CHERNOBYL, Ukraine (NBC) – Ukraine’s president says the country should give the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone a new life by making it more attractive for tourists and scientists.
The president visited Chernobyl Wednesday to participate in an opening ceremony for the new safe confinement arch built to prevent radiation spewing from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site.
According to Ukrainian tour operators offering tourist trips to Chernobyl, the release of an HBO miniseries examining the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl has sharply driven up the number of tourists wanting to see the plant and the ghostly abandoned town that neighbors it for themselves.
In April 1986, a botched test at reactor number four at the Soviet plant sent clouds of nuclear material billowing across Europe and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
At least 31 plant workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath of the accident, mostly from acute radiation sickness.
Thousands more later succumbed to radiation-related illnesses such as cancer, although the total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of intense debate.