Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree on Wednesday to turn the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, into a tourist site.
The plan was unveiled as the European Union surrendered to Kiev control over a new shelter for the destroyed reactor on the same day.
“Chernobyl has been a negative part of Ukraine’s brand, and the time has come to change this,” Zelensky said, adding that the new Ukrainian government wants to turn the ghostly Chernobyl exclusion zone into a tourist magnet that will become a “symbol of new Ukraine”.
“We will create a green corridor for tourists,” Zelensky said, while visiting the town of Chernobyl. “Chernobyl is a unique place on the planet where nature has been reborn after a huge man-made disaster.
“We have to show this place to the world: to scientists, ecologists, historians and tourists,” he added.
Despite radiation levels higher than normal, thousands of tourists already take the trip to Chernobyl every year, according to BBC.
Russia’s RT television station said that underground tourism in the Chernobyl zone has existed for years, despite the area being off-limits and under supposedly strict guard, as corrupt officials have been enabling the niche entertainment for post-apocalypse enthusiasts.
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All these issues will be somehow solved by the development program “very soon”, according to Zelensky, and the Chernobyl zone will no longer be the Ukrainian “symbol of corruption” by introducing an electronic ticket system for visitors.
Zelensky’s announcement also came just as the EU officially handed control to Ukraine over the so-called New Safe Confinement-the new sarcophagus, built atop the Soviet-era Shelter Structure-that contains the destroyed No 4 reactor of the Chernobyl power plant.
The new, internationally-funded shelter, costing $500 million, has been under construction for about a decade and is expected to last for about 100 years.
The new decree outlined plans for waterways and checkpoints in the area. It also revealed that restrictions on filming the site would be lifted.
The disaster at the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant occurred on April 26, 1986, contaminating more than 200,000 square kilometers of land in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
Around 115,000 people were evacuated from the 30-kilometer affected zone.
The subsequent cleanup operation involved more than 600,000 people, about 10 percent of whom died. Another 165,000 were disabled by exposure to the radiation, according to Russia’s Tass News Agency.