When one thinks of Chernobyl, vacation spot is certainly not the first thing to come to mind. However, more than three decades after the terrible reactor meltdown, tours of the contaminated towns surrounding the infamous reactor are gaining in popularity.
On April 26, 1986, during a test to see how much power was needed to keep the No. 4 reactor operating in the event of a blackout, the Chernobyl Nuclear Station exploded, releasing extremely dangerous amounts of radioactive chemicals into the air, which over time contaminated millions of square miles in dozens of European nations. The IAEA estimates that approximately 30 people were killed by the explosion and related radiation exposure, with several thousand additional deaths due to higher cancer incidence possible over the long term.
The town closest to the No. 4 reactor was Pripyat, a city of 49,000 founded in 1970 to house workers from Chernobyl. It had 15 primary schools, a hospital, 25 stores, 10 gyms, along with parks, cinemas, factories, and other marks of a thriving community. There was even an amusement park. Only about three kilometers from the explosion, the entire city was forced to evacuate in a mere two days.
Over two decades later, this ghost town is a freeze-frame of the Soviet Union in 1986. Communist propaganda still hangs on walls, personal belongings litter the streets and abandoned buildings. The hammer and sickle decorate lampposts, awaiting May Day celebrations that never took place. Toys are strewn about a schoolhouse where they were last dropped by children who are now fully grown. All clocks are frozen at 11:55, the moment the electricity was cut.
Ironically, the absence of humans has been excellent for the wildlife. In 1986 wildlife was not doing well in Chernobyl, outcompeted for resources by pine and dairy farms. After people left the deer and boar populations returned almost immediately, and despite having radiation levels thousands of times higher than normal, they were not showing obvious signs of mutations (though the plants got pretty weird including some actual glowing) and the animal populations grew enormously. After the elk, moose, deer and boar returned so did their predators the wolves and lynx. Today the animal populations more closely resemble that of a national park than a radioactive containment zone. As it turns out, from the animals point of view, a nuclear disaster is preferable to normal human habitation.
Already, after three decades of abandonment, Pripyat is being to be swallowed up by the surrounding forest. Someday soon, it will no doubt be completely overgrown. (Source: Atlas Obscura)