Right on the heels of Game of Thrones' end, HBO found itself with another culture-impacting hit with Craig Mazin's limited miniseries Chernobyl. The series, which is the top-rated television series on IMDb, examines the real-life Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 and digs into the tragedy by offering not just a factual account of the cause of the accident, but the political elements leading to it as well as the human, environmental, and cultural perspectives. The series was well-received by critics and audiences alike and, as is the case with most things that become suddenly popular, all things Chernobyl-related have seen an uptick in interest -- including tourism to the site of the disaster.
As reported by USA Today, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone -- and specifically the city of Pripyat -- is currently seeing a 30% increase in visitors as a result of the HBO series. If the increase in tourists continue, it's estimated that the number of those coming to visit the site could double this year to a up to 150,000 visitors.
One of the most polluted places in the world due to the radiological contamination caused by the explosion of the Chernobyl power plant's No. 4 reactor, Pripyat has been open to tourists since 2011 with only licensed guides allowed to show people around the area on guided trips. Victor Korol, director of the tour company SoloEast, told Fox News that people who have been booking recently have directly referenced HBO's Chernobyl as the reason why.
"Most of the people say they decided to book after seeing this show," Korol said. "It's almost as though they watch it and then jump on a plane over."
According to Korol, the most popular areas for visitors are the Ferris Wheel at Pripyat's abandoned amusement park and the power plant's reactor unit. While much of the area is open for visitors -- including an observation point less than a tenth of a mile from the New Safe Confinement structure covering the remains of the reactor -- some areas remain off-limits due to the high radioactivity, including the so-called "machine cemetery" where equipment used in the disaster's cleanup remains to this day.
Among those pieces of equipment that remain extremely radioactive includes a bright yellow robot borrowed from the West Germans as featured in Chernobyl -- the Joker. The robot was brought in to attempt to clean the most radioactive of debris off the reactor building's roof, but it failed almost immediately due to the extreme amounts of radiation it was exposed to.
“The Soviets — and this is mind-blowing to me — they refused to tell anyone how bad the situation was. Even then, months later, after the world knew about Chernobyl and knew what it meant they were still soft-pedaling just how bad it was to the point where they refused to tell the West Germans how much radiation was on that roof,” series co-creator Craig Mazin said on the show's companion The Chernobyl Podcast. “It was 600 percent or 700 percent more than it could handle. And what blows my mind is the Soviet power system thought that was OK. Why not? Let’s just see. It’s the same kind of attitude that leads to Chernobyl in the first place.”
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