When you think about visiting a place like Chernobyl, the primary and immediate question on your mind is: Can I safely visit an area where nobody is allowed to live?
Needless to say, we had the same question when we decided to head over to this fascinating destination last year.
The Ukrainian government allows such visits. In fact, there’s already been tourism in the area for some time now. That’s the first reassuring part because we are not venturing into uncharted territory.
And yet, due to the nature of the disaster that took place over there 34 years, tourism has remained somewhat regional, only seeing a small increase in the past few years. Safety is, of course, one of the main concerns for most.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) explicitly says the area is safe to explore under supervision.
“One may certainly visit the Chernobyl area, including even the exclusion zone, which is a 30-kilometre radius surrounding the plant, all of whose reactors are now closed. Although some of the radioactive isotopes released into the atmosphere still linger (such as Strontium-90 and Caesium-137), they are at tolerable exposure levels for limited periods of time.”
SOURCE: IAEA website.
That said, you can’t visit there without taking the necessary precautions. There are some critical measures you need to consider throughout the trip to ensure your safety.
Measuring devices and protective gear
First of all, we are fully equipped with dosimeters to measure our radiation levels. `We even have an initial reading to measure against our current “natural” level of radiation.
We also carry a Geiger meter to assess the levels of radiation. When you visit certain areas, the Geiger meters are going to go berserk, displaying radiation levels way above what’s considered “safe numbers” (usually between 0,12 – 0,15 µSv/u).
You may be wondering if this exposure meant any harm to us.
Radiation is a measure in exposure to micro-sieverts (µSv) per hour, so you have to be exposed to a high dose for a longer time before it becomes harmful. Combining our entire trip from earlier this year, we received radiation exposure equivalent to that of having about 2 X-rays.
When visiting the power plant, you need to wear the provided protective gear. This gear includes a helmet, mask, protective suit, gloves, and even protective coverings for your feet.
Authorized operators and supervision
Finally, and the most crucial part: supervision. You can’t just wander on your own anywhere within the exclusion zone.
To start, you need to go with an authorized tour operator/guide. A good guide will not only be well versed with knowledge and history of the Exclusion Zone but also with all the safety precautions and regulations.
You can’t enter the Exclusion Zone unless you are in the list your operator needs to send in advance of your arrival. The authorized guide will make sure the relevant authorities are informed of your arrival.
At the Chernobyl Power Plant, you’ll be joined by the authorized guide. However, the guiding responsibility will be with the plant managers.
You are not allowed to touch anything inside the plant and follow the plant manager’s instructions at all times. One very nice detail is that you can take as many pictures and video as you’d like.
All in all, the experience is quite enjoyable and exciting. And if you follow the safety precautions, you’ll have an unforgettable time at a place that will forever be in the history books for years to come!