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The Series Chernobyl Has Tourists Flocking to the Nuclear Disaster Site

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Ukraine’s Chernobyl might be on track to become a top tourist destination . The widely popular HBO miniseries has resulted in a surge in bookings for trips to the abandoned nearby town after a major nuclear disaster in 1986.

Chernobyl Show HBO Pripyat
Pripyat, Ukraine near Chernobyl

Trip bookings for May 2019 were 30 percent higher than May 2018, and were up over the next three months, as well, said Sergii Ivanchuk, of SoloEast Travel, which organizes tours to the nuclear power plant. 

The city of Pripyat is one of the most polluted places in the world and can only be visited with a licensed guide. Visitors usually travel from the city of Kiev which is 110 km south of the abandoned town. 

Various tour companies offer guided tours into the contaminated “exclusion zone,” which covers an area of more than 4,000 square kilometers around the nuclear power plant. Radiation levels during the trips are considered to be safe, but the area around the power plant remains largely uninhabited.

Gas Mask Hanging IN Pripyat
Gas mask hanging in an abandoned building in Pripyat

"Most of the people say they decided to book after seeing this show. It's almost as though they watch it and then jump on a plane over."

The Chernobyl miniseries, starring Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson, dramatizes the aftermath of the disaster. It is now the highest-ranked TV show on IMDB. 

Although “Chernobyl” was mostly filmed in Lithuania, its success has seen demand for tours of the area near the infamous site increase by around a third.

A tourist takes a selfie with an abandoned bus during a tour in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Credit: (Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE)

The dramtic increase of tourists to Chernobyl is likely to feed into debate: How should we commemorate a man made disaster without turning Chernobyl into an adventure theme park after it exposed thousands to radiation?

Visitors stand in line at a souvenir shop at the Dytyatky checkpoint near Chernobyl. Credit: (Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE)

SoloEast Travel director Ivanchuk told the Washington Post that he was struggling to comprehend why some of his competitors were selling “fridge magnets, radioactive ice cream and canned air” near the site.

"It is disgusting and humiliating to those people who still work in Chernobyl or who come to visit their abandoned houses.The 20th Century is full of dark events and suffering, and just like Auschwitz or Hiroshima, Chernobyl is one of them.”

Although Chernobyl has been declared safe to visit, many visitors are concerned about radiation levels. 

"It's the most popular question visitors ask, but it's absolutely safe. The government would never allow tourists to come otherwise. The radiation visitors are exposed to on a tour is less than on an intercontinental flight.

Ferris Wheel Chernobyl
Ferris Wheel at Pripyat's deserted amusement park

The deadly Chernobyl accident happened on April 26, 1986, after a routine test at one of the power plant's reactors went catastrophically wrong. 

The direct explosion caused 31 deaths. Millions of people were exposed to the radiation making the final death toll disputable. 

the UN predicted up to 9000 cancer related deaths back in 2005 and Greenpeace later estimated up to 200,000 fatalities. 

Chernobyl was the worse nuclear power plant disaster and is still in the progress of being cleaned up today. 

Tours of Chernobyl from Kiev cost between $100-$500 USD per person, depending on the type of tour that you choose.  Tourist operators are forecasting the number of tourists visiting the site may double this year up to 150,000 people.

This story originally appeared in the Washington Post