Is Dark Tourism Safe?
PHOTO: Pripyat, Ukraine, site of the Chernobyl disaster, has seen a rising trade in 'dark tourism' lately, tourists looking to visit the abandoned and dangerous ruins of the notorious incident. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
Dark tourism is defined as tourism directed to places that are identified with death and suffering. Some of these locations are completely harmless, such as the home of the murderous Lizzie Borden — unless you scare yourself to death sleeping inside (it’s now a bed and breakfast).
There are also a number of other murder houses that you can visit; Jeffrey Dahmer’s home is quite the attraction and, in Los Angeles, there is even the Museum of Death.
Nuclear sites, however, are also increasingly touristy of late. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, visited by millions, documents the horrific bombings of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki and showcases disturbing relics of the blasts such as a decaying bicycle and video testimony of the experience and more.
Nuclear tourism – actually visiting the sites of formerly (and fairly recently) radioactive sites is another facet of dark tourism that is growing in popularity, particularly due to the eerie, apocalyptic-like appearance of the abandoned destinations. Places such as the site of the Fukushima disaster and the Chernobyl meltdown are piquing the interests of intrepid explorers. But is this form of dark tourism safe?
Pripyat, Ukraine, is the perfect example of a post-apocalyptic city. When Chernobyl released its radioactive particles into the air, the city was evacuated a day later. Residents were told only to bring their immediate necessities because they would be returning shortly, but they were never allowed to come back, meaning that their personal effects are still exactly as they left them.
Visitors are now able to tour the disaster zone and see these abandoned homes and buildings for themselves. However, after the tour, participants are scanned for radiation levels and, if abnormal levels are detected, they must take a chemical bath.
In Kazakhstan, the Semipalatinsk Test Site was a nuclear testing ground for the former Soviet Union – the equivalent of the Nevada Test Site that was shut down in the U.S. in 1991. It is home to the Polygon and apart from the Nevada testing site, it’s seen the most nuclear explosions of any place in the world. Daring adventurers have now begun to access the grounds and one of the primary sites is known as Optynoe Pole where guests can see evidence of the blasts in what looks like melted concrete.
There are companies that offer tours to the region – and even one that offers camping at the site (don’t forget to BYO Geiger counter). As far as safety is concerned, though, it’s really up to the visitor to be knowledgeable of the risks. Some tours provide protective gear and monitor the radiation levels during visits. If you are at all concerned about future affects of your nuclear tourism pursuits, it is advisable to ensure that you will be wearing a suit at all times while you visit the site – even though there hasn’t been a blast in more than 20 years.
Older nuclear sites aren’t the only nuclear attractions that are of interest to dark tourism enthusiasts. Recently, in Fukushima, Japan, a group of individuals were floating the idea of taking visitors into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for tours. They met with resistance because, as the project’s leader told the International Business Times, “most Japanese simply are not capable of supporting or even understanding that it is possible to turn a major disaster into something that will bring people over or that building a museum that would show facts of the disaster can provide a good lesson for future generations.”
Ultimately, the plan fizzled. But it does raise the question of when the timing is right to turn a major disaster zone into a suitable place for visiting, learning and understanding versus when a place is just a beacon for the morbidly curious.
More by Janeen Christoff
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