On April 26, 1986, the No. 4 nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant near the city of Pripyat suffered from a catastrophic nuclear accident during a systems test. The resultant explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which then spread over large areas in Europe. It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the other one being the quadruple meltdown at the Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant).
Radioactive iodine and other dangerous radioactive elements released from the explosion and subsequent venting from the damaged containment structure rose into the air and spread across millions of square miles, polluting many European nations. Potassium iodide was distributed in the immediate areas surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, including the Pripyat region where most of the workers lived. The distribution of the contamination was determined by the weather conditions at the time. The radioactive plume touched down many times in numerous populated areas as far out as 500 km (over 300 miles) from the plant site.
The disaster arose during a systems test of the No. 4 reactor. There was a sudden power output surge experienced during a procedure intended to determine how much power was needed to keep the reactor operating during a blackout. When an emergency shutdown was attempted a more extreme spike in power output occurred. It was this extreme spike incident that ultimately led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of explosions. These catastrophic events were not correctly managed or contained and as a result the graphite moderator of the reactor was exposed to air, causing it to ignite. The explosion and fire ejected hot particles of nuclear fuel, fission products and contaminated material into the air, including caesium-137, iodine-131, strontium-90 and other radionuclides. The damaged reactor vessel released contaminated material into the compromised containment structure, a plume of radioactive smoke and debris particulate then vented into the atmosphere and dispersed over an extensive geographical area. Data released in the post-Soviet era indicates that about 60% of the fallout in USSR landed in Belarus, but large parts of eastern and northern Europe were affected. The analysis of the precipitating events remains controversial, but it seems the cause of the incident was essentially one of flawed reactor and operational systems design, flawed control rod tip design, defective operational training and an organisational culture that allowed breaking safety instructions for the experiment and rushing the test after last-minute problems.
Pripyat, the town closest to the reactor, is only 3 km away. It was home to 49,000 residents before the disaster, mostly the families of the plant workers. The city of Chernobyl is only 4 km to the south of the reactor. High radiation levels forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from the region surrounding Chernobyl. Although about 700 residents have since returned to live in the region, none have reoccupied the town of Pripyat.
Pripyat is a freeze-frame of 1980s Soviet life. Propaganda slogans still hang on walls, and children's toys and other items remain as they were. But buildings are rotting, paint is peeling and looters have taken away anything that might have been of value. Trees and grass are eerily reclaiming the land. Today, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a tourist destination. In 2002, it opened for tourism, and in 2004 there were 870 visitors.
The accident that destroyed the Chernobyl 4 reactor is understood to have directly led to the death of 31 reactor operating staff, emergency responders and firemen within three months of the incident. An undetermined number of further deaths arose from exposure to radiation during the initial crisis and the ongoing contamination of the plant and environs.
Decades later, debate still rages about the number of directly related deaths. Fearing bad PR, the USSR for several years forbade medical examiners from listing radiation as a cause of death. Estimates of deaths related to the accident range from 56 to a million. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests the final figure could reach 4,000 civilian deaths, a figure not including casualties amongst clean-up workers drawn from the Soviet military forces. The numbers presented for consequential death from radiation exposure induced illness and cancer vary considerably, with Greenpeace giving estimates of more than 200,000. A Russian publication concluded that between 1986–2004 there were 985,000 premature cancer deaths worldwide as a result of radioactive contamination from Chernobyl.
The largest inhabited settlement in the Exclusion Zone in 2019 is the town Chernobyl, after which the nuclear power station was named. About 3,000 people live there, and almost all work in the Exclusion Zone. Including tourists and officials (UAEA inspectors, engineers, scientists), the population count of the Exclusion Zone now varies between 5,000 and 7,000, so you will certainly not be alone anymore when visiting.
- Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster offers personal insight into the lives of residents before and after meltdown. ISBN 0312425848.
- UNSCEAR's assessments of the radiation effects.
