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World

Chernobyl's Tourism Industry Is Booming Following HBO Miniseries On Nuclear Disaster

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Planning a vacation? Can't decide where to go? Well, here's an idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHERNOBYL")

STELLAN SKARSGARD: (As Boris Shcherbina) I'm pleased to report that the situation in Chernobyl is stable.

MARTIN DUBEN: My name's Martin Duben. I'm the managing director of Chernobyl Welcome.

CORNISH: The Chernobyl Welcome tourism company takes visitors to the site of the 1986 nuclear accident in what was then the Soviet Ukraine. Martin Duben's been on the job for three years. He says business has been booming lately thanks to the HBO miniseries about the accident.

DUBEN: Business was good even before the TV series. And then now because of the TV series, we start to get even more people.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A one-day tour costs about $140. But if one day is not enough Chernobyl for you, you can pay extra to spend the night there.

DUBEN: We actually sleep inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone, which is, of course, the biggest adrenaline thing that many people want to do, no matter the cost.

SHAPIRO: But is it a good idea?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CHERNOBYL")

JARED HARRIS: (As Valery Legasov) There was nothing sane about Chernobyl.

CORNISH: OK. That's from the TV show. But even at the real Chernobyl, things can get interesting.

DUBEN: What people are then mostly surprised by is that they are locked in the hotel because you cannot move freely inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

SHAPIRO: There are lots of restrictions. Food and water are brought in from Kiev. Visitors can't sit on the ground or smoke outside. And then there is the curiosity of nearby residents, who don't quite get Chernobyl tourism.

DUBEN: Most of Ukrainians don't understand why. But they are very well aware of the fact that there's tens of thousands of people visiting Chernobyl. So they don't make any big thing of it. They don't think it's something to be proud of, to be famous for in the world.

CORNISH: That said, there's a compelling reason for Ukrainians to support the tourism; companies licensed to operate in the exclusion zone pay a fee to the government.

DUBEN: The costs for maintaining the zone and for taking care of the power plant are astronomically high. So they're trying to earn money. And one of the ways how to earn money is to basically allow tourism.

SHAPIRO: At the height of tourist season, April and May, thousands of people visit Chernobyl. Martin Duben says with crowds like that, it's hard to take a picture without someone in your shot. He recommends visiting in late autumn or winter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.