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An Atomic Vacation in Chernobyl – The Story

This site is largely based on my trip to Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in Pripyat, Ukraine. The following story describes the history of the atomic accident and how a modern town was abandoned, leaving a bizarre ghost town as its legacy.

It appears to be a baby monitor, but the gadget that tour guide Dennis Zaburin holds in his hand scans for radiation. The readout on the dosimeter’s screen changes rapidly, indicating the level of danger. Other than its beeps, our steps are the only sounds we hear, magnified as they bounce off the abandoned buildings all around us.

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Dennis monitors radiation levels at Chernobyl

Dennis says he can tell were the safe areas are. But I have my doubts. I am, after all, at the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster: Chernobyl, Ukraine.

More than two decades after the nuclear genie was released from the bottle, the unseen danger in this modern ghost town remains. Dennis says not to worry, but I can see the readout on the radiation detector. It reads 1800. Just hours earlier he said that 50 is normal.

What am I doing here?

There are constant reminders of the danger around Chernobyl

An Atomic Warning

On 26 April, 1986, Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, in what was then the USSR, exploded. I’ve always been fascinated by this devastating event. I’ve poured over the books, watched the documentaries and played the creepy video game set in the ghost town of Pripyat.

I think my fascination comes from how man’s quest to control the environment backfired and how nature is reclaiming a modern town where tens of thousands once worked, raised their families and made a comfortable community.

At the time of the disaster, four reactors were operating and two more were under construction. It was during a systems test early in the morning of April 26, 1986 that things went horribly wrong.

Reactor staff tried to stop the test and curtail the reactor, but it was out of control. It eventually overheated and blew apart. While it wasn’t a nuclear blast, the reactor blew up, shooting radioactive debris more than a kilometre into the sky.

In the early days after the blast, winds carried radioactive fallout over much of Central and Western Europe. Ultimately hundreds of thousands of people were forced to vacate their homes.

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Pripyat was evacuated after the Chernobyl explosion

I was surprised that the government of Ukraine permits tourists to visit the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. It may be a macabre place to visit, but is it any different than the sites of tragedies like Auschwitz or Ground Zero?

Chernobyl has become hallowed ground where people come to witness and to remember.