December 13, 2010

Tourists Will Get To Visit Chernobyl In 2011

The Emergency Situations Ministry said on Monday that Ukraine plans to open tours of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant for visitors who wish to learn more about the tragedy that took place nearly a quarter of a century ago.

Chernobyl's reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, spewing radiation over a large swatch of northern Europe.  Hundreds of thousands of people were resettled from areas contaminated with radiation in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.  Related health problems still persist.

The "exclusion zone" was evacuated and sealed off in the aftermath of the explosion.  All visits were prohibited.

About 2,500 employees maintain the remains of the now-closed nuclear plant, working in shifts to minimize their exposure to radiation. 

Several hundred evacuees have returned to their villages in the area despite the government ban. 

Some firms now offer tours of the restricted area, but the government says those tours are illegal and their safety is not guaranteed.

Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Yulia Yershova said that experts are developing travel routes that will be medically safe and also informative for Ukrainians as well as foreign visitors.  She did not give an exact date when the tours were expected to begin.

"There are things to see there if one follows the official route and doesn't stray away from the group," Yershova told The Associated Press. "Though it is a very sad story."

The ministry said that it hopes to finish building a new safer shell for the exploded reactor by 2015. 

The new shelter will cover the original iron-and-concrete structure hastily built over the reactor that has been leaking radiation, cracking and threatening to collapse.

According to Ukrainian officials, the project will cost $1.15 billion because of stricter safety requirements.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said a final estimate of the project's cost will be released after the French-led consortium Novarka finalizes a construction plan in the next few months.


Image Caption: Aerial view of the damaged core. Roof of the turbine hall is damaged (image center). Roof of the adjacent reactor 3 (image lower left) shows minor fire damage. Courtesy Wikipedia