The “highly radioactive” control room at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s Reactor 4 at the centre of the facility’s infamous 1986 catastrophe is open for tourists, so long as they wear a protective suit, helmet, and gloves while inside, CNN reported.
Chernobyl tour agencies confirmed to the network that the control room is now open for guided walkthroughs following Ukrainian President Vladimir Volydymyr’s July decision to proclaim the region an official tourist attraction (and perhaps not coincidentally, a surge of interest following the release of HBO’s wildly popular Chernobyl miniseries). Those who enter the unit must afterward submit to two radiology tests to measure exposure to contaminants.
Chernobyl and the neighbouring town of Pripyat are the epicentre of a roughly 1,000-square-mile (3,200-kilometer) exclusion zone, though parts of the area have long been visited by tourists and many places that remain officially off-limits are often entered by thrill-seekers. Reactor 4, including the control room, has been off-limits to all but a handful of people; according to Ruptly, radiation in the room is some 40,000 times higher than normal.
As for what to expect, in 2011 the Guardian reported that the room had largely been stripped of its plastic instrumentation switches by “souvenir-hunters among the decommissioning staff,” though some things such as diagrams on the behaviour of the reactor and aged wiring remained. (Presumably there is no graphite there.) The seriously damaged unit 4 reactor itself and its original sarcophagus has been covered in a 32,000-tonne arch called the New Safe Confinement.
Sergiy Ivanchuk, director of SoloEast tours, told Reuters in June that his bookings for tours had risen 30 per cent in May 2019 (when the HBO miniseries was released) compared to years prior, while bookings for the summer months had risen some 40 per cent. Tour guide Viktoria Brozhko told Reuters, “Many people come here, they ask a lot of questions about the TV show, about all the events. People are getting more and more curious... During the entire visit to the Chernobyl exclusion zone, you get around two microsieverts, which is equal to the amount of radiation you’d get staying at home for 24 hours.”
The 1986 incident resulted in 28 deaths from acute radiation syndrome and 15 deaths from child thyroid cancer. The full death toll remains the subject of dispute, with most estimates pegging the number of expected long-term cancer cases from the disaster in the tens of thousands.
Featured image: Efrem Lukatsky (Getty Images)