast to what visitors will find today.

Built to house the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, by 1986 Pripyat was a thriving atomgrad. Schools and kindergartens, a cinema, palace of culture, swimming pools, river port, and a respectable selection of shops and cafés—all these amenities served the city’s young populace, by then numbering nearly 50,000 residents. New administrative districts were under construction in anticipation of further growth. Pripyat offered a standard of life above and beyond that of many contemporary Soviet cities, so much so that, “to men and women born in the sour hinterlands of the USSR’s factory cities… the new atomgrad was a true workers’ paradise,” as Adam Higginbotham explains in his recent history of the disaster, Midnight in Chernobyl.

The city of Pripyat stood in the front line of that disaster—just a couple of miles from the ill-fated plant—and now, in the 33 years since the last human resident left, nature has reclaimed it …