BEAUTY IN DECAY: The Red Forest of Chernobyl
In the early hours of April 26 in the year 1986, a sudden surge of power during a routine reactor system test destroyed Unit 4 of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union. The test, which was deemed so unimportant a matter that the plant’s director chose not to make an appearance, would quickly transform into a singular event that would change the face of history forever.
An unexpected power surge and steam buildup led to a series of explosions that blew the reactor apart. The accident, and the fire that followed, released massive amounts of radioactive material into the surrounding environment. Known today as the worst nuclear disaster in the history of man, the Chernobyl disaster killed 31 people directly, including 28 workers and firefighters, who died of acute radiation poisoning during the cleanup. The death toll didn’t stop there. Thousands of subsequent premature deaths from cancer have been attributed to the radiation exposure faced by citizens of the area, and those surrounding it. To this day, the area around the now destroyed plant remains so contaminated that it is officially closed off to human habitation.
Every year, millions of tourists flock to some of the unhappiest places on Earth. From Auschwitz to Chernobyl, from natural disasters to genocide, visitors consider these sites of tragedy the highlight of their vacation. The phenomenon, labelled Dark Tourism, refers to visiting places where some of the darkest events of human history have unfolded. Known today as The Red Forest of Chernobyl, the 10 sq-km area surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant within the Exclusion Zone has become a hotspot for Dark Tourism and is one of the most radioactive places on Earth.
In the aftermath of the Chernobyl Power Plant reactor meltdown, the Red Forest was used as a dumping ground for radioactive waste. The amount of radiation contaminating the area killed the surrounding woods, turning nearby pine trees a deep reddish colour.
Though the area remains the site of one of the biggest man-made tragedies to have ever occurred, with the poisonous remnants of its aftermath lingering on to this day, the area has the subtle allure of a ghost-town to it, and attracts hundreds of tourists around the year.
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