AS the location of the world's worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl and its surrounding area remains abandoned nearly 35 years on. But plans are afoot to turn the accident site into a “tourism magnet”.


What are the plans exactly?

Ukraine’s culture minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, is seeking UNESCO world heritage site status for the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Put in place by the Soviet Armed Forces in the wake of the 1986 disaster, the zone initially covered a radius of 19 miles from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR. It now covers an area of approximately 1,000 square miles.


Chernobyl is abandoned?

Pripyat is a ghost town, remaining frozen in time since its residents fled following that fateful April 26 day 34 years ago. It has since been invaded by wildlife - bison, boars, wolves and moose; hundreds of bird species and flora and fauna, all returning to the area despite the intense radiation levels.


Isn’t tourism on the go at Chernobyl already?

Previously the domain of “extreme tourists”, in recent years, affordable tours have become available, with interest in the area surging as a result of the popularity of the TV show, Chernobyl, dramatising the disaster. Bookings rose by as much as 40% after the series aired pre-pandemic last year.



The designation of world heritage status - given to select locations of “outstanding universal value” - would elevate the site and its global allure, seeing it join the likes of the Great Barrier Reef, Stonehenge and the Pyramids on the UNESCO list.


Plans for a “brand”?

Tkachenko told Russian news agency East2West that he plans “to develop an independent tourist brand of the Chernobyl exclusion zone”, saying that “you take it all very differently when you see it with your own eyes, live”, adding: “The whole time you feel consumed by the feeling of surrealism - on the streets of Pripyat and Chernobyl, where trees sprout through abandoned homes.”


How many people died in the disaster?

According to the official, internationally recognised death toll, 31 people died as an immediate result, while the UN has estimated that only 50 deaths can be directly attributed to the disaster. In 2005, it predicted a further 4,000 might eventually die as a result of the radiation exposure.


What about radiation now?

Although nature has recovered, studies are ongoing into the impact of radiation on wildlife in the area. Radiation remains potentially dangerous and just last month, a team of Scottish and German researchers revealed that, having exposed bee colonies in a laboratory to varying levels of radiation equal to areas in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, negative effects occurred, including a reduction of the colony’s ability to reproduce by 30 to 45%.



The “nuclear Pompeii”?

Tkachenko, talking of his plans to market the zone as a Pompeii of the nuclear age, said: “This is not only a tourist attraction, but also a place of memory where it is worth coming to understand the truth about the disaster and its ‘final effect.’”