To gain access to Pripyat, 1 Chernobyl (Чорнобильська атомна електростанція) or any of the surrounding villages, you will need to enter the 30 km exclusion Zone - and to do that, you will need to arrange a day pass. The easiest way of obtaining one of these is through a tour operator, of which there are many based in Kiev. If taking a tour, booking in advance is mandatory, but several tour operators allow online registration. Some tour operators effectively require booking at least a week in advance to avoid steep prices or no availability, but some tours may be potentially available a few days in advance.
Foreigners must have their passports on them to enter the exclusion zone, together with their permit printed out. Present passport and permit at the 2 security checkpoint, after which guards will scan the QR code on the permit and verify identity. During the verification process, visitors are required to wait outside their vehicle, so dress appropriately before arriving at the checkpoint. The larger checkpoints have information displays to help visitors, and may also include souvenir booths playing songs from the Fallout game series to make the immersive experience complete! Avoid making photographs of the security check points, officers, or soldiers, as this may result in cameras being confiscated and/or erased.
Government agency with jurisdiction over the site in regulation №1157 stipulates that a request for a Zone permit must be applied for at least 10 office days (which can make up to 14 calendar days) prior to the planned visit.
- [dead link] Amazing Chernobyl Tour, Chervonoarmiiska St., 43, 01004 Kiev, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Amazing Chernobyl tour organizes day trips to Chernobyl and Pripyat, for individuals and groups From US$149 per person.
- Chaes-tour.com, 1/36, Bastionnaya str., Kiev, ☎ . ChAES-tour will allow you to know firsthand what happened in the now- closed zone of the Chernobyl NPP & Pripyat town, to touch its secrets and events, to find out what is an insidious radiation and learn how to win it. 1-, 2- or more day long scheduled group tours and tours on request, all types can be thematic. The price includes the maximum time in the Chernobyl zone (departure from Kyiv at 08:00, return at 20:00-21:00), an extensive program of visits of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the author's supervision of Sergei Mirnyi, a liquidator and writer, or by guides specially trained by him, learning how to survive at elevated background radiation, watching documentaries about Chernobyl, as well as insurance, a comfortable air-conditioned bus, route maps, personal certificates proving your visit of Chernobyl. From US$89 1-day trip to US$787 5-day trip per person.
- [dead link] CheapChernobylTour.com, 43, Chervonoarmiis'ka St., Apt. 32, Kiev, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. CheapChernobylTour.com offers ecological tours to the Chernobyl zone and Pripyat. The CheapChernobylTour includes transfer to and from the Chernobyl zone, lunch in the cafeteria of the nuclear power plant, and an excursion in Chernobyl. Visitors get to see the reactor, the ‘dead town’ of Pripyat, and the ‘red forest’ where pine trees turned reddish orange because of radiation. Guests get 20% discount for their accommodation in the Mini Hostel Kiev in the night before and after the CheapChernobylTour. US$149-169.
- Chernobyl Tour, Polupanova str., 1, Chernobyl, ☎ . M-F 10:00-18:00. Trips are based on the most advanced knowledge about Chernobyl and radiation, and are user-friendly and enjoyable. They show in depth both rich Chernobyl history and nature of the Zone, and teach radiation survival skills. 1-, 2- or more day long scheduled group tours and tours on request, all types can be thematic. 1-day trip - US$116-160, 2-day trip - US$265-314 per person. The price includes official Zone access pass, an English-speaking guide, Kiev pick-up and drop-off, transportation, map of the route and Zone. Possibility to rent personal dosimeter-radiometer.
- ChernobylTrip.com, . Ecological tours to Chernobyl zone and Pripyat. You will travel with professional English-speaking guide. Chernobyl Tour includes transfer to and from Chernobyl zone, lunch and excursion in Chernobyl, and hostel in case of the 2-day trip.
- Chernobylwel.com, . These tours provide opportunities to see places that usually stay unseen including cooling towers 5 and 6, meeting with local citizens and visiting the cemetery of technicians. They also offer 2-day trips for €200-250 for tours from Kiev.
