Would you ever book a trip to Chernobyl?

Courtesy Mond/Wikimedia

The word "Chernobyl" conjures many images. Nuclear wasteland. Radioactive deadzone. World's next top tourist spot? Until now, the last option would sound downright laughable. But the Ukrainian government is working to change all that.

That's right, Ukraine's Ministry of Emergency Situations (!!!) announced this week that the site of the world's greatest nuclear disaster will be open to official tours beginning in 2011. The backstory: in 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power station exploded, killing 32 workers and firefighters. Radioactive materials spread by wind across much of northern Europe, and the blast has been blamed for ongoing health problems in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Before now, private tour companies ran trips to Chernobyl out of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, but the Guardian reports that these tours are illegal and potentially dangerous.

The big question—is the new plan safe? Ukrainian officials promise that measures will be taken to ensure the medical safety of all tourists. But it must be noted that the area is far from back to normal. When the reactor was destroyed, a concrete "sarcophagus" was placed over the site, but it has been steadily deteriorating for the past 25 years. A new 20,000 ton shell is expected to be slid over the zone by the year 2015. According to a Washington Post article, the new structure will be taller than the Statue of Liberty or Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral. It will cost $1.15 billion.

If you're wondering what Western officials think of the plan, the United Nations Development Program chief Helen Clark has toured the facility and gives Chernobyl tourism her stamp of approval. She argues that the move could bring big money to the area and teach an important environmental lesson.

I guess I trust her opinion, but still, I'll pass. How about you?


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