Posted: 5/13/2002 5:21:04 PM EDT
Since there is renewed/interest in nuclear power plant disasters, check this out. It is not as bad as it seems, at least to the environmental wackos.
Los Angeles Times: Chernobyl Gets Glowing Reviews
Chernobyl Gets Glowing Reviews
Travel: Visitors can see rare horses and breathe surprisingly fresh air in a
strange twist on adventure tourism at the site of reactor disaster.
By MARY MYCIO
SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
May 11 2002
CHERNOBYL, Ukraine -- Yuri Zayets pointed his binoculars toward a distant copse
of birches and shouted excitedly from midway up the fire tower: "They're over
there, grazing near the forest."
It had taken nearly two hours of driving through the unique radioactive
wilderness born of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster to find them, but one of
the world's few wild herds of rare Przewalski horses finally came into view.
"Stay here," Denis Vishnevsky, a zoologist with the Chernobyl Ecology Center,
said after the group of official guides and a journalist piled out of their
minibus to see the short but powerfully robust horses, introduced here in 1998
to eat what was supposedly "excess" vegetation in the depopulated area. "They'll
come to us." "Chernobyl safaris," mused Rima Kiselytsia, a guide with
Chernobylinterinform, the agency that shepherds all visitors to the "Zone of
Alienation" around the now-decommissioned reactor, an area that once was home to
135,000 people. "It's a strange idea, but I like it."
Chernobyl tourism has been a hot topic in Ukraine since January, when a U.N.
report urged Chernobyl communities to learn to live safely with radiation--such
as consuming only produce grown outside the zone. The report suggested
specialized tourism as one of several possible ways to bring money into a region
that has swallowed more than $100 billion in subsidies from Soviet, Ukrainian
and international government funds since the nuclear accident 16 years ago.
Back in the town of Chernobyl, where the zone's administration manages the Rhode
Island-sized no man's land around the destroyed reactor, one official said
economic benefits of tourism will never be more than minor.
But he doesn't reject the idea outright. "The U.N. is 12 years too late," said
Mykola Dmytruk, deputy director of Chernobylinterinform, referring to
technicians who have been coming to the zone for that long. "We've been allowing
tours since 1994."
A few Kiev tourist agencies advertise Chernobyl excursions on their Web sites,
but so far the zone administration doesn't actively promote the idea. "A great
deal still isn't known," said Dmytruk, "and we warn everyone about the risks,
-- continued --
The risks, though small, are real. And so is the desolation. But the aftermath
of the accident has created a misleading stereotype of the zone as a toxic
wasteland, a nuclear desert devoid of life, and certainly not a place a sane
person would want to visit.
In fact, by ending industrialization, deforestation, cultivation and other human
intrusions, radiation has transformed the zone into one of Europe's largest
wildlife habitats, a fascinating and at times beautiful wildness teeming with
large animals such as moose, wolves, boar and deer. It now is home to 270 bird
species, 31 of them endangered--making the zone one of the few places in Europe
to spot rarities such as black storks and booted eagles.
And traveling to Chernobyl may qualify as a kind of adventure tourism. The very
knowledge of the buzzing background of radiation imbues even the prosaic act of
walking down the street with an aura of excitement. It isn't the same adrenalin
punch as bungee jumping in the Andes, but it is a palpable sensation--like being
surrounded by ghosts.
By law, no one can enter the zone without permission. But except for children
under 17, the administration may give permission to pretty much anyone. The vast
majority of the nearly 1,000 annual visitors are scientists, journalists,
politicians and international nuclear officials, but the zone has hosted a
handful of what Dmytruk calls "pure" tourists--including three Japanese in
2000--and it can put together customized programs, such as safaris in search of
Przewalski horses, which some experts believe are the ancestors of all domestic
horses but far more aggressive..
"If a group of Californians want to go bird-watching, we can organize that,"
Dmytruk said, adding, "so long as they know the difference between plutonium and
Of course, Chernobyl isn't Club Med. But 16 years after the fourth reactor bloc
spewed radiation around the globe, the risks are mostly manageable. About a
quarter of the cesium and strontium have already decayed, and 95% of the
remaining radioactive molecules are no longer in fallout that can get on or
inside a visitor, but have sunk to a depth of about 5 inches in the soil.
From there, they have insinuated themselves into the food chain, making the
zone's diverse and abundant flora and fauna radioactive indeed. An antler shed
recently by a Chernobyl elk was stuffed with so much strontium that it cannot be
allowed out of the zone. But three Przewalski foals born in the wild, though
radioactive, have grown to adolescence with no visible effects.
Such radioactivity now has receded to the background. On an average day, a
visitor might receive an extra radiation dose about equivalent to taking a
two-hour plane trip, zone officials say.
That is, if the visitor follows the strict but simple safety rules: "Don't eat
local food, stay on the pavement, and go only where your guide takes you,"
It is almost impossible to smell fresher air in an urban setting than here in
the town of Chernobyl, where the number of cars seen on a warm April day could
be counted on one hand and songbirds frequently provide the only sound.
-- continued --
"It is one of the zone's many paradoxes, but because human activity is banned
nearly everywhere, the region is one of Ukraine's environmentally cleanest,"
Dmytruk said. "Except for radiation."
Today, villages are slowly succumbing to encroaching forests. In the abandoned
town of Pripyat, less than two miles from the nuclear reactor, empty black
windows stare blindly from high-rise buildings at kindergartens littered with
heartbreakingly small gas masks.
It may seem like an odd place for a rewarding tourism experience. But nowhere
else can a visitor stand amid a herd of wild Przewalski horses like a character
in Jean Auel's Ice Age novels, or watch a pair of rare white-tailed eagles
circling above the ghostly high-rises of Pripyat, a moving monument to the
devastating effects of technology gone awry and nature's near miraculous
resilience and recovery.
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