Thirty-five years ago, the world's worst nuclear disaster occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, one of the reactors at the plant exploded during a mismanaged safety test. It's thought up to 54 workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath, thousands developed illnesses due to radiation poisoning (which luckily has not been passed to their children), and 50,000 people were evacuated.
The now-abandoned city of Pripyat, where the former power station is located, has been a major tourist hotspot for the country for a few years. In 2019, 120,000 people visited the site of the nuclear accident. Now, the Ukrainian Minister of Culture and Information Policy (MCIP), Oleksandr Tkachenko, has said the country is planning to formalize the status of the area by applying for it to be a UNESCO World Heritage site for cultural reasons.
World Heritage sites are landmarks or areas with legal protections that have cultural, historical, scientific, or another form of significance considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. Other notable sites include Petra, Stonehenge, Machu Pichu, the Great Barrier Reef, Easter Island, and Pompeii.
"The objective of the MCIP and the State Agency for Tourism Development is to develop the exclusion zone as a tourist destination and to include certain sites in the UNESCO World Heritage List," the Minister said on the plan in a recent visit to the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, the area that is considered safe to visit around the plant.
This will include the military radar near the city of Chernobyl and potentially the entire 30-kilometer Exclusion Zone, which has become a haven for wildlife.
"We believe that putting Chernobyl on the UNESCO heritage list is a first and important step towards having this great place as a unique destination of interest for the whole of mankind," Tkachenko told Reuters. "The importance of the Chernobyl zone lays far beyond Ukraine's borders ... It is not only about commemoration, but also history and people's rights."
Due to the secrecy and paranoia of the USSR and the Cold War, the full details of what happened at Chernobyl on that day took a long time to come to light. The Soviet government remained silent for three days before telling the world the situation was "stabilized", even though it wasn't. Thousands more people would get sick from radiation poisoning.
Before the application is sent, the Ministry plans to improve the experience for visitors by training guides, strengthening safety, and repairing buildings.
If the application is eventually approved, it would make the power station the most recent building rather than a natural feature to make the list. The current title-holder is the Sydney Opera House, which was opened in 1973.