June 15, 2005

Chernobyl is Open

If you’re tired of unsatisfying vacations to cookie-cutter resorts in Cancun and Hawaii, you can always visit the end-of-the-world radiation blast zone around Chernobyl in Ukraine. It is now “safe” enough that it’s open for tourism.

A 19-mile radius around the infamous power plant, the zone has largely been closed to the world since Chernobyl's Reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, sending people to flight and exposing the Communist Party as an institution wormy with hypocrisy and lies.

For nearly 20 years it has been a dark symbol of Soviet rule. Its name conjures memories of incompetence, horror, contamination, escape and sickness, as well as the party elite's disdain for Soviet citizens, who were called to parade in fallout on May Day while the leaders' families secretly fled.

Now it is a destination, luring people in. “It is amazing,” said Ilkka Jahnukainen, 22, as he wandered the empty city here that housed the plant's workers and families, roughly 45,000 people in all. “So dreamlike and silent.”
The New York Times piece is accompanied by a slide show of the eerily modern ruins, of entire cities emptied in an instant, like something out of The Stand.


I have to go there. I’m pretty certain I will go there at some point. Any editors out there want to send me on an assignment? I’m serious, and I can go any time.

There’s nothing quite like marveling in person at the epic-sized wreckage wrought by totalitarian goverments. Fortunately, for those of us deranged enough to be drawn to this sort of thing, these places are opening up all over. Uzbekistan, until recently one of the most closed societies on Earth, is also now open for tourism.

If you ever want to see the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest inland body of water in the world, you had better go now. It loses dozens of feet of shoreline each day due to disastrous Soviet irrigation policies that permanently and dramatically altered the climate. Fishing towns along the old coastline, like the industrial cities around Chernobyl, already are modern ghost towns. Ships lay on their sides in the desert.


The Chernobyl area will, eventually, recover completely. But in a few short years, the Aral Sea will vanish forever.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at June 15, 2005 2:54 PM
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