Ukraine hopes Euro 2012 will boost Chernobyl tours
The Ukrainian government is planning to attract more tourists to the Chernobyl area ahead of the 2012 European Football Championship in the country.
Tours were legalised in January and Chernobyl and Pripyat, the Soviet model town that has become a ghostly monument to humankind's incompetence, have become ghoulish tourist attractions open to anyone ready to spend about €115 for a day trip.
Ukraine's emergency situations ministry claims radiation levels in parts of the "dead zone" around Chernobyl are returning to normal levels, paving the way for the area to be marketed as a tourism destination.
"The Chernobyl zone is not as scary as the world thinks," said spokeswoman Yulia Yurshova. "We want to work with big tour operators and attract Western tourists."
The tours are not for the faint-hearted. Visitors have to sign a waiver, exempting the tour operator from all responsibility in the event that they later suffer radiation-related health problems. Driven round at breakneck speed, and told not to touch any of the irradiated vegetation or metal structures, "tourists" are invited to briefly inspect the stricken number four reactor as the geiger counter, which guides carry, clicks ever higher.
The most arresting "attraction" is not the ruined plant, however, but nearby Pripyat. Visitors can walk through the debris-strewn corridors of its Palace of Culture, admire its crumbling Olympic-sized swimming pool, and wander through the empty classrooms of one of its biggest schools.
Hundreds of discarded gas masks litter the floor of the school canteen, Soviet propaganda still hangs on classroom walls, and dolls are scattered about, left where their owners dropped them a quarter of a century ago.