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An Atomic Vacation in Chernobyl – Part 2

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is roughly 125 km northwest of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Reactor Number Four is a nuclear bull’s-eye in the centre of the threateningly named Zone of Alienation, a 30 km exclusion area that rings the plant.

Several firms offer tours of the Zone. I booked mine with SoloEast Travel in Kiev. The solo tour costs $595 US, but I was able to find a group of people who were visiting the same day. That reduced the price to roughly $185 US each.

chernobyl tour of atomic disaster

Tourists signing a waiver before touring the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site

It was a sunny spring morning when I got on a dented van in Kiev, along with several Swedes and one Norwegian. During the relatively short ride, we discuss why we felt compelled to come to the site of such a horrific environmental tragedy.

The Swedes are fascinated by Chernobyl because Sweden suffered from the atomic cloud that dropped fallout across Europe. Coincidentally, it was scientists in Sweden who first discovered that there had been an nuclear accident somewhere, likely the Soviet Union.

An hour later, the shuttle comes to a stop. A large barrier, controlled by unhappy looking soldiers, blocks the road. We have reached the first of many access controls that limit entry into the Zone of Alienation.

First stop is the town of Chernobyl. While the power station is commonly described as Chernobyl, it is actually located in Pripyat, a model Soviet city created in 1970 to support the atomic plant.

Soviet monument in Chernobyl

Old Soviet signs remain in Chernobyl

We pull into the parking lot of a nondescript government building. Inside is where I first meet Dennis Zaburin, our young but stern official tour guide. The 29-year-old is clad in jeans, camouflage jacket and a car racing ball cap. He doesn’t smile very much. I wonder if he doesn’t like his gig? I doubt I would either.

We’re taken to a large room where maps and photographs of the disaster cover the walls.  Dennis launches into a short presentation that explains the history of Chernobyl and what to expect while exploring the area.

Before we can leave, each of us signs a legal release containing a long list of (sometimes odd) rules that we must follow. No drugs. No alcohol. No snatching souvenirs. No picnics. No kidding.