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Japan's Nuclear Crisis Triggers Spike in Chernobyl Tourism

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From Europe comes word of a strange effect the Fukushima crisis is having on one far-off economy: Ever since news broke of the nuclear threat in Japan, day trips to Ukraine's Chernobyl disaster site have been booked solid.

That's according to an article in this week's Der Spiegel, which reports that the going rate for a trip to the danger zone is $100, a fee that covers lunch in the power plant's cafeteria.

"Radio stations in the capital Kiev advertise the tours with the slogan 'Visit Chernobyl.' The Ukrainian government has announced plans to increase the annual number of tourists from 60,000 to 1 million," the article says.

"As long as North Korea is still closed, Chernobyl is the ultimate kick," an Italian tourist named Margarita told the paper.

Typically the visitors arrive by Mercedes bus, Geiger counters in hand. The vehicle drives right into the heart of the "Zone of Alienation," at the center of the contaminated area. In this case, the German reporter was led by Yuri Tatarchuk, a tour guide in his late 30s who explained his choice of occupation by saying that jobs in the area were scarce and that he was "too old to be picky."

After the 1986 nuclear accident, two cities and dozens of villages near the Soviet power plant had to be abandoned. In recent years, "disaster tourists" from around the world have been flocking to the ghost towns. The trips have been particularly popular with photographers looking for the perfect dystopic postcard. 

In one abandoned school house a classroom floor is covered in discarded gas masks made to fit children.


There's also a rusting theme park in the city of Pripyat. The Soviets built the family attraction but opening day was permanently postponed because of the nuclear tragedy.

Today, Japanese officials enforced a no-go zone in the 12-mile area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant. According to reports, many area residents rushed in to recover what they could from their homes, not knowing when they'd be allowed to return to their homes.   
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