In the mid 1990s as a student I hitch-hiked to near Stonehenge with a
friend to see the sunrise over the stones, on the summer solstice. The
monument is built so that the sun rises at the focus  of the monument,
on that day, and only that day out of all the days in the year. At the
time the police obtained an order banning public gatherings within a
zone around the stone circle every year at the solstice, because there
were some problems during the 1980s. I recall how we approached the
stones, beginning at night fall several hours before sunrise, from a
few miles off, stopping to pause at various points, closing in as dawn
approached. There was a feeling of anticipation building at each point
we stopped, rising and rising although in this case we were stopped by
police close to the monument and prevented from advancing.

The Chernobyl trip evoked the same feelings. I flew to the Ukraine
specially to take this daytrip, arriving the evening before and
leaving the next morning. There are several tour agencies in Kiev
offering to arrange the tour; it is simple to find them with google.
If you wish, you can inform the tour operator that you would like to
join an existing tour, which can reduce the cost from (in 2006) about
$350 for a single person to $150 per person for a six person group. I
joined five others taking the tour.

I found the wikipedia Chernobyl Disaster article informative:

I have transcribed the following notes taken during the trip, with
light editing merely changing the order where this helps the flow and
expanding slightly on a few points:

Tour by minibus from Kiev north along long, flat, straight tree-lined
roads. Tall red pines and white birches. Pass big white egg on the
centre of roundabout marking entry of exclusion zone.

Information Centre

Our guide Dennis a young man in military fatigues employed by Ministry
of Information. He commented on the places we visited and answered

3800 people work at powerplant currently, commute in by train from
Byelorus; various jobs including policemen, firemen, decontaminating
radioactive waste. 50-60 people live in Chernobyl now (15000 before).
Evacuated April 27 1986, town of Pripyat abandoned, except for laundry
for decontamination still operating there. 3 disposal sites, still
radioactive. Plan to bury 2 million cubic metres of waste remaining
within 150 years, inside 30 km zone.

Maps of distribution of Caesium 137 and Strontium 90 dated 1/12/2003
on walls of room in Information Centre. Radiation meter measures 12-13
milliRoentgen (mR) outside Information centre vs. 6-7 in Kiev.

Stop at small group of buildings about 20 km out to buy provisions.
Seems as ordinary here as anywhere else.

18th century St. Elijah Church, renovated 2 years ago.

Monument to liquidators; names added as they die. E.g. those who
worked to clear the Red Forest (burying the radioactive remains). On
opposite side of path memorials to officers who died in World War 2,
reminds that the reactor meltdown not the only thing which happened

Vehicles from disposal site displayed here in a memorial One vehicle
very radioactive, reads of the scale (>2000mR). I feel a strange
foreboding when walking past.

Ship graveyard, ship hulks rusting on river. Ships were radioactive,
no longer after 20 years. Are being cut up  and decontaminated in a
factory somewhere in the zone (how?), melted and sold for scrap.

New cover for reactors 3/4 to be built for 2007, moveable on arch.

Inhabitants or visitors have been pruning trees, telephone wires
overhead, like normal life.

Have been Chernobyl tours for 10 years..

Stopped at side of road, 60mK; there was a village here. Has been
dismantled and buried as it was very radioactive. Other side of road,
a sign says 'Forest is the lungs of the planet'. In the distance a
huge Soviet radar for detecting missiles during the Cold War, one of
three radars (did not see others). Comment from Phil, also doing tour,
'just 100% normal here'.

Unfinished reactors 5 and 6, side of road by a canal, after the road
has crossed a train line. Also an unfinished reactor of this type in
Cuba, was being built by Russians. Two huge structures like water
towers in shape.

Prometheus statue at entrance to power complex. Scarcophagus, reactor
4, 200m away. No one else in sight. 700 mR. Reactors 3 and 4 in one
building, 3 still operational until a few years ago. Mild headache.
Radiation low (200 mR) in reactor 3.

About 2.00 pm, empty town of Pripyat a few hundred metres from the
reactor complex. Checkpoint, sign '' brings a smile to my
face, seems incongrous here. Ghost town, trees and plants growing
everywhere, crumbling concrete steps, tower blocks of apartments,
shards of broken glass crunch underfoot. Signs 'Restaurant', 'Hotel'
in Cyrillic script above tower blocks as one drives into the town from
the direction of reactors 3 and 4. Graffitti of black figures in
strange poses and childs' faces in the distance on Hotel. Rusting
Ferris wheel, dodgem cars, magic roundabout and swings constructed to
celebrate May 1 1986, but accident happened 26 April ...

Hot sun shining down, perhaps more risk of sun burn than radiation
damage, or perhaps not?

Red Forest with scarcophagus in sight, 1250 mR nearby in road whilst
driving past. A few leafless trees (in contrast to other trees here).
Minibus speeding along long straight road on the return leg, stop at
checkpoint where car radiation level checked. We are waved on, my
headache and stomache ache dwindling. Information Centre, hands on
machine to check radiation, everyone gets green light. Dennis says he
has had red just twice on 2 years and had to decontaminate (how?).
Seems unconcerned. Driver seems the impatient sort - at one point on
the return journey to Kiev, four cars ahead are overtaking a slow
moving vehicle in front. He undertakes the fourth, zipping in ahead.
Later, in Kiev, he edges through a red light.


words by Dave Stapleton