I visited the Chernobyl zone with a group of Finnish students. We came from Tallinn, three days in the bus and three back, practically just to see this place. (It was well worth it, especially because we had such a nice time together.)
What can I say about the experience? I have seen documentaries filmed in the zone and I have wanted to visit the place for a long time. For me, the main interest is Pripyat and how the nature is conquering the abandoned human settlements. Unfortunately the walk around Pripyat was rather brief and it was not easy to sense the real atmosphere of the place with so many people around you. Plus we didn't have the permit nor time to enter the buildings. I would have happily given all the rest of the day's program (lunch, catfishes, power plant) to have a few more hours to explore the town. Well, maybe next time.
The day evoked many different feelings. I felt sad because of the tragedy of the events and the thought of people having to leave their homes and never allowed to come back. Worried because the visit made me feel the risks of nuclear power at a much more personal and concrete level than previously. Kind of empty as this was a dream come true, but I didn't have time to stop contemplating the stream of impressions flowing in. Excited because of the uniqueness of the environment – I am always thrilled about all kinds of abandoned places, and being able to visit a time pocket of the Soviet Union was something very extraordinary. Shocked because I heard that the Ukrainian decision makers are planning to demolish the buildings in Pripyat. Fascinated as I saw how fast the nature can recover if we just would give it a chance. It makes me think about how fragile our civilization actually is, which is a frightening and comforting thought at the same time.
After the tour the organizers asked us about our expectations and feelings. I more or less knew what to expect, so the biggest surprise for me was how people were casually walking towards the train station next to the nuclear power plant at the end of their work day – I didn't know that there have been so many people working in the zone and that the power plant continued to produce electricity after the accident. Also slightly surprising was how normal the buildings and everything looked – Pripyat could be one of Helsinki's suburbs, just somewhat shabby and overgrown.
We had a few dosimeters and I seized the opportunity to measure the radiation level at the given point. Thank you very much for this informative earthcache in such a unique place and for the quick log permission. Thanks again to our hugely informative and professional guides Sergii and others. (I still don't know whether I should be amused or irritated about the fact that they sell glow-in-the-dark fridge magnets with a picture of the fourth reactor, though. )
In my opinion this is a place with immense educational, cultural, historical and natural value and should remain as untouched as possible. Unless, perhaps, the area can be made safe some day and the former residents want to return.