What Would Happen To You If You Lived In The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Today?

The abandoned Ferris Wheel in Pripyat has become iconic. Credit: Tomasz Jocz/Shutterstock

When the roof of reactor no. 4 blew off in an uncontrolled explosion on April 26, 1986, a plume of radioactivity was released into the atmosphere – dousing the local area in radioactive materials before heading west to Belarus and as far as Cumbria, England. The reactor continued to leak for 10 days after the initial accident, releasing even more radiation into the environment as the first responders and liquidators worked to stymie the flow of chemicals.

Approximately 116,000 people were evacuated in the immediate aftermath (more than 250,000 in total) as authorities established a 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) no-go zone around the site. 

Thirty-one clean-up workers are reported to have died from radiation exposure, and the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts the accident will have been responsible for 4,000 deaths in the long-term. (Though the true death count is hard to calculate). 

A reservist during decontamination activities. Copyright: IAEA Imagebank, CC BY-SA 2.0 Credit: USFCRFC via Wikimedia Commons

The incident at Chernobyl is still considered to be the worst nuclear disaster to date. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the amount of radioactive material released was 400 times greater than that from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Oleksiy Breus, an engineer at the site just hours after the event, described the effects of radiation exposure to the BBC.

"Radiation exposure, red skin, radiation burns and steam burns were what many people talked about but it was never shown like this," he said. "When I finished my shift, my skin was brown, as if I had a proper suntan all over my body. My body parts not covered by clothes – such as hands, face and neck – were red."

HBO’s "Chernobyl" is (at the time of writing) the highest-ranking drama program on IMDb, and ties for top place across all genres with "Blue Planet II". It’s not only the critics who have applauded the piece but the people who had to witness the disaster play out first hand. Eye-witnesses and first responders have since praised the painstaking accuracy of the drama both in terms of Soviet life and the effects of the radiation.

But today, 33 years on, it is a different story. The abandoned city of Chernobyl has become a holiday destination, enticing travelers and Instagrammers with its eerie beauty, tragic history, and photo-op potential. Two hotels, though Soviet in their simplicity, offer visitors a comfortable stay, while the Ukrainian government has announced plans to turn it into an official tourist destination.

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