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Radioactive tourism in Ukraine

HOW RADIOACTIVE UKRAINE IS BRINGING IN THE TOURISTS, FINANCIAL REVIEW  AUG 4 2017 A
by Cheryl L. Reed

The button that could have started a nuclear holocaust is grey – not red.

I learned this after climbing into a nuclear rocket command silo, 12 floors below ground, and sitting in the same green chair at the same yellow metal console at which former Soviet officers once presided.

Here, they practised entering secret codes into their grey keyboards, pushing the launch button and turning a key – all within seven seconds – to fire up to 10 ballistic missiles. The officers never knew what day their practice codes might become real, nor did they know their targets.

This base in Pervomaysk, Ukraine – about a four-hour drive from Kiev – once had 86 intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of destroying cities in Europe and the United States. Though the nuclear warheads have been removed, the command silo with much of its equipment, giant trucks that carried the rockets to the base and an empty silo were preserved so that people could see what had been secretly going on at nuclear missile bases in the former Soviet Union.

Tourists go to Paris to marvel at the majesty of the Eiffel Tower, to Rome to stroll the cobbled streets of the Vatican, to Moscow to behold the magnificent domes of Red Square. And while Ukraine has its own plethora of domed cathedrals, including monasteries with underground caves, thousands of tourists are trekking to this country for a uniquely Soviet experience.

Here, they stand outside an exploded nuclear reactor at Chernobyl and rifle through the remains of a nearby abandoned city – Geiger counter in hand. In Chernobyl’s shadow, they marvel at the giant “Moscow Eye”, an anti-ballistic-missile detector that rises 50 storeys high and looks like a giant roller coaster.

Every day, a handful of travel companies ferry mostly foreigners to Chernobyl’s 30-kilometre “exclusion zone”. In 2016, Solo East Travel hauled 7500 people there, up from only one trip in 2000………

The museum tour guides are all former Soviet officers who once worked at the missile base. Ours, Gennadiy Fil’, once manned the nuclear controls. When American tourists dallied, snapping photos of the rockets above ground, he barked, “Ledz go!”

Then he darted through a heavy door of a squat building, down a series of winding stairs and through an underground tunnel, navigating by memory through the narrow, 150-metre-long passageway to the control centre in a silo. The narrow cylinder is suspended from the ground – theoretically, to withstand the shock of a counter-attack…….

No moral objections

Fil’, 55, said he never knew when he would be ordered to input real codes. It was his job, he said, shrugging. He said he had no moral objections to pushing the button. Launching nuclear missiles was a “political decision”, something that people on top of the ground decided, not him……..

In 1994, three years after Ukraine became independent, it joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty and agreed to dismantle its 1900 Soviet missiles. At the time, Ukraine boasted the world’s third-largest stockpile of nuclear warheads after Russia and the United States. Ukraine shipped its nuclear warheads to Russia and dismantled its silos, often blowing them up or filling them with cement. The control silo at Pervomaysk was the only one spared – so it could become a museum. The 46th Rocket Division, part of the 43rd Rocket Army, was disbanded in 2001……..

Nuclear ghost town

The city of Pripyat was once a secret Soviet city, closed to anyone but workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and their families. Now the city, an hour-and-a-half drive from Kiev, is a nuclear ghost town. Forty-nine thousand people were forced to evacuate the day after Chernobyl’s Reactor No.4 exploded on April 26, 1986.

Nearly all the first responders and soldiers died from radiation poisoning while trying to contain the graphite fire and the radioactive particles spewing from the destroyed reactor, explained Bodnarchuk, our tour guide. Officially, only 31 firemen and soldiers were killed. But some believe that the disaster claimed at least 10,000 lives as wind carried radioactive material into Belarus and Northern Europe.

Even though critics have said that the designs of Chernobyl are outmoded and inherently unsafe, Russia reportedly is still using 11 similar nuclear reactors.

Today, visitors can stand across the street from the damaged reactor at Chernobyl, which recently was covered by a huge, $US2.3 billion shield. But the highlight of the tour is, by far, the crumbling city of Pripyat. Though tour operators are warned to stay out of Pripyat’s buildings, tourists routinely stomp through the city, including the hospital where dying first responders were taken……..

driving through the red forest near the Chernobyl reactor – where the radiation burned up all the trees, which were then bulldozed and buried. Our Geiger counters went crazy as we drove through the new-growth forest, registering 26 sieverts per hour.

Our guide tried to calm fears about our exposure to radiation by assuring us that any high levels on our body would be detected by the machines we had to pass through on the way out of Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. Those machines – old Soviet steel contraptions that look like retro airport metal detectors – hardly inspire confidence……..http://www.afr.com/lifestyle/travel/how-radioactive-ukraine-is-bringing-in-the-tourists-20170729-gxlk6k

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August 5, 2017 - Posted by | business and costs, marketing, Ukraine

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