“Visit Chernobyl!” In Ukraine, radio stations for trips advertise in the radioactive contaminated exclusion zone. There are extreme tourists, nuclear enthusiasts from the West – and visitors from Japan who want to see how to manage a nuclear apocalypse.
Jobs are scarce for men in the late 30s in rural Ukraine, and Yuri Tatarchuk says he is too old to be picky. The 38-year-old tourist guide has forced his wrestler figure into combat boots and army trousers. In front of him are travelers from Europe, Asia and America. Tatartschuk distributes Geiger counter and well-meaning advice. “Distance is the best protection” is one, “Panic is no help” another.
TOURING CHERNOBYL A GENERATION LATER
40 curious pairs of eyes are clinging to the T-shirt, which tensions a little over his stomach. “Save the Planet” is written in golden letters and “Hard Rock Cafe Chernobyl”. It is Tatarschuks self-ironic commentary on tourist development of the death zone around Chernobyl. He earned his money as a tour guide in the contaminated restricted area around the 1986 damaged reactor. You can read more about Chernobyl here https://destinationsunknown.com/2017/09/05/touring-chernobyl-a-generation-later/ .
130,000 people fled in 1986 after Reactor 4 of the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin power plant exploded on April 26. Deadly, radioactive dust settled on streets and houses, two cities and dozens of villages had the Soviets give up because radioactive substances such as cesium-137 poisoned soil, water and air. But 25 years later, people from all over the world voluntarily set foot on the poisoned ground.
“I lead a dangerous life”
Margarita from Italy has chosen leopard-style canvas shoes for a trip to the death zone and a pink lipstick. Her eyebrows have dyed her poison green, her dark hair blond. “I lead a dangerous life,” breathes the mid-twenties. “All the color in my hair, that’s also harmful to health.”
She strolls past a ferris wheel in the city of Pripyat. The Soviets built it in the eighties, but it was never inaugurated because the nearby nuclear power plant exploded. Bumper cars and ferris wheel were irradiated, Pripyat evacuated. Today, however, tourists like Margarita explore the amusement park. Most are for nuclear energy, they call it “pragmatic”. Most want to see how life goes on after a nuclear apocalypse.
“Chernobyl,” says Margarita, “is the ultimate kick, as long as North Korea is still closed.” $ 100 costs the day trip to the disaster area, including lunch in the power station canteen. “Visit Chernobyl”, advertise radio stations in the capital Kiev. The government has announced plans to increase the number of tourists from 60,000 to one million annually. Since Fukushima the tours are fully booked.
An air-conditioned Mercedes bus takes tourists to the reactor, the heart of the “zone of alienation,” as the restricted area is officially called. In the car, the movie “The Truth About the Battle of Chernobyl”, a documentary drama with a pathetic soundtrack and animated explosions, runs like a Hollywood strip on modern plasma screens. Outside, abandoned villages pass by.
Geiger counter rattle
Henrik Björkman, a Swedish engineer, lolls on a comfortable leather seat. His country decided to phase out nuclear energy 30 years ago, but the energy transition had a short half-life. Meanwhile, the government has overturned the ban on the construction of nuclear power plants, the nuclear power advocates are in the majority, even after Fukushima. “I’m quite positive on nuclear power,” says the engineer. He is not afraid of nuclear energy because there are no tsunamis and earthquakes in Sweden.
The bus stops in front of Reactor Block 4. A black sarcophagus of steel and concrete juts out sharply into the sky. More than half a million men marched in Moscow in 1986 to tame the nuclear fire in the crater of the exploded power plant. The men needed 202 days to build the protective cover. The Geiger counters rattle anyway, the sarcophagus has many cracks and holes.
Tsuyoshi Otake, gray-haired, gray windbreaker, pulls out his pad and takes notes. Colleagues appreciate the Japanese reporter for his sober judgment. As a European correspondent for the business magazine “Nikkei Business Publications”, he otherwise assesses the earnings prospects of global corporations. Now he is to analyze the perspectives of his homeland, which has maneuvered itself into a dead-end nuclear lane. “Objectively,” says Otake, “Japan can not do without nuclear power.” He will report back home how to administer a GAU, the example of Chernobyl could be useful in dealing with the Fukushima disaster.
7,000 people still work in the restricted area, explains Yuri Tatarchuk, the brawny tour guide. They keep the old power station in condition, which only went from the net in 2000, secure the sarcophagus and the restricted area, which is twice as large as the Saarland. Tatartschuk turns to the Japanese. Whether Otake “despite the accident of Fukushima” still trust the information of the government, “he asks. The Japanese nods shyly. “Governments are all lying,” laughs the Ukrainian. “Democratic, too, Japan is democratic, right?”