To visit the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a 30-kilometer ring that surrounds the Chernobyl nuclear plant, is a haunting, sobering experience. Located north of Kiev, on the border between the Ukraine and Belarus, Chernobyl is the site of the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history. The disaster occurred in 1986, and since then the power plant and Exclusion Zone surrounding it have been off-limits for human inhabitants. But earlier this year, Ukraine opened the Exclusion Zone to tourists, highlighting the interest in this area and the possibilities it provides for rebuilding. More on the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone after the break.
Shortly after the disaster was under control, the nearby town of Pripyat was evacuated and the Exclusion Zone set up to ensure no one entered in areas of high radiation. In the months immediately following the disaster, this area became a dead zone, with no human or wildlife activity. Residents of the town were forced to evacuate to avoid radiation poisoning, and the only activity within the zone was from efforts to clean up the damage. But as the years have passed and the radiation levels have decreased, wildlife has slowly returned to the area.
At present, the number of wildlife species that have returned to the Exclusion Zone and flourished gave reason for the Ukrainian government to declare it a wildlife sanctuary. It is one of the largest sanctuaries in Europe, and gives hope that the zone can return to something of its former state before the disaster. The zone has also been recently opened for short tourist excursions, allowing visitors the chance to experience the ghost town of Pripyat, and the dangerous side of nuclear power first hand. As radiation levels subside further, more proposals are put forth to transform this land into something that can revive the area.
One of the proposals with the most traction is to keep and develop the zone as a wildlife refuge. This idea is particularly popular because it does not involve reintroducing nuclear technology to the area, instead leaving the rebuilding efforts up to Mother Nature. But as there is not much financial gain to be found in this proposal, others have also been put forth. The most recognized of these is to turn the zone into a research ground for disposing of nuclear waste, testing out new ideas in a place that already has experience in this area. These new research grounds would provide jobs and other economic benefits for the surrounding area, and could lead to a revival of the area as a leader in smart nuclear waste disposal. It has also been proposed to use the area as a test field for agriculture and energy projects. These agricultural projects would deal with how to produce food in an area affected by radiation, an important topic as sustainable nuclear energy becomes more popular.
The rebuilding efforts within and around Chernobyl have focused on both environmental recovery and redevelopment of the area. Environmental recovery proposals have included making the zone off-limits, to allow for wildlife to return, as well as building a habitat reserve. In terms of redevelopment, proposals include turning the site into an area for research on safer nuclear waste disposal. Also proposed are ideas for returning agriculture to the area, and ideas for eco-tourism. In all, as more sustainable sources of energy are sought, such as nuclear power, the dangers that go with them must be taken into account as well. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has the potential to become a beneficial reminder of these risks, informing and educating to ensure it does not occur again.