Take a vacation to Chernobyl and become a real power player

Looking to one-up your friends who are always taking exotic vacations?

Ukraine’s ominously named Emergency Situations Ministry has the answer for you. The ministry announced that next year it would open the 30-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl power plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident.

Thanks to a combination of carelessness and design flaws, Reactor 4 exploded and burned April 26, 1986, showering radioactive fallout over Northern Europe and killing and sickening an unknown number of people.
The authorities relocated 350,000 people while workers encased the damaged reactor in a steel and concrete sarcophagus. That cover is cracked, leaking radiation and in danger of collapse.

Certainly a highlight of any tour would be watching workers build its replacement, a 20,000-ton container — 345 feet high, 490 feet long and 853 feet wide — that will be rolled into place using railroad tracks. The cost of the containment project is estimated at $1.15 billion, mostly paid by international donors.

Certainly the most poignant part of the tour would be Prypyat, the town closest to the reactor, where 50,000 people were forced to drop what they were doing and leave immediately. Books were left on school desks, rumpled beds abandoned in the hospital, toys left where they were dropped on the playground. It is a kind of 20th-century Pompeii.

There are 2,500 workers bused in for short shifts to maintain the inactive plant, and there are elderly peasants in the exclusion zone who simply refused to leave until the government gave up trying to make them.

And there are illegal, black-market tours of Chernobyl that run out of Kiev, but the Emergency Situations Ministry cautions that the safety of these tours is not guaranteed, as that of the government-run tours presumably will be.

After all, this is one vacation from which you do not want to return all aglow.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service.

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