What's Chernobyl Today after HBO series 2019

In 2019 people around the world united by watching a movie about nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, filmed by HBO.

5 episodes telling the story of a tragedy caused by people which happened in April 1986. And about those regular people who was fighting deadly radiation.


It was a success (the movie). Number one by views across the globe. And after, many wanted to visit the affected zone and the nuclear station itself. The real Chernobyl as it is for today. But the questions are - Is it worth it, safe and what one can see there? Let's go.

In This Article Chernobyl - What It's like today, after HBO's series of 2019. Plan a visit decades after the nuclear disaster - Radiation levels and Safety, an abandoned city of Pripyat and exclusion Zone

Table of Contents

What happened at Chernobyl? Cause of the Explosion

The Chernobyl disaster or accident happened on 26 April 1986 at 01:23 am. It was the explosion at the 4th nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (NPP).

In fact the reactor itself exploded after a catastrophic and unprofessional experiment made by the crew of the NPP. Moreover the reactor, name: RBMK-100, had constructional errors and was unsafe.

chernobyl disaster reactor explosion Archive photo of 1986 after the chernobyl explosion.

A cloud of radioactive elements was formed as the explosion result. Which with winds began to cover nearby territories spreading to the north-west, west-east directions. Affected countries outside the USSR were Sweden, Finland, Austria, Norway, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Greece and more.

The soviet authorities of that time didn't care of people. Their aim was to hide the tragedy from the world and locals. The first message about the disaster came from Sweden (Forsmark NPP), which is 1,000 km of Chernobyl. While in the nearby cities, just 90 km away of the disaster, a parade including kids was organized by an order of the USSR authorities.

Where is Chernobyl?

Chernobyl is located in Ukraine, 92 km by straight to the north of its capital Kyiv (Kiev). The Nuclear Power Plant itself lies near the city of Pripyat, specially built for the NPP workers.

Pripyat is that place where main events happen as shown in 2019 HBO mini series.

chernobyl nuclear power plant Near the NPP. Image by © Anton Ptushkin

As on 1986, when the accident happened, Ukraine was a part of the USSR. Actually was occupied and ruled by Moscow during 1922-1991. That's why in the HBO movie you can see decisions go from the russian capital and not Kyiv.

Not everyone knows, but the Chernobyl NPP was working until 2000, producing electricity. The 4th reactor was destroyed by the accident in 1986, but the rest two were stable, until the government decided to stop them.

Nowadays when you say Chernobyl, it's not only about the NPP but also about an affected zone. 30 km around the NPP. So called the Exclusion Zone. It is the closed area. But can be visited.

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Is it safe to visit Chernobyl today? Radiation Levels.

Is Chernobyl safe? Yes and no. The answer is complicated. And here's why. It is relatively safe to visit the Exclusion zone. But, radiation isn't the same everywhere. All depends where you'll go and for how long.

At one point you'll see a norm at your device (a radiation dosimeter) and just one meter away it can rise in times

said Anton Ptushkin, a popular traveler, who has visited Chernobyl 4 times (see Below his youtube video of a trip in 2019, English subtitles).

The norm level of radiation (natural background) is when your dosimeter shows about 0.13 microSieverts per hour, mcSv/h (OR 13 microRoentgen per hour, mcR/h - it depends what measurement units uses your device - Roentgen or Sieverts. 100R ~ 1Sv or 1mcR ~ 0.01mcSv. Sometimes "Rem" uses instead of "R", it's the same, means "roentgen equivalent in man"). An upper allowed level is 0.30 mcSv/h (30 mcR/h).

chernobyl radiation levels Dosimeter shows radiation.

Radiation levels in 1986 in Pripyat were 1,000mcSv/h (100,000 mcR/h). More than thirty years have passed since then. And as for 2019 "an average level for Pripyat 0.6-1.2 mcSv/h (60-120mcR/h). When you flight by plane at a height of 11 km, radiation vary 2.5-2.7 mcSv/h (250-270 mcR/h). Overall, a visit to Pripyat roughly equals to a 2 hour flight", said Anton.

The main rule to stay safe here is to not go to abandoned buildings, where are lots of dust, radioactive dust. When drive main routes in the zone, in most cases radiation won't be more than in Kyiv, 0.15mcSv/h. That's because the layers of affected soil were removed where possible, asphalt cleaned.

People receive radiation daily, everywhere. The point in its amount. Say, during a flight by plane - as higher and longer you flight - the more you receive. Even a banana contains 0.1 microSieverts of radiation. But all these figures are more or less safe.

chernobyl radiation levels 0.57 mcSv/h near the Shelter .Image by © Anton Ptushkin

Thus if compare to Chernobyl, a visit to its zone is more safe than vise versa. Plus, many of radioactive elements which polluted the environment already reached their half-life period - their level became twice lower. Many but not all, like Plutonium - it will be radioactive for centuries.

