Ever thought about visiting the infamous Chernobyl Exclusion Zone? If so, here are ten things you should know before going on such a trip.
1. It’s safe
In terms of exposure to radiation, a visit to Chernobyl can be compared to spending a few hours in an aeroplane. The area still does have ‘hot spots’ and areas with increased levels of radiation, but as long as you avoid these well-known ‘hot’ areas and are only planning to enter the zone for several days at most, it is highly unlikely that you will be exposed to any significant increase in radiation.
2. The place attracts stalkers…
But not in the typical sense of the word! ‘Stalkers’ is the term used to describe Chernobyl enthusiasts who visit the zone illegally (without a tour guide) and spend a longer chunk of time exploring the exclusion zone. Unless you are actively looking for them, it’s unlikely that you will see these people as they are extremely skilled at hiding from guards and police. However, even if you don’t see them, they are almost certainly around…
3. People still work there
Around 7000 people continue to work at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant! Some commute to and from work (staying in the zone for a maximum of 14 days at a time) and others have resettled inside the exclusion zone.
These employees work each day to decommission the ruins of the power plant, to manage ongoing decontamination and just to manage the exclusion zone in general.
4. The abandoned town is called Pripyat, not Chernobyl
When people imagine the abandoned buildings in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, many people have no idea that the closest town to the nuclear reactor is called Pripyat – and this is where all of the most interesting abandoned buildings remain.
5. Entering buildings is illegal
But everyone does it anyway! These laws exist to protect visitors from hurting themselves inside buildings which are continuously becoming less and less structurally sound – but the most interesting stuff to see inside the exclusion zone is inside these buildings.
Basically, keep your eyes peeled for guards, stay quiet, stay low and pay particularly close attention if you plan to enter the old hospital. It is illegal to enter all buildings, but the hospital is one that you definitely don’t want to be caught in.
6. You shouldn’t consume anything that has been in contact with the ground
Including plants! The likelihood of ingesting radioactive particles just from breathing the air is almost non-existent, but radioactive particles still remain in the earth and as such, if you were to eat something that has been in contact with the ground, the chance of exposure to radiation will increase significantly.
7. There are no mutants
Sure, the idea that radioactively mutated humans exist in the exclusion zone makes a good premise for a horror film, but that’s it. You won’t find mutants in the zone, just people.
8. The only place to eat is the workers canteen
There are no stores or restaurants (obviously) so if you want to eat, you go to the canteen. The service here is very ‘soviet-style’ – you pick up a tray and get whatever the lunch ladies give you. Don’t try to refuse anything, in the end it will end up on your tray anyway.
If you are an exceptionally hungry person (or if you are an exceptionally fussy eater) it would be a good idea to pack a stash of snacks.
9. You’ll need your passport
Security is very tight at the entrance to the exclusion zone, and if you enter the zone legally (with a tour guide) the guards that man the border will have received a manifest of everyone expected to enter the zone. They will check your passport closely before allowing you through, and don’t try and bring any other form of photo ID – it is your passport or nothing.
10. Don’t place any valuables on the ground
As mentioned above, the only real risk of exposure to radiation is exposure through contaminated earth. Placing objects (especially things like cameras) onto the ground could in theory cause them to become contaminated. It is extremely unlikely that this would occur, however, upon leaving the zone, you and your belongings will be scanned in special machines to check the level of exposure.
If one of your possessions does in fact show increased levels of radiation contamination, you will not be allowed to keep it – so best to play it safe!