Chernobyl control room open to visitors

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PRIPYAT, UKRAINE – APRIL 09: A sign warns of radiation contamination near former apartment buildings on April 9, 2016 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat, built in the 1970s as a model Soviet city to house the workers and families of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, now stands abandoned inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a restricted zone contaminated by radiation from the 1986 meltdown of reactor number four at the nearby Chernobyl plant in the world’s worst civilian nuclear accident that spewed radiaoactive fallout across the globe. Authorities evacuated approximately 43,000 people from Pripyat in the days following the disaster and the city, with its high-rise apartment buildings, hospital, shops, schools, restaurants, cultural center and sports facilities, has remained a ghost-town ever since. The world will soon commemorate the 30th anniversary of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Today tour operators bring tourists in small groups to explore certain portions of the exclusion zone. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(CNN) – The Chernobyl nuclear power plant has seen a huge increase in visitor numbers in recent years as part of a growing global interest in dark tourism.

And now, intrepid travelers be able to get inside the control room where the world’s worst nuclear accident unfolded, Chernobyl tour companies confirmed to CNN.

Those who venture inside the highly radioactive area at the infamous Reactor 4 will be provided with white protective suits, helmets and masks for the brief visits. After leaving, they will be subject to two radiology tests to measure exposure.

The move is part of a government drive to encourage tourism in the area after President Volydymyr Zelensky signed a July decree designating Chernobyl an official tourist attraction.

“We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life,” Zelensky said at the time. “Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand. It’s time to change it.”

The makeover will involve developing new tourist routes including waterways, building new checkpoints and restoring and upgrading existing ones.

Zelensky made the announcement at the inauguration of a new metal dome at Chernobyl which will encase the destroyed reactor in order to prevent radioactive material from leaking out.

Weighing in at 36,000 tonnes and measuring 108-metre high, the 1.5 billion euro ($1.7 billion) structure was paid for via a special fund launched by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and sponsored by 45 countries, AFP reported.

The structure is strong enough to withstand a tornado and is built to last a century, the EBRD said.

Chernobyl once sat at the centre of a 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone implemented after the 1986 catastrophe, but much of the area has been open to tourists since 2011.

Some sections, such as the “machine cemetery” of Rossokha village, remain off-limits.

Travel interest in the location of the horrific nuclear explosion has surged dramatically since the launch of HBO series “Chernobyl” in May, according to local tour operators.

The miniseries, starring Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson, dramatizes the aftermath of the disaster.

CNN’s Lianne Kolirin and Tamara Hardingham-Gill and journalist Denis Lapin contributed to this report.

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