People, Travel

Chernobyl on Track to Becoming “Dark Destination”

The iconic ferris wheel in Pripyat is a symbol of the Chernobyl disaster.The iconic ferris wheel in Pripyat is a symbol of the Chernobyl disaster.

The once obscure and unassuming area of Chernobyl in a remote northern corner of Ukraine has become synonymous with the worst-case scenario in a nuclear accident.

Until the 2011 Fukushima meltdown, Chernobyl was undoubtedly the worst nuclear disaster in history. Now both are vying for the top spot as the world’s most popular “dark destination”, Euronews reported.

Despite relatively little being known about the mid- to long-term effects of radiation on flora and fauna, morbid curiosity is driving tourists to flock to the so-called “exclusion zones”.

In 2011, Chernobyl was officially declared a tourist attraction and some in Fukushima are calling for the plant itself to eventually be turned into a tourist center.

According to the website, the average Chernobyl tour consists of a day trip from Kiev with a short stop at a viewpoint near Reactor 4. Only a very small minority of tourists are allowed inside the plant itself.

Most tours will pass along the main road from Chernobyl town and the ghost town of Pripyat. Although vehicles are prohibited from stopping, the huge power plant is clearly visible en route.

The closest most get to the epicenter of the explosion is at the sight of a memorial a few hundred meters from the old sarcophagus at Reactor 4.

There is a visitors’ center, which is dedicated to the new “safe confinement” efforts that have reportedly been outsourced to a French company. Photos of the famous “Elephant Foot” of lava that formed from the molten reactor’s uranium fuel rods are on display.

Some sociologists believe they have the answer. They say that a host of modern phenomena–from the medicalization of death to its industrialization and even the distancing of graveyards from urban centers–have made it more difficult for us to experience true horror.

Philip Stone and Richard Sharpley from the Institute for Dark Tourism Research in the UK say a macabre excursion “allows the re-conceptualization of death and mortality into forms that stimulate something other than primordial terror and dread”. They offer a sense of adventure but with the reassurance of knowing that “it’s only a day trip” and life will return to normal soon.

Many commentators are wary of what this fascination with the foreboding might mean for society. But others welcome the revenue it creates and see it as a way of turning a disaster into something productive, which carries a message of warning for future generations.


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