Chernobyl Welcomes Tourists to Its Reactor 4 Control Room (For a Few Minutes)

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Would you travel to Ukraine and pay to visit a radioactive control room – for fun?

Yes? You're in luck: The control room of Chernobyl's Reactor 4, where the world's worst nuclear disaster took place, is now open for visitors. Tourists who take advantage of this new opportunity can only do so for a few minutes, however. Because the control room is still so radioactive, visitors must wear protective gear while inside, and they can only stay for five minutes.

Chernobyl Tourism

It's been more than 30 years since the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded in 1986, releasing radioactive material across Europe. This raised cancer risk across the continent – and anywhere between 4,000 to 93,000 people are expected to die from the exposure, according to multiple agencies cited by Smithsonian Magazine. Scientists struggle to quantify these deaths, along with other long-term effects of the explosion. The United Nations estimates that 54 people died as a direct result of the explosion.

Parts of the site, including the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, have allowed tourists since 2011, according to reporting from Popular Mechanics. However, Chernobyl didn't become an official tourist attraction until June 2019, when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared it as such. Tourism to the site has spiked by about 30% in 2019, following the release of the HBO series Chernobyl.

Even so, Reactor 4 remained closed to the public until October.

Radiation in the Control Room

Reactor 4's control room sustained extreme damage from the explosion. German news agency Ruptly claims radiation in the room is 40,000 times normal levels. That's why visitors must wear protective clothing and can't stay in the room for longer than five minutes.

Tourists take on additional safety measures, as well: They go through radiation checkpoints at the beginning, middle and end of their day tours. They can't wander the site on their own – they have to stay with their tour groups due to radiation concerns. After visiting the control room, tourists must undergo two radiology tests to determine the extent of their exposure to radiation.

Still, other parts of Chernobyl remain off-limits to the public. These include the "machine cemetery" in the Rossokha village, where the Chernobyl cleanup crew dumped contaminated machinery.

Overexposure to radiation can cause sickness and tissue damage and increase cancer risk. Ukrainian officials claim the areas of Chernobyl open to tourists are safe, as long as visitors follow the rules prescribed to them.

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About the Author

Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She covers topics including environment, education and agriculture. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, Calif., and holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University. Swanston is an avid traveler and loves jazz, yoga and craft beer.

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