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article imageChernobyl extreme tourism thrives in wake of Japan disaster

By Kim I. Hartman     Mar 19, 2011 in Travel
Chernobyl - While the world watches the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan that followed the one-two punch delivered by nature in the form of an earthquake and tsunami, thousands of tourists line up in the Ukraine to take the government sponsored tour of Chernobyl.
The nuclear power plant at Chernobyl and the city of Pripyat have become a popular tourist destination for those wanting to venture inside the radioactive exclusion zone and see the wasteland that remains twenty-five years later.
In comparison with the nuclear crises at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan that was rated a 5 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), Chernobyl was rated a 7, Three Mile was rated a 5.
Visitors have been paying as much as $250 per person to tour operators in the city of Kiev for a guided tour of the ghost town at Pripyat. The tours include a close-up view of reactor 4 and the towering sarcophagus that covered what is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, but the government says "those tours are illegal."
"The Ukrainian Emergency Situations Ministry announced earlier this year the opening of the sealed zone around the Chernobyl reactor to visitors who wish to learn more about the tragedy that occurred nearly a quarter of a century ago," reported the AP. "Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Yulia Yershova said experts are working on developing routes for the 'official tour' that are medically safe and informative for Ukrainians as well as foreign visitors."
"There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn't stray away from the group," Yershova told The Associated Press. "Though it is a very sad story."
Tourists who visit the 30-kilometer radius area that was evacuated within days of the explosion at Chernobyl can see the massive concrete tomb built to cover what was left of reactor 4 at the nuclear power plant.
A similar project is being considered as a last resort at the failing nuclear reactors in Japan, reported Reuters. With experts saying "drastic measures may be required such as burying the plant in sand and concrete as happened at Chernobyl", tourists continue their pilgrimage to Kiev to get a glimpse of what may be the future of the area surrounding the Tokyo Electric and Power Company facility in Japan.
"Chernobyl stands as a stark reminder of a deadly past and a possible future that may be revisited," according to Digital Journal report. Radiation continues to leak from reactor 4, in part because of large cracks that formed in the concrete coffin, but this hasn't deterred curious tourists.
The construction of a 'long-overdue replacement confinement shelter", called a New Safe Confinement structure to cover the existing concrete enclosure is expected to be completed by 2015. Wikipedia reports: "The word "confinement" is used rather than the traditional "containment" to emphasize the difference between the "containment" of radioactive gases that is the primary focus of most reactor containment buildings, and the "confinement" of solid radioactive waste that is the primary purpose of the New Safe Confinement."
The New Safe Confinment structure that visitor will then see is 345 feet (105 meters) tall, 853 feet (260 meters) wide and 490 feet (150 meters) long. "It weighs 20,000 tons and will be slid over the old shelter using rail tracks. The new structure will be big enough to house the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York," reports the AP.
Whether the radioactive material is contained or confined seems to matter little to the visitors who are traveling to Kiev to see the environmental disaster, reports CNN. A number of locations rank high on the list of where to go once inside the original evacuation zone including Duga-3, a missile defense radar system built by the Soviet Union in the 70's, the village of Krasnoe, the abandoned city of Pripyat and its docks, as well as the Yanov train station, which is the last place residents saw as they were evacuated from region in 1986.
Many wonder who are these thousands of visitor desiring to see Chernobyl and take the Pripyat tour? What are the dangers involved and would you be willing to accept the obvious health risks? Chernobyl was listed as one of the World's Most Unique places to visit by Forbes in 2009.
The results of a poll by HuffPo shows 64% of people polled said they would be willing to visit the "World's Worst Nuclear Disaster."
Video and additional pictures taken on tours of Chernobyl and Pripyat can be seen here.
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