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‘Nuclear’ Chernobyl zone seeks heritage status from UNESCO

Mon 14 Dec 2020    
| 3 min read

‘Chernobyl.’ The name incites haunting memories of the world’s worst nuclear disaster that forced thousands to flee, leaving behind homes and livelihoods in the April of 1986.

Ever since, the silent, overgrown Ukrainian town of Pripyat has been frozen in time, memorialised in history and graphic documentaries.

But now, over three decades past, seasonal clutches of tourists wander the ghostly streets equipped with Geiger counters. And the growing influx has spurred officials to seek official status from UNESCO.

Ucrania quiere inscribir Chernóbil en el patrimonio mundial de la UNESCO
An abandoned amusement park at Pripyat [AFP]

As nature has quickly encroached upon the Soviet-era landscape, now frosted green with moss and wildlife, the non-certified status of the area could be set to change as the government pushes to number the site alongside other landmarks like the Indian Taj Mahal or England’s Stonehenge on the UNESCO heritage list.

Officials hope recognition from the UN’s culture agency will boost the site as a tourist attraction and in turn bolster efforts to preserve the ageing buildings nearby.

The April explosion in the fourth reactor at the nuclear power plant left swathes of Ukraine and neighbouring Belarus badly contaminated, uninhabitable and thus, cordoned off.

The three other reactors at Chernobyl continued to generate electricity until the station finally closed in 2000 with Ukraine set to mark the 20th anniversary of the closure on December 15.

As per the authorities, the site may not be safe for human habitation for another 24,000 years, a threat that has been brushed aside by some 100 elderly people who live in the area despite the radiation levels.

The grounds have also become a haven for the elk and deer who trot the nearby forests.

Wildlife has taken over the Soviet-era streets [AFP]

Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said obtaining UNESCO status could promote the exclusion zone as “a place of memory” that would warn against a repeat nuclear disaster.

A record number of 124,000 tourists visited last year, including 100,000 foreigners following the release of the hugely popular Chernobyl television series in 2019.

“The area may and should be open to visitors, but it should be more than just an adventure destination for explorers,” Tkachenko said in a statement to AFP.

The government is set to propose specific objects in the zone as a heritage site before March but a final decision could come as late as 2023.

A giant protective dome over the fourth reactor was completed in 2016, in ongoing efforts to cleanse the area of toxicity.

A protective dome in place over Chernobyl reactor 4 [AFP]

With the site now safe for one hundred years, Tkachenko hopes the world heritage status would boost visitor numbers to one million a year.

[Sourced from Agencies]