- Kiev Lodging Chernobyl Tours (email@example.com), 5 Pushkinskaya str., Kiev, ☎ . The tour company has all legal documents required to conduct tours in a safe and correct way and is backpacker friendly. The tour includes an English speaking guide, Kiev pick-up and drop-off, official Zone access pass, transportation and food/drinks. Prices start from US$195 per person.
- Lupine Travel, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. A UK based firm offering 1-, 2- and 4-day Chernobyl tours including optional airport transfers and apartment stays in Kiev. For overnight stays food requirements are brought in from outside the Zone. Cost to join a group tour is from €139/person.
- Pripyat.com, . Organised tours to the Chernobyl exclusion Zone and Pripyat city conducted by former residents. Includes formal tours with testimonials, stories and memories about days of accident from people who lived in the region. They do very interesting, informative tours and everything is done legally.
- SoloEast Travel, office 105, #10 Proreznaya St., Kiev, ☎ . One of the first tour providers to Chernobyl. Mandatory insurance (US$10) and optional radiation monitor (US$10) are not included in the advertised price. US$79/person.
- Star Sky Travel, ☎ . Trips to Chernobyl zone for groups and individual tourists; airport and railway transfer; VIP service; tourist visa support, student invitation, business invitation.
- Tour2chernobyl.com, Illinska street 12, Kiev (They usually meet their groups at 09:00 at a meeting point in Kiev, get on a bus and leave for Chernobyl), ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: email@example.com. M-F 09:00-18:00. You can check the available dates for group tours on our website. This tour includes the Chernobyl Zone, Ghost Town Prypyat and Radar Duga. This tour is official and was approved by the Ukrainian Ministry of Health. Skype: tour2chernobyl.com from US$49 per person.
- UkrainianWeb, . A North America based firm offering all-inclusive, English speaking guided tours to the Zone. Tours include a Kiev pick-up and drop-off, Zone access pass, transportation and lunch. Friendly service, fast and convenient booking with various payment options.
- Trip-to-Chernobyl.com, Dmitrova ST 24, Kiev, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Official tour-operator of private 1- or few-days tours to Exclusion Zone. All the tours include visiting unique places (in addition to the usual Chernobyl and Pripyat walking tour) like Radar Duga (Chernobyl-2), old bus and railway stations, abandoned villages, communication with self-settlers of Chernobyl Zone. There is a possibility to organize the tour up to your program. Booking is allowed to be made 7 working days in advance. Every visitor is provided by the health insurance. Price depends on the number of people. Points included into the price: pick up from Kiev by mini-bus, accompaniment of English speaking guide, all the documents and permits from the State Agency of Chernobyl, meals, accommodation for the night in a hotel in Chernobyl, health insurance. From US$110/person.
- 1 'Monument to the Chernobyl Liquidators (Робототехника участвовавшая в ликвидации аварии) (accross the street of the fire station). 24/7. A memorial inaugurated for the 10th anniversary of the disaster in 1996, dedicated to the liquidators -- firefighters who risked their lives in an attempt to put out the fire in the burning reactor during the days following the reactors explosion, and while dealing with the removal of its consequences. Many received deadly doses of radiation while trying to get the fire under control, largely unaware of the lethal radiation levels they were exposed to, and with no adequate protection against it whatsoever. The inscription of the monument reads "To Those Who Saved the World". Free.
- 2 New Safe Confinement (NSC). A 100 m tall arch designed to replace the iconic sarcophagus as confinement structure to keep radioactive materials contained. It can be seen from a distance of kilometres away. You'll not be able to get too close, but the nearest 3 observation point is 200 m away. The only way to get closer is if you are a scientist or a film maker that has had months of preparation in advance. Although radiation levels here will be much higher than elsewhere in the region, you will not be able to pick up a significant dose during your stay.
- 4 Monument to the Constructors of the Sarcophagus. 24/7. A monument dedicated to the thousands of workers who put their lives and health at stake during the construction of the Sarcophagus. Free.
