Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis is a gruesome reminder of another nuclear accident—the worst in history: Chernobyl is approaching its 25th anniversary. And, believe it or not, the area is open for tourism.
Just last week Scientific American contributor Charles Choi visited. He was accompanied by physicist Vadim Chumack of the Research Center for Radiation Medicine at the Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine.
So how safe is it to put Chernobyl on your eastern European itinerary?
Of the four radioactive materials released, Iodine 131 was gone after three months. But cesium 137 and strontium 90 both take about 30 years for their quantities to be halved. And plutonim 239 has a half-life of 24,000 years. Nevertheless, a day trip was probably okay by five years after the accident.
Choi reports that tourists are strictly limited to certain areas, avoiding such hot spots as the concrete shelter that seals off the damaged reactor. And visitors may catch glimpses of wildlife. Birds and insects have suffered, but some mamma populations have thrived, probably because of the conspicuous lack of people.
For more on Chernobyl after 25 years, check out Choi’s articles, blog posts and slide show at ScientificAmerican.com.