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Tourists Welcomed to Chernobyl

By Emma McNeil - 15 Dec 2010 14:28:1 GMT
Tourists Welcomed to Chernobyl

It will probably never match Bondi Beach or St Tropez as a holiday destination with popular appeal, but the Ukrainian government is hoping that it can lure adventurous travellers to Chernobyl's Exclusion Zone. They hope visitors will pay to take officially sanctioned tours of the area, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident in 1986.

On the 26th April, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was the site of the world's first, and only, Level 7 nuclear event. The resulting radioactive plume spread radiation across the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The area worst affected by the contamination was designated The Exclusion Zone. Also known as the Zone of Alienation, The 30 Kilometer Zone or simply The Zone, the area covers 30 km around the site of the plant. Following the disaster residents living in the Exclusion Zoe were forcibly evacuated and resettled elsewhere in the Soviet Union.

Despite the health risks posed by remaining in the region, over the years a number of residents remained or illegally returned to their homes in the Exclusion Zone. Many were elderly people who felt unable to rebuild their lives away from their lifelong homes. There is also a minority of people who chose to move into the Exclusion Zone, and are known as samosely, self-settlers, when challenged samosely typically disregard or even deny any risks to human health in their adopted home.

Aside from these few, illegal, residents human presence in the Exclusion Zone is limited to the few workers involved in research and administration. These workers operate on tightly controlled shifts (the longest time being 15 days), and their health is closely monitored.

The lack of human interference in the region has lead some people to believe that wildlife inside the Exclusion Zone was, paradoxically, healthier and more successful than that in surrounding areas. Robert Baker, of Texas Tech University claimed on his university web page: ''The elimination of human activities such as farming, ranching, hunting and logging are the greatest benefits. It can be said the world's worst nuclear power plant disaster is not as destructive to wildlife populations as are normal human activities.''

Unfortunately, it seems that the disaster has had a negative impact on the region's wildlife. Not only is local wildlife suffering from mutations caused by the high levels of radiation, but a study in 2007 showed that the bird population in the region dropped by 66% and the range of bird species dropped by more than 50%.

Each year, around 6000 visitors enter the Exclusion Zone but many of these day trips are organised illegally and without proper government control. The Emergency Situations Ministry, which administers the area, plans to organise new official tours from January 2011.

According the ministry, radiation levels in much of the Exclusion Zone are now at normal levels and so pose no additional threat to visitors health. But tourism in the area still needs to be tightly monitored as some areas are still contaminated with higher levels of radiation and there are risks posed from collapsing buildings and other hazards in the officially uninhabited region.

Quoted in the Wall Street Journal Yulia Yurshova, spokesperson for the Emergency Situations Ministry said: ''The Chernobyl Zone isn't as scary as the whole world thinks. We want to work with big tour operators and attract Western tourists, from whom there's great demand.''

The project is backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In a statement to the press, Helen Clark, Head of the UNDP, said: ''While significant progress has been achieved in giving these communities the lives they had before the Chernobyl disaster, there is still work to be done to realize full social and economic recovery, and the restoration of livelihoods. One of the ways we can support this progress is by working with these populations to overcome the psychological impacts of this disaster by rebuilding the pride and dignity of these communities.''

The regeneration of the Exclusion Zone may not be limited to inviting tourists to visit. The Emergency Situations Minister, Viktor Baloha, has also announced that they are considering building power and thermal energy plants in the Exclusion Zone.

On the 26th April, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was the site of the world's first, and only, Level 7 nuclear event. The resulting radioactive plume spread radiation across the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The area worst affected by the contamination was designated The Exclusion Zone. Also known as the Zone of Alienation, The 30 Kilometer Zone or simply The Zone, the area covers 30 km around the site of the plant. Following the disaster residents living in the Exclusion Zoe were forcibly evacuated and resettled elsewhere in the Soviet Union.

Despite the health risks posed by remaining in the region, over the years a number of residents remained or illegally returned to their homes in the Exclusion Zone. Many were elderly people who felt unable to rebuild their lives away from their lifelong homes. There is also a minority of people who chose to move into the Exclusion Zone, and are known as samosely, self-settlers, when challenged samosely typically disregard or even deny any risks to human health in their adopted home.

Aside from these few, illegal, residents human presence in the Exclusion Zone is limited to the few workers involved in research and administration. These workers operate on tightly controlled shifts (the longest time being 15 days), and their health is closely monitored.

The lack of human interference in the region has lead some people to believe that wildlife inside the Exclusion Zone was, paradoxically, healthier and more successful than that in surrounding areas. Robert Baker, of Texas Tech University claimed on his university web page: ''The elimination of human activities such as farming, ranching, hunting and logging are the greatest benefits. It can be said the world's worst nuclear power plant disaster is not as destructive to wildlife populations as are normal human activities.''

Unfortunately, it seems that the disaster has had a negative impact on the region's wildlife. Not only is local wildlife suffering from mutations caused by the high levels of radiation, but a study in 2007 showed that the bird population in the region dropped by 66% and the range of bird species dropped by more than 50%.

Each year, around 6000 visitors enter the Exclusion Zone but many of these day trips are organised illegally and without proper government control. The Emergency Situations Ministry, which administers the area, plans to organise new official tours from January 2011.

According the ministry, radiation levels in much of the Exclusion Zone are now at normal levels and so pose no additional threat to visitors health. But tourism in the area still needs to be tightly monitored as some areas are still contaminated with higher levels of radiation and there are risks posed from collapsing buildings and other hazards in the officially uninhabited region.

Quoted in the Wall Street Journal Yulia Yurshova, spokesperson for the Emergency Situations Ministry said: ''The Chernobyl Zone isn't as scary as the whole world thinks. We want to work with big tour operators and attract Western tourists, from whom there's great demand.''

The project is backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In a statement to the press, Helen Clark, Head of the UNDP, said: ''While significant progress has been achieved in giving these communities the lives they had before the Chernobyl disaster, there is still work to be done to realize full social and economic recovery, and the restoration of livelihoods. One of the ways we can support this progress is by working with these populations to overcome the psychological impacts of this disaster by rebuilding the pride and dignity of these communities.''

The regeneration of the Exclusion Zone may not be limited to inviting tourists to visit. The Emergency Situations Minister, Viktor Baloha, has also announced that they are considering building power and thermal energy plants in the Exclusion Zone.