In the Zone: Why you should visit 'sunny Chernobyl'

"There's been virtually no human habitation inside the radioactive quarantine area for more than a quarter century... so it's been overtaken by wilderness."

The 'Zone' is one of the few places on Earth where human civilisation has retreated - leaving the wilderness to reclaim as its own.

The reason the area was abandoned is because it is the site of one of the worst nuclear accidents in human history - Chernobyl - which took place 27 years ago on April 26, 1986.

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"It’s beautiful," Andrew Blackwell, author of 'Visit Sunny Chernobyl', tells Yahoo! UK. The 30-mile wide - and still radioactive - "quarantine zone" around the ruined reactor in the Ukraine which exploded on April 26, 1986, is now the focus of tour guides.

"There's been virtually no human habitation inside the radioactive quarantine area for more than a quarter century," say Blackwell. "So it's been overtaken by wilderness."

And despite the passing of time the land is still poisoned. Tour guides even use Geiger counters to ensure guests don’t soak up too much radiation while in the 'Zone'.

It's safe to walk through though but "hot spots" off the beaten track still harbour dangerous amounts of radiation. And, remarkably, people still work at the plant. Guests are warned not to eat the fish or mushrooms which flourish in the wild landscape near Kiev in the Ukraine.

The area is overgrown but the abandoned schools and housing blocks bear silent witness to the people who once called this 'home'.

"Seeing apartment buildings and schools lying empty is a wrenching reminder of how terrifying it must have been to be living there when the accident happened," says Blackwell.

The nuclear disaster began after a systems test at the reactor in the Ukraine led to one reactor at the plant overheating, and initiated a series of disastrous explosions.

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A cloud of radioactive dust spilled from the plant, which rained down over countries as far away as Norway and some parts of the UK.

Thirty-one people died at the plant, including firefighters who died of radiation sickness. According to some reports, they had not been told it was a nuclear plant which was on fire.

Soviet military rapidly established an 'Exclusion Zone' around the plant  - a 30-mile cordon where public access was forbidden.

The plant itself remained open, and other reactors generated electricity until 2000. Even now, people work there. It is set to be decommissioned in 2065.

Despite the area being one of the most contaminated on the planet, gangs of ageing squatters live within the Zone - and it has also become a focus for tourism.

"Once they [the Ukrainians] realised I was simply curious, everyone was pretty enthusiastic," says Blackwell about his visit there.

Tours are held to Chernobyl every week, and on occasion even more frequently.

"What was once an under-the-radar tourist activity for the nuclear-curious is now out in the open, and officially allowed," says Blackwell.

"My guide was something of a Chernobyl boy scout, who knew all the most interesting spots for fishing and mushroom-gathering. Which personally I wouldn't recommend."

  • Visit Sunny Chernobyl by Andrew Blackwell is published in paperback by Arrow on 2nd May at £7.99.