Remember, a dose of radiation you receive (absorb) will summary. So it is important to not get more per a given period (per hour or year) than recommended.

And again, do not go to abandoned buildings like a hospital in Pripyat, especially its basement, where radioactive clothes of firefighters are still kept. It's probably the most dirty area.

Derek Muller who has visited it, measured with his dosimeter the radiation levels. Just before it showed "overloaded", the figures were 500mcSv/h. "You know if we'd stay here for a couple of hours, we'd received an annual dose of background radiation", said Derek.

Btw, did you know that an average smoker receive the most radiation per year? 160,000 microSv/year. It seems it is more safe to live in Chernobyl than smoke :) (the final part of Derek video on that, above)

How to get to Chernobyl? Is there any tours?

To visit Chernobyl tourists start from Kyiv. Because it is close from here, 120 km. It's the closed area, as I said before. Officially - the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which approximately lies 30 km around the NPP.

You can go by yourself by car or within a group. To get there officially you need to pass checkpoints. So for foreigners it's better to find a tour operator with a good reputation. Surf the web, read feedback.

Thus 120 km by car to the Chernobyl zone from Kyiv you'll drive for 90 minutes, if count without delays. See directions at Google maps from Kyiv (central Khreschatyk street) to Dytyatky, the first checkpoint and start of 30 km zone.

A day trip to the zone with a tour operator will cost about 100 USD. There is a few days option, which cost more. Such excursion is a road trip through empty Pripyat and villages to the NPP. Read below what tourists can expect from it.

Important - you'll need a special device with you, which shows radiation dose in real time. As I explained above it is a dosimeter. And the norm for natural radiation is about 0.13 microSv/h (13 microR/h). Allowed maximum 0.30 mcSv/h (30 mcR/h).

Chernobyl Now - 5 Things to See

When to go at Chernobyl? I suggest to visit Chernobyl in Summer or starting from May till October. The point is the Zone stands among forests which conquering abandoned locality.

Thus in Summer is the best time to see the nicest or 'truest' picture - nature's green in contrast with leaved buildings and squares. Plus daylight hours are twice longer. Otherwise, when leaves are fallen, a general impression changes significantly.

1Pripyat - the Ghost Town in Green with a Ferris Wheel

Just 3 km of the NPP, this city is the main attraction after the nuclear power plant. Abandoned and with a ban for living for the next 24,000 years. Pripyat is a time machine. The life and time are frozen here. To visit Pripyat is like to back in time for 30 years.

Today, the city sounds like a forest. The only people here are tourists. You can witness how a human loose a fight with nature in a man-made battle.

chernobyl ferris wheel pripyat Ferris Wheel in Pripyat.

The greens of trees and bushes bloom as it would be in jungles. Animals are masters in the city. It's truly amazing picture when you're looking on Pripyat architectural objects which immerse among trees.

"The world's most unlikely tourist attraction", noticed Lonely Planet and adds "the recent HBO/Sky series has inspired travellers to visit Pripyat .. it received circa 70,000 visitors last year", describing the ghost town as "an eerie landscape of crumbling buildings"

Everything in this city still evidence the past - the USSR arms of coats and slogans, like it's still 1986.

chernobyl abandoned city pripyat An abandoned city of Pripyat. Image by © Anton Ptushkin

Because Pripyat was designed with a distinct downtown, the main locations to see concentrated in the centre. They are: the Ferris Wheel, administrative buildings, Prometei cinema, a palace of culture Energetik, hotel Polesie and park attractions.

When you are with a tour group, a guide shows images of how all those places looked before the disaster. Like a popular approach "before and after". The differences impress.

2Chernobyl Animals and a Red Forest. Wild Nature without a Human

When you enter the Zone the first thing you'll notice is how alive everything are. I mean the nature. It seems all those plants and animals feel themselves great.

An explanation is simple - there's no their first enemy - no humans. It is hard to believe but without people even radiation doesn't stop life diversity.

And it looks like a wonder - the biggest nuclear disaster affected an ecosystem less than deforestation and the atmosphere pollution.

In fact, researcher who studying flora and fauna in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, confirm their development. A road through the Zone like a jungle trip.

chernobyl exclusion zone Wild nature of Chernobyl.

The zone is full of wild animals - bears, roe deers, wolves, rabbits, foxes etc. The waters abound of fishes. The wild life of Chernobyl looks good at a glance. Furthermore, the animals here are without mutations.

I have to say that the island of Madagascar looks more alike after the nuclear accident, where locals have deforested to zero its greens than the Chernobyl area.

Surely, there is really radioactive - dirty places around Chernobyl. Like a famous Red Forest - the one which took on itself so high dose that turned from green to red and ginger in a short while.

Btw, the Red Forest is a popular attraction here.

3The Chernobyl Sarcophagus aka New Confinement. Inside the Shelter.

As you might logically expect the Nuclear Power Plant itself is that cherry on the cake, which should be seen during a trip to Chernobyl. It's the final point of most excursions and tours to the Zone.

