Visiting Chernobyl - How To Stay Safe

Despite the chilling events which occurred at Chernobyl and Pripyat in 1986, many travelers visit the area each year. Here are our tips on how to see this radioactive region safely.

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Photo © GettyImages/Akash Banerjee Photography

Note: If you intend to follow in the footsteps of these Nomads, think carefully before you go and understand that our travel insurance plans do not cover exposure to radiation, and doubly so if you deliberately do so by entering a known contamination exclusion zone.
Read your plan/policy wording carefully so you understand this. If you are unsure please contact customer support to clarify. Get it? We're really serious about this, ok?

The catastrophe was caused by an explosive meltdown during an extreme power spike. More than 350,000 people evacuated from severely contaminated areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

Today, Chernobyl and its surrounds are a ghost town, with only a few thousands of souls brave enough to continue to live in the affected areas, which still suffer from extensive levels of radiation.

But it's this very spookiness that has drawn some travelers to Ukraine to witness its breathtaking desolation, but now that people want to go back to Chernobyl to see what has been left behind, and considering the dangers posed by the fallout, is it really worth the risk?

Is it Safe to go to Chernobyl?

The Ukrainian Government has permitted entry into the surrounding areas of Chernobyl, but with strict conditions. However in July 2019 the Ukrainian President said they would move to make the entire zone an official tourist site. We discuss the merits of that move in this episode of The World Nomads Podcast as well as talk to a photographer who has visited 21 times to document the regrowth of the natural habitat and how it has invaded the derelict built environment. You can see some of his photos in the episode show notes.

To enter the 30km (18.6mi) exclusion zone, you will need a day pass which is only available from certain established tour operators and you must apply at least 10 days in advance.

Basically, to go into the exclusion zone without either a) a tour operator or b) a qualified nuclear fallout expert with your own safety and moinitoring equipment, is plain crazy. The environment in relation to radiation levels in certain areas is extremely dynamic, and without proper measurement, you could be exposing yourself to harmful levels.

Certain areas, including the "machine cemetery" of Rossokha village, are restricted. Obviously, areas marked as radioactive or forbidden entry zones are exactly that. You should stay well away from them unless you wish to end up another Chernobyl statistic. There are checkpoints within the zone where you will need to show your passport and permit.

The amount of radioation you are being exposed to that may affect your health (roughly the dose) is measured in sievertsA lethal dose of radiation is in the vicinity of three to five sieverts in an hour. During a Chernobyl tour the levels of exposure can range from 130 to 2,610 microsieverts per hour - that's 0.00261 of one whole sievert (i.e. at least 1000 times less than the potentially lethal level). This exposure is similar to the radiation we would be exposed to on a long-haul flight.

If you are not on a tour, where there is professional monitoring equipment, it's impossible to gauge how much radiation you are being exposed to. Exposure to higher levels of radiation puts you at higher risk of particles remaining on your clothes. Sustained exposure to radiation is the greatest cause of contamination.

Be mindful that many of the abandoned buildings are littered with broken glass and debris, and the floor surfaces can be highly unstable. Make sure you wear protective clothing, and closed-in shoes. Keep bare skin to a minimum. To prevent carrying particles of contaminated material with you for a long poeriod (and thereby increasing your exposure to unacceptable levels of radiation) wear disposable coveralls or dispose of your clothing after you leave the site. Make sure you thoroughly clean your shoes.

Nature and Chernobyl

Decades on since the disaster, nature has reclaimed the radioactive site. No, you won't see three-headed wolves but, due to the absence of people living in the area, many wild animals have returned and vegetation is flourishing.  Pripyat resembles a zombie-esque, post-apocalyptic landscape with trees, vines and other plants growing over buildings and other infrastructure, including the well-known amusement park. 

Populations of animals such as deer, moose, wild boar, brown bears, lynx, and many bird species have all increased in the past 20 years. The number of wolves has increased due to lack of competition from hunters, and the zone has become a sanctuary for endangered species such as the European Bison and Przewalski's Horse.

Across the border in Belarus, the most contaminated areas are within the Polesie State Radiation Ecological Reserve which was established for environmental and radiobiological research purposes, aside from delineating the area of the fallout from Chernobyl (70% of the fallout hit this part of Belarus). It is also one of the biggest nature reserves in Europe, but is off limits to the public due to the level of contamination.

