Destination Chernobyl? Radioactivity, Jobs And Tourism


KYIV – What is perhaps the best known – and certainly the most dangerous – place in Ukraine is called the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone”. And now Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky promises major changes at the site of the worst civilian nuclear disaster in history.

Over 35 years after the tragedy, much has changed in what locals call the “Zone”, but life goes on. People who returned to their hometowns after being forcibly evicted following the 1986 accident still live there. But life has been hectic in these specially designated towns and communities: contaminated areas are often located next to their vegetable gardens, new infrastructure cannot be built, and there is hardly any work.

To change the lives of these communities and attract investment to the region, Chernobyl zone transformation projects have already been designed and now need to be approved by the Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources.

Currently, the Chernobyl zone is divided into three zones, linked to the proximity of the reactors. The first is 10 kilometers around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where the disaster occurred. The object “Shelter” and the city of Pripyat are there. This area is said to be “forever lost” because the radioactive elements that have accumulated there will need at least 20,000 years to dissipate.

The second zone is a buffer zone and an unconditional resettlement zone (mandatory). Villages have been evacuated there, while construction and cultivation, fishing, berry picking and hunting are prohibited.

The third area refers to guaranteed voluntary resettlement. It has the same prohibitions as the second zone, but people live there, both locals and those who work in the zone on a rotational basis. Residents of these communities cannot renovate their own homes, plant vegetables, obtain land or inherit property.

There are 10,000 hectares of wasteland

The guaranteed voluntary resettlement territory includes 800 establishments which fall under the third and sometimes even the second zone. There is hardly any work here, and business activity and tax revenues are non-existent.

In the community of Naroditsy, there are 10,000 hectares of wasteland. But they do grow crops on some of them, which is both illegal and unhealthy. According to the National Environmental Inspectorate, 5,000 hectares of contaminated land are being used for planting crops in the Zhytomyr region alone.

The community leaders explain their actions as follows: they do not know if these lands are polluted or not, because they do not have corresponding maps. To be sure that they ask to study. According to the state’s Exclusion Zone Management Agency, $ 1 trillion is not enough to study all the contaminated land.

The transformation of the exclusion zone and the unconditional resettlement zone was mentioned in 2015 by the then Minister of Ecology, Igor Shevchenko, but it did not go further. Since the election of President Zelensky in 2019, three decrees have been signed relating to the transformation of the area. In April 2021, a bill was registered that will allow regional public administrations to grant permits for the use of currently contaminated land, after expert assessment, to build new infrastructure and extend existing ones.

The iconic Ferris wheel in the ghost town of Prypiat, Ukraine, is abandonedVolodymyr Tarasov / Ukrinform / Zuma Wire

Olga Vasilevskaya-Smaglyuk, Member of Parliament and co-author of the bill, says changes and new building permits are needed for local communities to survive. “We need tourism and economic development. Tourists going to the Chernobyl zone should have a place to eat or refuel their cars,” she said. “

The caution, however, comes from members of Parliament’s main scientific and expert department, who say this could lead to uncontrolled land use and the building of new businesses on the radioactively contaminated land, which of course could lead to problems. health.

The proposed project is divided into three phases. The first will last from 2021 to 2030 and provides for the restoration of the degraded ecosystem in an area of ​​30 kilometers around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the restoration of the natural barrier function.

Meanwhile, deadwood and forest fires, which account for 30% of the total area of ​​the area, need to be removed, new trees should be planted and water sources transferred to the nature protection area. The territory not usable for living beings will become an industrial zone to dispose of the contaminated wood.

The Shelter facility requires special attention: under its roof is the ruined fourth unit, which continues to deteriorate. It should be dismantled and buried before it begins to collapse in unpredictable places and on an unpredictable scale.

The second phase will last from 2031 to 2050. The uninhabitable part of the Area is to be transformed into an open economic zone, in particular, to build the nuclear fuel infrastructure of Westinghouse (the company that supplies fuel to a number of nuclear power plants). Ukrainian power stations).

The territory not usable for living beings will become an industrial zone.

Also in the second period, environmentalists proposed to develop tourism, to create a museum-archive of popular culture to form a regional fund of scientific information on the ethnocultural heritage of Chernobyl.

The third stage will last from 2051 to 2071. During this time, it is planned to transfer the land restored for economic purposes, to completely decommission three Chernobyl units and to create environmentally friendly and waste-free nuclear technology.

Instead of the remaining three power units, environmentalists propose to install 12 NuScale Power modular reactors with a capacity of 50 MW. The small power modular reactor technology itself is in the testing stage. The world’s first such reactor is expected to launch in 2026 in Idaho.

Another plan for the exclusion zone is a proposal to build a plant to recycle lithium-ion engines and produce hydrogen.

There are proposals to develop multipurpose testing grounds for domestic and foreign scientists, in order to provide comfortable working conditions for scientists by creating an innovative Chernobyl research pole for science and innovation.

But while authorities review the plans, the Chernobyl zone continues to deteriorate and the people who live there are being forced to break the law: they say it’s for a different kind of survival in the face of unemployment and poverty.

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