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
The power plant, home to four decommissioned RBMK-1000 reactors, offers amazing insight into Soviet nuclear and architectural engineering practices for those able to arrange in-depth visits. Commercial tours stop only at the Reactor 4 observation pavilion. Visitors wishing to experience the interior of the plant must request permission via a letter faxed to the plant's general director (Igor Gramotkin) as outlined on the plant's website. The letter should introduce you or your group, and explain in detail what you want to see. Admission, by no means guaranteed, presumably favors professionals employed in relevant fields. Visitors are issued badges and indirectly-read TLD-type dosimeters at the power plant entrance, then pass through a modern security checkpoint in the ABK-1 administrative building, and thereafter are given cotton coats, caps, and booties in preparation for entering the radiological control zone. A higher standard of dosimetry and personal protective equipment may be issued for some areas, such as the "Sarcophagus." Visitors' own dosimetry devices are not allowed inside ChNPP. Always be mindful that this is a fueled nuclear facility and security is taken seriously. Strictly follow directions from plant personnel about photography, and never attempt to rest anything on the floor (it may be confiscated due to contamination). The exit portal monitors at ChNPP are thankfully much less sensitive than those found in most American nuclear plants, but still it's a good idea to wear fresh clothes and shoes rather than articles that may have been contaminated elsewhere in the Zone. In 2011, visitation was allowed to Unit 3 main circulation pump rooms, the live 750-kV switchyard control room, the Unit 1 control room, the Phase 1 dosimetry panel, and the memorial to engineer Valery Khodemchuk in the ventilation building between Reactors 3 and 4, among other places. The turbine hall was closed due to excessive radioactivity in 2011, but was accessible in 2010. A particularly interesting place is the bunker under ABK-1 that is used as an emergency response center (as it was in the 1986 accident).
The power plant has a cafeteria that serves freshly-prepared and appetizing Ukrainian food.
Some commercial tours may stop to feed bread to the monstrous catfish living in the condenser cooling channel that flows under the railroad bridge near ABK-1. Do not take pictures in the direction of the power plant from this location. (Your guide will probably make this rule abundantly clear.)
ChNPP has its own train station, Semikhody. Trains travel without stopping between Semikhody and Slavutych. The service is free. As there are no stops while the train passes through Belarus, there are no border controls. Visitors exiting the Exclusion Zone via Semikhody must pass through a portal monitor and their personal belongings may be frisked for radionuclide contamination.
At the time of the accident, 2 more reactors of the same type as no. 4 were under construction to the south east of the existing 4 reactors. Construction was efforts were suspended indefinitely after the accident, and the nearly completed reactors were never fuelled. The structure is being dismantled as of 2019, but its half completed 5 cooling towers remain. The northern tower is about twice as tall as the southern tower and can be seen from a distance. The concrete rebar sticking out from the top rim is a silent witness of the abruptness with which construction was halted.
On the shore of the lake near the cooling water intake canal entrance is a 6 fish hatchery with supporting buildings. Fishery was an economically interesting opportunity in the lake because it never froze over due to the elevated temperature of the water being used to cool the 4 operational reactors. This meant fishing was sustainable year round, and the fish caught were larger than elsewhere. The fish hatchery was abandoned after the accident, and one of the few buildings within a 5 km radius around reactor no. 4 that are not related to the power plant itself. The hatchery is not fenced off and can be visited, along with the remains of its floating dock. The shore offers a nice viewing point for the lake.
Vehicle scrap yard
"Rossokha" village, cemetery of military machineries - In April 2008 the government prohibited access to this site and it has remained closed to visitors.
The scrap yard contains the irradiated emergency vehicles which tended the disaster. There are a number of fire tenders, ambulances, trucks and helicopters in the vehicle graveyard, although some of the vehicles are now being sold as scrap metal. You will no longer be able to gain entry there, but as some of the vehicles are still carrying lethal doses of radiation, this isn't a bad thing. Since the closing of that site tours since 2008 have taken visitors to a collection of abandoned ships on a lake by the city instead.
