Chernobyl: Mutate and Survive — Page 2
Story and photos by Tom Coote


We were permitted to take photos of some parts of the outside of the nuclear plant, where a giant shell was being constructed to permanently enclose the currently concrete sealed Reactor No. 4, but not others. Sometimes they would check tourists' cameras but this didn't happen often. "Can't they just see it all on Google Earth, anyway?" somebody asked. Our guide admitted this was true and then asked us to point our cameras slightly more to the left.

Underneath a large iron bridge, just across from the soon to be enclosed reactor, circled huge, whiskered catfish. None of them had three eyes. After the people had been forced to leave the exclusion zone, the wildlife prospered. Wild horses, boars, lynx, and wolves have all returned to the area, and none appear to have any health problems. Even the birds that nest in the reactor itself appear to be fine. I asked if it was possible to eat the catfish but our guide didn't seem to think that it would be a good idea.

bumper cars

The much photographed but never completed fairground in Pripyat doesn't so much recall the set of a post-apocalyptic B movie as the background to a video game. The atmospherically rusting big wheel and bumper cars, along with other sites around the abandoned towns of Pripyat and Chernobyl, feature, most notably, in the Call of Duty series of first person shooter video games. Other sites from within the exclusion zone have also featured in a number of movies and music videos but it is an inability to recall exactly where they have encountered such iconic imagery before that installs an uneasy sense of déjà-vu amongst many visitors.

On leaving the exclusion zone—after a decent meal at the on-site restaurant—we were required to have our radiation levels checked. This involved clambering into a large metal contraption and placing our arms, legs and hands into the required position. All but one of us was relieved to see the green light flash up, permitting our escape. The one member of our party who set the alarm off was forced back by the security guards but, after scraping some mud of his shoes, he passed the test and was allowed through. Our driver told us that this had only happened three times out of more than 500 trips he had run to Chernobyl over the last few years (€130 x approximately 10 passengers a trip x 500 trips = €650,000). Two of these failures had made it through after some vigorous shoe scraping but a less fortunate tourist had had to return to the scanner a number of times, each time wearing fewer clothes, until he was left standing in front of a minibus load of inpatient tourists wearing only his underpants. It was only when the driver and guide started to panic that he thought to mention that he had been receiving radiotherapy for his cancer.

abandoned pool

Tom Coote is a travel writer and author of two books: Tearing up the Silk Road and Voodoo, Slaves and White Man's Graves: West Africa and the End of Days (reviewed here). He has traveled independently in over 120 countries and is a founder of Wicked World Magazine. See more at

Return to Page 1

Related Features:
Secret Cities and Atomic Tourism by Tim Leffel
Tipsy in Transnistria - Trying to Stay Sober in Nowhereland by Rory MacLean
Searching the BAM For Russia's Lost Moustache by Robert Reid
Kishka and Kasha in the Ukranian Countryside by Judith Fein

See other European travel stories from the archives

Read this article online at: //

Copyright (C) Perceptive Travel 2015. All rights reserved.

Also in this issue:

Books from the Author:

Tearing up the Silk Road

Buy Tearing up the Silk Road at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Voodoo, Slaves and White Man's Graves

Buy Voodoo, Slaves and White Man's Graves at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Sign Up