By Jayne Clark, USA TODAY
This "ghoulish" attraction isn't for the faint-hearted. But tours of Chernobyl, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, have taken on new meaning in light of Japan's fervent efforts to cool six earthquake/tsunami-ravaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The meltdown at Chernobyl, 70 miles north of Kiev, Ukraine's capital, occurred 25 years ago in April. The first government-sanctioned public tours began in January, with officials proclaiming that radiation levels in the 18-mile "dead zone" around the plant are returning to normal. Reports say the area is home to 66 species of mammals, including wild boar, foxes and wolves.
An article in the London Telegraph describes a grim, but fascinating view of the quarter-century-old aftermath of the disaster. After signing a waiver, visitors are driven at "breakneck speed, and told not to touch any of the irradiated vegetation or metal structures," writes the Telegraph's Andrew Osborn. (A daylong tour package costs about $163.)
The core of Reactor No. 4 has been sealed under a steel and concrete sarcophagus, but Osborn quotes a guide as saying, "Let's leave now, it is very dangerous to be here."
Somewhat less unsettling (or perhaps more, depending on your perspective) is nearby Pripyat, a community that once housed 50,000 plant workers. The flotsam of daily life -- dolls, books and yes, gas masks, are strewn about the interior of a school, where they were dropped 25 years ago when things suddenly went terribly wrong.
I consider myself extremely curious and fairly fearless, but this is one tour I think I'd take a pass on. How about you?