The 7 Red Forest is the strip of birch and pine forest that was contaminated with the worst fallout, killing off most of the vegetation because of the intense radiation and turning trees reddish brown — hence the name. Trees were felled and buried in trenches by liquidators, then covered over with soil and occasionally concrete slabs.
The Red Forest is still the most radioactive area in the Exclusion Zone, and marked with radiation warning signs but not fenced off in any way. As of 2019, radiation levels vary between 4 µSv/h (microsievert/hour) and 15 µSv/h, with local hot spots reaching 40 µSv/h. Spots where material is buried have considerably higher dose levels. It is recommended to stay no longer than 90 minutes around these hot spots (equivalent to a daily accumulated those of 60 µSv which is the threshold for radiation workers). As the most radioactive outdoor area in Europe, exploring the Red Forest is an experience on its own, but adequate safety measures must be taken. Wear protective wellies, carry an electronic dosimeter (PED) with warning threshold set no higher than 20 µSv/h, and do not touch anything. When leaving the Red Forest, protective wellies must be decontaminated (washed off).
If possible, take a geiger counter or similar radiation measurement device with you into the Red Forest to compare activity levels at different locations. Birch trees and lichen are particularly prone to absorbing radioactive Cesium (accounting to the majority of radiation after 32 years), and often read much higher radiation levels with peaks up to 3,000 counts per second not exceptional. Make sure the probe of the geiger counter does not touch any of the vegetation to avoid contaminating it!
The famous abandoned city, which once housed 50,000 residents. Sights to see are the schools, kindergarten, public buildings and the amazing cultural palace which contains a swimming pool, cinema and gymnasium, and overlooks the famous ferris wheel. Hazards are the crumbling buildings, and decaying wooden floors in places – so be careful. The government has deemed all buildings in the town as condemned, so most tours will not let you enter the buildings.
Minibus day-trips from Kiev typically stop in the town's center, at the west end of Lenin Street near the Palace of Culture. Short-term visitors are confined to the pavement at ground level; if you join one of these tours, your risk exposure is minimal, but so too is your exposure to the vast cultural reliquary that is Pripyat. A more in-depth visit (several days, staying overnight at the InterInform hotel in Chernobyl, eating meals at the InterInform stolovaya) costs about US$200 per person per day in a group of four (2011). The long-term visitor is rewarded with considerably more freedom to explore, accompanied of course by an InterInform guide.
Decades of neglect have resulted in a physically-hazardous ex-urban environment in which radiation is of distant, secondary concern. Hazards include uncovered manholes in the middle of barely-recognizable streets, open elevator shafts, flooded basements, decayed wooden floors, collapsed roofs, large amounts of broken glass, challenging footpath obstructions in dark hallways, and quite possibly asbestos. Flashlights are essential to exploring interiors. Although radiation isn't a relatively major concern, the "hotter" spots in town would most certainly be off-limits to the public in the United States or Western Europe. As an example, the basement of the Polyclinic contains first responders' clothing (firefighters' clothes, boots, helmets, etc.) and presents external gamma exposure rates approaching one roentgen (R) per hour (June 2010). As of October 2017, the only access into the hospital basement is by crawling through a hole dug after the basement access was deliberately buried. Some other hot spots are well-known to guides and they can either help you avoid these places or find them if so inclined. The hot spots most commonly visited by tours are mostly marked with radiation signage. These hot spots are generally either places that were not decontaminated previously, contaminated objects, or locations where radioactive materials have collected together due to rain runoff. The most important precaution concerning radioactivity is to avoid ingesting loose contamination. Although your guide might eat snacks or smoke in Pripyat, you should not – particularly if you have been handling things or visiting places like the hospital basement. Buy an ample supply of drinking water at one of the magazines in Chernobyl before going to Pripyat (obviously there is not potable water there). Water can also be used to rinse contaminated shoes before re-entering vehicles.
