HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ propels tourism in nuclear disaster zone

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine (CNN) - HBO’s widely-watched series “Chernobyl” is causing a tourism boom in a miserable place bringing the nuclear exclusion zone back to life.

More than three decades after the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster erupted, visitors from around the world are exploring Chernobyl.

What used to be a nursery school for the children of Chernobyl is one of the morbid attractions for the tourist hordes exploring this nuclear exclusion zone.

Their beeping radiation alarms are part of the creepy experience.

The entire area, complete with a Ferris wheel that was never used, was evacuated in 1986 after the then-Soviet Union acknowledged the catastrophic release of radiation from Chernobyl reactor No. four, which is still looming on the horizon.

It’s also the dramatic backdrop for the recent HBO drama, which paints a terrifying picture of the Soviet regime in denial, leaving its own citizens in harm’s way.

The Chernobyl mini series has been viewed so widely, it’s credited with raising global awareness of the dangers of the nuclear age.

“What I liked about how real it was and how intense it was. So like, it like kept in suspense and then you realize it’s actually, it all happened in real life," tourist Edgars Boitmanis said. "So, and then after the show, I was watching a lot of documentaries, wanted to find out more about this. And I found out that there’s tours, that then you can come over.”

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The tourist said he is not worried about the radiation.

“Well, the way the way I understand is the risk of being here one day is like same as smoking three cigarettes, and I’m a non-smoker,” Boitmanis said.

Tour operators said visitor numbers are expected to double this year as caution towards Chernobyl turns to curiosity.

While walking through the nuclear ghost town, you get a strong sense of the catastrophic dangers of nuclear power. But there’s something much broader, too - an idea that Chernobyl is a warning from the past about what can happen when governments try to hide the truth and how even innocent people can be sacrificed to protect those in power.

For some Chernobyl visitors like Ed Charlesworth from Texas, it’s a message still relevant today.

“I think it symbolizes a very strong need for not prevaricating about information, not lying about information but being forthright. And a lot could have happened differently had the lying not taken place,” he said.

There are concerns the horrors portrayed so graphically in the HBO series, especially at the so-called liquidators, sacrificed to clean up the radioactive mess, are being trivialized by Chernobyl’s tourism boom.

One Instagrammer recently posted racy images of herself, apparently near the reactor. She later apologized and said she wasn’t really at Chernobyl at all. But perhaps a few tasteless selfies are a low price to pay for relearning the terrible lessons of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

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