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41 Comments

  • Mathew Brassfield said

    Sierra logsdon, if you did research you would know that the radiation from a meltdown like that would and will last for decades to come. (Probably more). The russian government doesn't care about that place anymore, there is nothing for them to gain from it.

  • Robert said

    @sierralogsdon,
    They are, if you do further research, you can see that there are mutant animals, and some mutant humans. Probably this is what is going to cause some kind of appocolypse

  • Phil said

    Apocalypse? What are you, one of those end of earth obbsesives hahahaha. There is no apocalypse, no end of the earth.

  • Stephanie T said

    Omg you guys instead of attaking yourself mind your own bussiness.

  • james sammons said

    I would of love to went there with Jeremy wade to fishing for a mutant fish

  • logan mccartney said

    I look at all these comments an think who gives a crap bout wht others say but all governments are hiding something the reason they do is to keep the people of there country from shi*ing there self's with fear of wtf ever they are hideing

  • Damien said

    I think it's safe to go into Chernobyl Because 30 years later Radioactive materials would died out by now, and reports saying that, Yeah we could go there without, any protected gear on.

  • David said

    Rigght nagasaki in japan still has radiation and that was over 60 years ago

  • David said

    In certain areas of course

  • Carter said

    Radioactive material has an insanely long half life, meaning that the only way that those materials would have, "died out," Damien, is if it was removed from the environment by the government, which they haven't done anything with the area since the accident. It is much more safe after people removed the upper layers of grass because those areas contained the most radiation, but that area will forever be radioactive.

  • ethan said

    im fourteen and I say their are reasons the government doesn't want people going in due to the radiation. the radiation of any type has a long placed out half life but u can still get effects from the radiation. at first the radiation was high so you could only go up for a few seconds but due to half life it soon went to minutes then hours. but the government is going to recover the shell with a arch to seal the damages. but the area still have high radiation so you cant be their for long.


  • paul said

    Of course they are hiding things its the government! Goes without saying. How can they control you if you know everything or even anything that they hide and its not to hard find these things out either ;)

  • paul said

    Like what really happend here for example. people know. talk to local people ;)

  • lol said

    lol u nubz

  • the smartest man of the universe said

    why not throw a nuclear or H bomb on the site so all this would diseppear inclued the radiation risk

  • Im11andIKNOWtheTRUTH said

    So so much stupid in these comments did nobody watch the documentry 'A Good Day To Die Hard'?
    The Soviet republic of Russia is hiding weapons of mass explosion inside a sealed safe that only John Mc Lain could open to reveal the truth I'm 11 and I have studied this since conception so I know the truth TomHokin you are right they would not like the shit from bulls and in fact they may even fire an big RPG if they are unhappy with u I'm 11 good bye

  • honeybadger said

    I'd just like to say that I'd love to go here and the fact that the uranium that has been exposed has at least a 10,000 year half life, although radiation poisoning only occurs after a certain amount on radiation has been exposed, therefore no matter how much radiation, you could still be affected. Anyway stop your theory bickering, who cares? Ah yes, no one, so just yknow leave it out.

  • Cheater King said

    See...if you are so concerned of the stuff in Chernobyl..try sending in drones with cameras..thus staying away from radiations and also satisfying your curiosity..do tell me if you find a 'secret' there..I am considering 50-50 chances of a secret

  • Nicholas Bither said

    To all of you theorizing about government hiding something and keeping it shut down excessively, you are absolutely wrong. Radiation from a meltdown even smaller than this can last for hundreds of years. Furthermore, the creatures affected by radiation are dead, or did not get enough exposure for harm.

  • Supertickleman said

    I'm 8 and I think radioactive things are cool go government JEREMY WADE!

  • pochahontas said

    My teacher wants to go to Chernobyl but I don't know if it is safe enough and i'm worried for her health.

  • Erick said

    giood

  • Steve said

    I took a day long tour to Chernobyl and Pripyat It was a very interesting experience. You get checked several times for contamination. One of the most unique tours I have been on. Unique photo opportunities that you will not get anywhere else.

  • Marianne said

    I'm going to Kiev, next December and I was planning to go to Chernobyl..I did some researches and I have asked an Ukrainian friend about it...she didn't advise it at all and she said that people are still getting sick after the exposure to radiation!

