Chernobyl and the abandoned city of Pripyat in Ukraine have received a lot of international attention in recent months following the release of an acclaimed HBO television series chronicling the 1986 nuclear accident that left the area depopulated and Pripyat city a ghost town. However, although the incident was one of the worst environmental disasters in history, the site where the Chernobyl plant was located and the surrounding area have become a popular attraction in modern-day Ukraine. Although it is not simply possible to walk into the Chernobyl exclusion zone and begin exploring, there are now a number of companies in the country which offer guided tours of the area to help visitors understand the history.
Before planning to visit Chernobyl, foreign citizens should first check if they need a visa to travel to Ukraine. Nationals of 55 eligible countries are now able to apply online for a Ukraine eVisa, which permits a stay of 30 days in the country for tourism, business, press activities, or activities in the fields of culture, science, education, or sports.
Eligible citizens are able to complete the simple Ukraine eVisa application with personal and passport information in just a few minutes, and answer a few questions about security and their travel plans, to recieve an approved eVisa for Ukraine via email. Once you have the correct travel documents to Ukraine organized, you will be able to start planning your trip to Chernobyl and taking the necessary safety precautions.
Can you Visit Chernobyl Today?
After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred in 1986, the Soviet Armed Forces established an exclusion zone of a 30-kilometer radius from the nuclear power plant from which to evacuate all inhabitants. This zone was later expanded and now covers an area of approximately 2,600 square kilometers, although talks are currently ongoing to redraw the boundaries of the exclusion zone to reflect the declining radioactivity of the outer borders.
Nowadays, although the area is still highly radioactively, it is not considered dangerous to the exclusion zone for a short trip, under controlled conditions and taking safety precautions. However, travelers are not advised to attempt to visit the Chernobyl exclusion zone on their own. In addition to the radiation risk travelers could be courting without an expert guide, there are also a large number of permits that need to be organized to travel to Chernobyl and Pripyat, which the government prefers to dispense through a local guide or agency.
Luckily, there are a number of experienced companies who operate guided tours from Kiev to Chernobyl, and who are well-versed in the procedures and precautions necessary for a trip to the exclusion zone. The average price of a Chernobyl tour from Kiev costs between 2513,43 – 2792 Ukrainian Hryvnia (the currency in Ukraine), or USD 100-111.
As the Chernobyl exclusion zone is fairly vast, and the majority of tours will last between 1-3 days, there is not enough time to take in everything in the area, but the main sites of interest will all almost be covered on most tours. These include a visit to the overgrown city of Pripyat and its abandoned amusement park, the so-called ‘bridge of death’, and the power station and Reactor 4 itself.
Is It Safe to Go to Chernobyl and Pripyat?
Those who visit Chernobyl on an official guided tour are, for the most part, considered perfectly safe to travel to the area if they follow the instructions of their guide. Chernobyl guides are considered well-trained and largely take visitors along mapped-out routes that have largely been decontaminated of radiation.
Additionally, guides always carry Geiger counters to measure the radiation level in any areas where decontamination may not be complete and are careful to inform visitors of the maximum time that can be safely spent in such areas. Many guides will also offer to rent out Geiger counters to members of their tour groups.
There are still some individual precautions that visitors to Chernobyl can take to minimize their exposure to radiation, including:
- Wearing the protective suits, masks, and footwear protection offered by most tours
- Wearing long-sleeved clothes
- Avoiding contact with wild animals in the area
- Sticking to the path as indicated by your guide
- Avoiding touching unknown objects.
Nevertheless, the maximum amount of radiation that you could expect to be exposed to on a one-day tour of the exclusion zone is said to be around 2.20 µSv, far less than the exposure from an x-ray machine or even a long flight, so there is very little reason to think that it is not safe to visit Chernobyl and Pripyat for a short trip!