There are a few abandoned villages in the exclusion zone, and they are extremely interesting to view. Visitors can see farmhouses, small cottages and plenty of vegetation. Be careful entering any of these areas, as vegetation always carries far higher levels of residual radioactivity than concreted areas. Guides will always tell you not to step on the moss, and the dust in dried-out puddles tends to concentrate radioactivity. In addition, pay attention to where you are walking, as most buildings have been damaged due to a combination of neglect and due to being actively damaged by people.
2 Buryakivka (Ukrainian: Буряківка) is a town about 20 km from the nuclear power plant, and was one of the settlements in the direct path of the radioactive fallout cloud. It was evacuated and abandoned. Several buildings remain, in varying degrees of decay. Radiation levels vary between 1 µSv/h on roads and 3.5 µSv/h in forested areas as of 2019. There is also an abandoned railway station 2 km north west of the town.
Within the 10 km zone is a large former secret radar installation that the Soviet government used to detect missiles, the 8 Duga Radar. From Pripyat, it is easy to see in the distance, if looking from a point of elevation.
Your tour will probably include food, but you're advised to bring your own snacks and drinks. However, some tours let you visit the only shop in Chernobyl where you can buy a beer for your meal. By the end of the tour, you just might need it.
If you get access to the Chernobyl administration centre, you will be able to buy souvenirs, such as books detailing the disaster.
In Chernobyl town there is a canteen for the maintenance crews that work in the exclusion zone. If you are on a guided tour, you can eat there, though depending on the tour, the scheduled lunch may not start until well in the afternoon. All day visitors to Chernobyl will likely dine at restaurants outside of the Exclusion Zone.
If staying overnight the canteen in Chernobyl town is used to provide dinner, however, it does not stay open just for tourists. If there is a lack of workers then the Canteen may be closed by the time you return for dinner. In this instance your guides will usually walk you to the nearby shops which stock various cured meats, dried fish and canned vegetables as well as massive range of spirits and beers.
If you bring meals and drinks with you, make sure to keep them well sealed, and avoid opening/consuming any food or drinks in the open air within the 10 km area around the power plant. Clean your hands thoroughly before touching any food.
Tap water in the area remains unsafe for drinking or washing because of the radiation that leaked into surrounding dams, lakes and rivers, so stick to bottled water or mineral water - which in Ukraine is predominantly sparkling.
- 1 ChornobylInterinform Agency Hotel, Bohdan Khmelnytsky Blvd 1A (at the former intersection of Khmelnytsky Blvd and Polupanova Street). Check-in: (by arrangement), check-out: (by arrangement). ~US$40 (double occupancy), July 2011.
Visitors have one (legal) option for spending the night in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and it is the government-run hotel in central Chernobyl. Any of the tour companies mentioned elsewhere on this page can, in principle, make bookings for visitors at the hotel as part of the process of registering the tour with the InterInform Agency. Rules are constantly in flux; if you want to stay overnight in Chernobyl, ask your tour operator about it and make sure to plan early.
If you are accustomed to lodging standards in Kiev, you will find the InterInform Agency hotel surprisingly affordable for the level of comfort provided. The buildings are prefabricated structures installed after the 1986 accident. Many rooms are actually suites, some larger than others. Some rooms have useful amenities like refrigerators, dining tables, sofas, or dishes--luck of the draw. Each room has its own bathroom and shower. Tap water is potable. No WiFi (2011). The buildings are not air-conditioned, but (hopefully!) the windows will be unlocked and screened in the summer. The main Interinform office building has the largest suites, while the annex to the east contains more rooms and even a chapel on the first floor with faux-stained-glass windows. Radiation levels at the InterInform Hotel are close to Kiev background.
Hotel guests are not permitted to leave the premises without an authorized guide! This includes innocuously walking 500 m down the street to buy drinks, snacks or batteries at one of the magazins. If the very-abundant police catch you out on the town without your guide, you can expect a pleasant little march over to the police station near the Lenin statue and old Dom Kulturi, where they have an open-air gazebo set up with folks like you in mind. There you'll wait in contrition until your guide retrieves you.
