Chernobyl Museum Conveys the Horror of Manmade Disaster

A routine, but largely unnecessary safety test caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster on April 25, 1986. Technicians working at reactor Number 4 at the electricity-producing Chornobyl power plant planned to shut down the system for regular maintenance. The decision was made to see if the grid would continue to power the system in the event of a shutdown. This decision cost 31 people their lives and set in motion a rain of radioactive material that stretched to the borders of Sweden.

Today, the long-term effects of the disaster and the subsequent Soviet government cover-up (Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union at the time of the explosion) are still being assessed. An upsurge in thyroid cancer in children, more than 2,000 cases, and contamination of the forest area surrounding the defunct reactor, are just few of the aftereffects Ukrainians are suffering.

Two exclusion zones around the Chernobyl plant remains are still in place, though a handful of town residents still live in the immediate area. In an effort to educate the world about the disaster and the lingering aftermath, the independent Ukrainian government chose to build a stark museum rather than sweep the event under the rug like their Soviet predecessors.

The Chernobyl Museum is located in the Podil area, the heart of the apocalypse. Visitors may choose to risk radiation by joining a package tour to the zone. According to travel agents, you receive no more radiation exposure than you would on a transatlantic flight between New York and London. Yet, the question should be asked, how would they know the level of exposure?

The museum displays the identity cards and photographs of the technicians and firefighters killed during the reactor explosion. The video showing clean-up crews entering the belly of the beast like lemmings going over a cliff is distressing, mostly because of how these people were lied to about the effects of radiation. Photos of the area after the nuclear meltdown are bone-chilling. The most sobering sight in the Chernobyl area is the ghost town of Prypyat, where workers at the plant and their families once lived in the shadow of the monster. Deserted buildings and overgrown weeds define a once vibrant town.

A visit to the Chernobyl region and museum is not for the faint-hearted. Dangers of radiation exposure are not entirely clear. However, some travelers, compelled to understand the devastation man wreaks upon the environment, will be able to look the apocalypse directly in the eye and pray that another disaster like this one will never happen again.