Kiev, Ukraine (AP) — The vast and empty Chernobyl exclusion zone around the world’s worst nuclear accident site is a vicious monument to human error. But 35 years after the power plant’s reactor exploded, Ukrainians are also looking to the power plant for inspiration, comfort and income.
On April 26, 1986, Unit 4 of a power plant 110 km (65 miles) north of the capital Kiev exploded, ignited at midnight, shattered buildings, and ejected radioactive material high in the sky.
Soviet authorities did not tell the public what had happened, further exacerbating the catastrophe. The nearby factory worker town of Pripyat was evacuated the next day, but Kiev’s two million inhabitants were unaware of the danger of fallout. The world learned of the disaster only after high radiation was detected in Sweden.
Eventually, more than 100,000 people were evacuated from the neighborhood and an exclusion zone of 2,600 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) was established. There, workers tended to dispose of waste and rush to build sarcophagus to cover the reactor.
Radiation continued to leak from the reactor building until 2019, when the entire building was covered with a huge arched shelter. Authorities felt a new optimism about the zone when robots in the shelter began dismantling the reactor.
“This is a place of tragedy and memory, but it is also a place where we can see how one can overcome the consequences of a global catastrophe,” said Bohdan Borukhovskyi, Deputy Minister of the Environment of Ukraine.
“We want a new story to emerge-it wasn’t the realm of exclusion, but the realm of development and resurrection,” he said.
For him, the story involves encouraging tourism.
“Our tourism is unique and it is not a classic concept of tourism,” he said. “This is an area of meditation and contemplation, where we can see the effects of human error, but we can also see the human heroism that corrects it.”
In the Chernobyl zone, tourists have doubled after the 2019 TV miniseries were praised. Authorities hope that the level of interest will continue or expand after the pandemic has subsided.
One of the biggest attractions of tourists is to see the ruins of Pripyat, once home to 50,000 people, now being taken over by corruption and vegetation. Work is underway to build a path to make it easier for visitors to navigate the ruins.
The Chernobyl power plant is not in operation, but the abandoned power plant still has a lot to do. Borukhovskyi said all four reactors will be demolished by 2064.
Ukraine has also decided to use the no-man’s land as a location for a centralized storage facility for spent fuel from the country’s remaining four nuclear power plants. It will open this year. Until recently, fuel was disposed of in Russia.
By storing spent fuel at home, the country can save an estimated $ 200 million annually.
Sergei Koschuk, head of the agency that manages the exclusion zone, said:
Radiation levels within the zone are low enough for tourists to visit and workers to perform their jobs, but permanent residence is prohibited. However, more than 100 people still live in the zone, which stretches 30 kilometers (18 miles) around the nuclear power plant, despite being ordered to leave the site.
Among them is Igor Markevitch, an 85-year-old former teacher. “I’m very happy to live at home, but sad that it’s not like it used to be.
Today, he grows potatoes and cucumbers in his garden plot and tests them “to partially protect himself.”
The long-term effects on human health remain the subject of intense scientific debate. Immediately after the accident, 30 factory workers and firefighters died of acute radiation sickness. Since then, thousands have died of radiation-related illnesses such as cancer.
Wildlife is thriving, to the surprise of many who predicted that the area could be a dead zone for centuries. Bears, bison, wolves, links, wild horses, and dozens of bird species live in deserted areas.
According to scientists, animals were much more resistant to radiation than expected and were able to adapt quickly to intense radiation. Ukrainian scientists are studying this phenomenon with colleagues in Japan and Germany.
“This is a huge area … we hold a record of nature,” said Biologist Denis Vishnevskiy, 43, who has been observing nature in the reserve for the past 20 years. “Exclusion zones are our resources, not curses.”
Ukrainian authorities have called for the exclusion zone to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List as it is a unique place of “interest for all humanity”. The Ministry of Culture of Ukraine has already taken steps to recognize this zone as a monument and will attract more money and tourists.
“Chernobyl should not be a wild playground for adventure hunters,” said Ukrainian Minister of Culture Oleksandr Tkachenko. “People should leave the exclusion zone, recognizing the historical memory of this place and its importance to all humankind.”
In the spirit of preserving memory, some enthusiasts have created the Chornobyl app, which contains declassified documents about disasters and allows users to explore augmented reality views of zones and structures.
“60% of Ukrainians don’t know the date of the accident, so we decided we should have the resources to collect a lot of validated information,” said Valeriy Korshunov, one of the developers of the free app. I will.
Dmytro Vlasov and Oleksander Stashevsky contributed to this story from the exclusion zone.