The InterInform Agency canteen, located on the ground floor of the west building, offers prix fixe dining by reservation only. Reservations made when the tour is booked with InterInform are about US$10 for lunch or dinner, but if meals must be arranged on the day of service, higher prices are charged. The canteen serves three meals a day at fixed times. Dinner is a multi-course, freshly-prepared, traditional Ukrainian set meal with very large portions and typically paired with a traditional beverage like kompot; even after a day of strenuous exploration in Pripyat, it may be hard to eat all the food they bring you, at the pace they bring it. Chances are nobody will check you for contamination or remind you to wash up before eating, but that would be a very good idea to do on your own.
- See also: Urbex
If in Pripyat, exercise caution when entering buildings—the ground around entrances to, and inside buildings will generally be littered with broken glass, concrete and debris. Be sure to take care inside buildings as the flooring can be somewhat uneven (and sometimes unstable), handrails are missing, and elevator doors be left open with no elevator present. Watch your footing—a decent pair of shoes or boots would be a good idea. As of April 2012 tours are no longer allowed to enter the buildings due to an accident occurring involving a floor collapsing injuring several tourists. All visitors sign written acknowledgements of the Exclusion Zone rules, including the rules prohibiting structural access. However, it remains routine (2017) for in-depth custom tours to enter Pripyat structures and forested areas at the discretion of the guide.
Although some of the switch gear and power line infrastructure has been decommissioned after the shutdown of the 3 last reactors in the late 1990s, electrical power is supplied to the nuclear power plant site, Chernobyl, and many air quality monitoring stations from outside the Exclusion Zone. Do not touch electrical cables or other electrical infrastructure, even if they're laying on the ground, as many of these still carry live voltages.
Withdrawal of almost all human activity from the Exclusion Zone allowed nature retake the area. Boars and bears are common as evidenced by hoof and paw prints in mud, and might attack when they feel cornered and/or threatened. Bears particularly enjoy the shelter of abandoned buildings, so make sure to make lots of noise when approaching buildings and never obstruct the path to/from a door to provide an easy escape route for animals that feel trapped.
Packs of wolves also roam through the Exclusion Zone, have grown in numbers, and are not afraid to venture into human occupied territories like the Chernobyl town. Inhabited properties are often fenced off with tall walls to keep wolves out, and it is common for doors to be locked at night. If you decide to bring smaller dogs or other pets into the Exclusion Zone, do not leave them outside at night!
Rising political tensions with neighbours Belarus and Russia have increased security around the nuclear power plant, with armed guards at security checkpoints and patrolling soldiers a common sight in the direct proximity of the plant. Do not make photographs of the checkpoints or whoever guards them. When photographing the NSC or any of the former power plant structures, avoid putting the 1 spent fuel storage facility and its supporting structures in view, as this tends to make guards nervous. When caught, your camera might be confiscated or your SD card formatted.
- See also: Nuclear tourism#Stay safe
More threatening to visitors health than radiation are ticks, which can be encountered in abundance in grassy areas and grasslands. When bitten by a tick there is a chance of contracting Lyme disease, with severe permanent consequences such as paralysis of infected limbs if left untreated. When venturing into grasslands, cover as much skin as possible (long trousers and sleeves), and wear high wellies rather than regular shoes. If you spot ticks on clothes, wipe them off before they can reach down to your skin. If red concentric circles appear after 3 days up to a month after visiting, you might be infected and should consult a doctor immediately. Keep in mind that tick bites can not always be felt, so inspect your skin meticulously when undressing!
Most forested areas should be avoided. Whereas areas accessible to tourists near the reactor and Pripyat generally has low radiation in most areas (but notably not in the hospital basement), forested areas may have higher levels of radiation, in part because no decontamination was attempted in those areas. Do not ingest any material found within the exclusion zone as it may be radioactive. Food and drinks at the canteen do not come from the exclusion zone, so they should be safe.
