The beginning of the 2000s became full of “very entrepreneurial ideas” for the gray routine of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Creative business, based on a specific platform “the zone should generate income”, has become almost an “official source of income” for lovers of easy profit.
The marauders in the Zone were always enough – the struggle with them either gained momentum or gradually subsided. But everything was much more serious with the Chernobyl business of the early 2000s – the source of income was not just looted dishes or things from abandoned apartments, but radioactive wood and scrap metal. That is, the call “to revive the affected land” was understood quite literally by some, and then, after rethinking the slogan, they decided to free the Zone from all that was superfluous, outdated, old, and so on.
The pathos goal was transformed into a creative business with specific sources of income — a systematic deforestation of the Chernobyl forest was organized, a sales market was established, and ultimately, interested parties began to receive quite tangible dividends.
The picture was similar with metal: all the scrap metal left in derelict houses and apartments, institutions and organizations was utilized — heating systems, equipment, televisions, dishes, garden tools, beds, chairs, even hopelessly abandoned cars were cut into pieces. The removal of scrap metal and timber was convenient for the following reasons:
- from a technological point of view, the process is quite simple and fast;
- work does not require skilled labor and or special training;
- mined, or rather looted goods have a vast sales market.
People, uninitiated in the details of this well-established scheme, as it is now commonly called, spoke out about it as a business, with a dubious moral aspect. In a word, that’s pure looting. After all, it was obvious that there was a colossal risk of radioactively contaminated materials getting into the economy.
But let’s go back to the adventurous 2000s. According to the official version, all tangible objects remaining in the exclusion zone that were not on the balance sheet of enterprises had zero value. In addition to everything, a conditional order had already existed, according to which the radiation standards of everything that was exported from the Zone were prescribed, including this related to timber and scrap metal.
Therefore, from a legal point of view, such a business is not looting, but private enterprise is a source of extra-budgetary income, as ideology then said. For any entrepreneur, the desire to increase their own profits at minimal cost is quite natural. But it’s just how it relates to the fact that cost reduction on the issue of mandatory and categorical necessity of preliminary decontamination of a valuable assortment of metal is not comparable.
All non-ferrous metal, some nodes of mechanisms and other metal-antiques were in the vast majority, in the most radioactively contaminated places (5-10 km of the zone) and were a source of increased radiation. It is possible to organize the collection and further development of stocks of such “radioactive extraction” only with the passage of the most complex decontamination technologies.
But for that they are also entrepreneurs of an easy hand – people with the grip of a lion and the speed of making dubious decisions. They instantly got their bearings and quickly found the opportunity to bypass the necessary access control procedures and to remove the metal without control. This turned out to be much more effective than incurring unnecessary additional costs, besides — “as they say, every penny’s got to be”. In 2008-2009 a lot of things were stopped by the Security Service of Ukraine facts of illegal export of timber and metal from the Exclusion Zone.
The exclusion zone is an interesting art object, it is difficult to disagree with this today. In the late 90s and early 2000s, it was more often visited only by those who were interested in it from a professional point of view — journalists, photographers, scientists, students, public figures. And only in the second half of the 2000s the situation began to change in favor of those who considered the Zone as an object of a tourist format with very fascinating and extreme venues.
Tours began to be organized with comfortable and safe movement around the exclusion zone, including a visit to Pripyat and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a canal with catfish, an observation deck of the Shelter object, Chernobyl, a bridge over the Pripyat river, the Church of St. Ilya, a monument to the dead liquidators and some abandoned village along the route.
This led to the emergence of extreme tourism lovers – stalkers, who became a kind of shadow of nuclear tourism. For them, the Zone is of the same interest as for the rest – tourist curiosity, but they choose for themselves a very strange way to achieve their goal – an illegal, risky and sometimes difficult route.
Today, in the age of global Internet and satellite access, there are numerous stalker organizations that carry out illegal trips to the Chernobyl exclusion zone, information exchange channels are established, and special slang for communication has been created.
This has become a real business for many representatives of the young generation of extreme tourism enthusiasts, and concepts such as the “exclusion zone”, “fourth Chernobyl power unit”, “Pripyat”, “Chernobyl”, “radioactive pollution” have ceased to be just historical memory, but have become an object interest of a huge number of modern youth.
Earlier, the mentioned manifestations of tourist creativity could be found in the zone, mainly only in Pripyat. For excursions organized by stalkers, the situation is quite real when, looking out from some high-rise building of the city, which serves as a temporary rest for them, “tourists” in the central square of the city watch “shock workers of capitalist labor” loading old batteries and pipes into vehicles baths, and at the same time other property left from the inhabitants of abandoned Pripyat.
Prediction of the future
Today, as you know, there are several obvious progressive “development points” that are likely to become an impetus for the further long-term prospects for the development of the Exclusion Zone.
The first is work related to the construction and subsequent full operational launch of a safe confinement, which is the next step on the road to decommissioning the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The second is the further development of tourism. As you know, back in December 2010, the leadership of the Ministry of Emergencies of Ukraine officially opened an exclusion zone for legal visits to tourists. It must be assumed that then the management realized the importance of the tourist business in the Zone in time and put it in control.
This fact did not reduce, but increased the legal tourist flow to the Zone. Today, a new specialized tourist format has been added to traditional objects – ecotourism and photo tours – in order to diversify routes, give them natural color and the related desire to improve the controllability of the exclusion zone.
The obvious future of the zone can already be foreseen today – it will be connected with a complex of modern projects for decommissioning the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and a modernized transformation of the Shelter-2 facility into an environmentally friendly system, with the parallel distribution of super technological platforms in it for the implementation of various tourist projects.
Temporary deadline for these processes is from 50 to 100 years. There is no doubt that the main arena of such projects will be the industrial site of the nuclear power plant, a new safe confinement. It remains to solve a number of issues on the selection of the most realistic techno projects, to find a resource for their implementation, including personnel and intellectual.
But there are no other ways for the development and maintenance of the Zone within the framework of the most modern environmental art object: too many points of no return have been traveled for many years.