  • Marianne said

    Hello Steve... Do you suggest to wear a specific kind of uniform above the clothes in order to cover the body from radiation and then the uniform will be thrown , so we avoid contamination?

  • ken m said

    its good to get a little radiation in the body now and again

  • mick uk said

    i went there a few years back on a day tour, i think if you get a reading on the way out you would have to be very very unlucky, just do what the guide says and you will be fine. if you get a chance go as the stories and pictures do not do the place justice.

  • kellianne java said

    i am looking for a adventure.... and would love to visit to explore. Does anyone have any suggestions about where to stay? i feel like things need to be discovered. and as stated in a earlier comment.....people talk. talk to them.

  • DebBot said

    going tomorrow :-) hoping to come back with superpowers.

  • Ceara said

    Uranium has a 4.5 BILLION half ever said 10,000 is clearly misinformed and considering its only been about a quarter century, it’s incredibly unsafe.

  • Ashley said

    I've heard that if you stand by the elephant foot you will die in seconds. Is this true?

  • Michael said

    If you do further reasearch you will see that the gov. Was making nuclear weapons

    1. 2 of the reactors we're uncovered because they were capable of making weapons grade plutonium

    2. There was a factory there with unbelievably high security and there are elements to make nuclear weapons in the far down basement

    3. Inside a military base there was a tower with a secure radio, nuclear launch codes and blueprints for a bomb and how to launch


    And it will be 20000 years before radiation returns to normal

  • Melissa said

    There is a YouTube channel called exploring with Josh. He goes all over the world to explore abandoned places. And he has done a whole series on Chernobyl, he talks about and shows what it looks like now.

  • peterwemsley said

    Are there any kind of weird mutated animals in this area?

  • Bob said

    Yes, there are.

  • Bob baker said

    The half life of the uranium in Chernobyl is about 703.8 million years. The uranium in Chernobyl is U-235.

  • Tkni said

    Is it safe to go? I'd love to visit, I'm fascinated. Are there mutant animals?

  • kayla said

    There is a documentary called "babies of Chernobyl" which is an orphanage of many abandoned Chernobyl children and infants. It is still running to this day, many missing limbs or thyroid cancers, etc. Very mutilated. Why women had children after exposure and while living in that area is beyond comprehension. Whether it's 10,000 years, billions, doesn't matter. It is NOT safe and won't be for any of our lifetimes. If you are reading this, then it is not yet safe. There is a whole world of dangerous places to visit, and risky activities to boot. Watch a few more videos on depictions or actual radiation poisoning / cancer deaths. It is a miserable gruesome way to die, and if cancer, then probably lengthy and extremely painful. All for what? A cool picture? There are plenty of picture of Chernobyl that could be taken by drones/satellites/robots etc. It does not matter if Russia is hiding something there; it's radioactive and therefore can make you very sick and/or kill you.

  • Sexy James said

    30 years still got nothing to take off radiation..

  • Litesp33d said

    I don't want to rain on anyone's parade here but......
    Let's consider the situation. As we know ALL Govts around the World ALL tell the truth ALL of the time. NOT.
    So in Ukraine we have a Govt strapped for foreign currency who have an apparent tourist attraction that is 'safe'. We know it is 'safe' because the Ukranian Govt says so. They even test you regularly with some kind of geiger counter radiation checker that someone has purchased from somewhere and of course we are sure these things are accurate and tested regularly by some internationally approved organisation. The question I would ask is: If it is safe why do you need to test at all? And what happens if you fail the test? Then what are you going to do?
    Now let's consider the opposite and in 5 or 10 years time you get an incurable cancer. Who is going to foot the bill for this. No one from Ukraine, that is for sure.
    The interesting thing about toxic radiation of any sort is that you cannot smell it, touch it, taste it, see it or even hear it coming but if you get enough of it, it will shorten your life, disable you horribly and also kill you. And if you have it in your body or on your clothes it can do that to your loved ones too.

    But you do get to tell people you have been to Chernobyl so the risk has got to be worth it hasn't it. Hmmm!

  • Sarah said

    The link to the photographer's website, Kidd of Speed, is broken. Could you take out the hyperlink or replace it with a website that works? Thank you!

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