Radiation hygiene is a very important consideration for in-depth visits, both for your safety and because radioactive contamination discovered on visitors at the Zone checkpoints is construed as prima facie evidence of rules violations (entering structures and straying from paved areas). If you go to the Zone with the goal of exploring and wallowing in the most contaminated areas (e.g. the Pripyat polyclinic or the "Red Forest"), pay attention! As of 2013, the Lelev checkpoint at the 10-km boundary is operational and all visitors must pass through the portal monitors while a police officer scans the vehicle and its interior contents with a scintillator; thus, it is no longer possible to plan on cleaning up at accommodations located in Chornobyl in order to pass inspection at the 30-km boundary. You must be radiologically pristine (well, almost!) before getting back in the vehicle after going exploring. Take the following hygiene equipment, which you should have in easy reach for when you return to your vehicle:
- Pancake thin-window Geiger-Muller survey instrument. Cover the probe with a plastic bag to avoid contaminating it.
- Disposable gloves
- An abundance of carbonated bottled water, purchased at one of the small stores in Chornobyl before you head out to explore
- A cleaning brush with long bristles
- Pocket knife for cutting contaminated spots out of shoe soles (disposable shoe covers are a nice idea but they always break)
- Scissors for cutting contaminated hair
- A change of clothes and/or a disposable Tyvek coverall
Wear gloves while exploring to avoid contaminating hands. After exploration in contaminated areas, remove any obviously-contaminated outerwear like coverall or gloves or street clothes and pack it out in your luggage like a good citizen (low levels of contamination on these articles will be detected by the personnel portal monitors, but will not be noticed in luggage by the wand detectors the police use). Pass the GM probe over your body slowly and identify any spots exceeding about 500 CPM. First, attempt to wash as much of the contamination in these areas off by means of water and brushing. Contaminated hair or shoelaces should simply be cut off, as washing these will prove futile. Shoe soles are sometimes resistant to washing, in which case the offending spots should be reduced by cutting off with a knife. Your goal during cleanup should be to eliminate any spots on your body where the count rate exceeds 500 CPM on the pancake instrument, with particular attention to feet and hands. Avoiding contamination in the first place would in theory be preferable, but if you're reading this, you probably didn't come to Chernobyl to sit around staying clean.
The levels of radiation on guided tours are relatively small; radiation levels in most places are less than those of being in an aircraft flying at 30,000 ft. The main danger is not in the radiation, but in particles of radioactive materials that may remain on your clothes or items. Those who actually follow the rules (stay on pavement, out of buildings) will almost never trigger the portal monitor alarms at Dytyatky and can safely ignore the in-depth "radiation hygiene" discussion above.
A lethal dose of radiation is in the range of 3-5 Sv (sieverts) (300-500 roentgens) when administered within an hour. Levels on the tour reportedly range from 0.15 to several microsieverts (µSv) per hour (15 to several hundred microroentgens an hour). A microsievert is one-millionth of a sievert.
Example: On a six-hour trip arranged in October 2008 the total dose was 4 microsieverts according to the meter (400 microroentgens). This was less than the total dose of the connecting two-hour flight, which was 6 microsieverts (600 microroentgens). Radiation levels by the power plant were 1.7 microsieverts per hour (170 microroentgens per hour) and they varied between 0.4 and 9.5 µSv per hour (40-950 microroentgens per hour) in the Pripyat amusement park. Thus, risks are pretty much non-existent as long as you don't get yourself contaminated.
The International Council on Radiation Protection has a recommended annual limit of 50 mSv (5 rem) (uniform irradiation of the whole body) for nuclear plant workers.
Clinical effects are seen at 750-2,000 mSv (75-200 rem) when administered in a short time scale.
Since the levels are microsieverts (10^-6) the exposure level is very low. But it is still possible to be in contact with some very hot surfaces, so caution should be stressed.
Note: One rem is equal to 1.07 R (roentgen), or 0.01 sieverts or 10 millisieverts.