For almost thirty years the destroyed reactor No 4 stood under a temporary construction - Sarcophagus or the Shelter Object. Its aim was to protect the environment.

Today, since 2018, a New Safe Confinement covers the old Chernobyl Sarcophagus and the reactor No 4. The new Shelter is world's biggest moving arch, designed by a Novarka company.

chernobyl sarcophagus new confinement

110 meters in height, 260 meters wide and a total weight of 36,000 tons, the new Confinement do its job - radiation levels in front of it decreased from 2.75mcSv/h in 2014 to 0.58mcSv/h in 2019.

Regardless that a dose of radiation here no more than when you flight by plane, it is recommended to stay near the Shelter no longer than 30 minutes.

The Confinement is closed for visits, but look what's inside:

chernobyl sarcophagus inside shelter Chernobyl Sarcophagus inside the new Shelter

Here it is, almost at arm's length - the Chernobyl NPP itself. Strange feelings. To see and remember.

They plan to take down the old Shelter and clean there a bit. For that matters the new Confinement has manipulative mechanisms under its dome.

And you wouldn't believe, but there were people, inside the destroyed reactor No 4. Crazy scientists. They filmed what's there. Hence, you can see the Sarcophagus inside. Radiation was so hight that become visible on the video.

chernobyl meltdown elephant foot Elephant's foot - melted lava-like nuclear fuel under the reactor No 4

4Duga - A Giant Anti Missile Radar

Also known as 'Chernobyl-2' the construction is beyond imagination. This military object unique of its kind. The only saved of three. And it's big indeed.

The Duga anti missile radar can be seen from everywhere around. 150 meters in height and 500 meters wide. It's purpose was an early detection of missiles launches, so called over-the-horizon radar.

chernobyl - 2 Duga aka russian woodpecker

Because it was enough powerful to make disruption to air broadcasters worldwide, with sounds like a woodpecker, Chernobyl-2 received a nickname the Russian Woodpecker.

In some senses it reminds the Eiffel Tower - the cobwebs of metal lines and elegance. Hence, the radar doesn't look heavy, rather futuristic like from another planet.


5Slavutych town for Chernobyl people - a Symbol of Rebirth

When become clear that Pripyat doesn't fit for living anymore, the question arose of a new home for Chernobyl people, for 47,500 of them. The answer is Slavutych, at least for some. The youngest town in Ukraine, built for 2 years.

Slavutych isn't located directly in the Zone. It lies 50 km away of the NPP, where the environment wasn't much affected.

This town is a rare route for tourists, although it links strongly with Chernobyl and unique in a manner.

Slavutych built in a way to represent an architectural styles and colouring of the USSR capitals (the biggest cities of republics). There is a Kyiv - style quarter, Moscow, Baku, Tbilisi, Vilnius neighborhood. In total 13 of them.

chernobyl people in slavutych Many refugees found their new home in Slavutych

Thus a visit here is like a mini trip to the USSR last years period. The town came out colorful and today it is a home for the Confinement staff.

What are the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster 1986? Radiation Poisoning.

The Chernobyl disaster led to dramatic consequences in many senses. It shows how easily irresponsible people by the hands of their own can destroy themselves, the nature and change lives of thousand innocent.

The environment, people and lessons (hopefully learned) - what behind these words?

The nuclear accident of 1986 in Chernobyl poisoned with radiation the environment, 200,000 of squares kilometers were affected and some of them become unsuitable for living.

Heavy radioactive elements of all kinds - Uranium, Plutonium, Cesium-137 (half-life 30 years), Iodine-131, Strontium-90 (half-life 29 years) poisoned the soil, plants, animals, people.

chernobyl radiation poisoning There is really radioactive dirty areas. Image by © Derek Muller

Fortunately for millions Kyiv citizens the wind direction blow away from the city while the reactor was on fire. Covering forests, villages, cities in Belarus and up to the Scandinavian countries.

But even in Kyiv (Kiev), which is just 94 km by straight away of the NPP, radiation for that period raised in hundred times, from natural background of 13 mR/h to 1200 mR/h (0.13 mSv/h to 12 mSv/h).

The city of Pripyat was evacuated forever, just after 16 years of foundation. Its citizens lose their homes in a moment. The abandoned city declared unsafe for 24,000 years.

Hundreds and thousands of people received an amount of radiation which caused serious health damages in the future. And those Heroes like firefighters, died just within weeks or even days.

A hard lesson of the Chernobyl tragedy showed how far people could go in their self-confidence (in a bad way).

Showed real faces of undemocratic authorities, who gave orders to organize a parade in Kiev, with kids, among invisible radiation, instead of safety instructions. People simply did not know about the danger. While in German Stuttgart, 1000 km away, kids were advised to stay home.

Thanks to HBO's Chernobyl mini-series 2019 people around the world focus again on the price humanity pay for irresponsibility of ones and suffering for others.

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