Pripyat was once a busy 49,000 strong town full of young Soviet families. They were encouraged by the government to move to the brand new up-and-coming city and work for the nearby nuclear power plant known as Chernobyl. They were sold on the fact that there would be good jobs and the city would prosper. For a time this was true but on April 26 1986 disaster struck. A failed experiment resulted in one of the nuclear cores exploding and a huge radiation fire broke out in reactor 4 with devastating consequences. A government cover-up ensued in the days following the accident. The first that even the citizens of Pripyat knew about the incident was hundreds of buses appearing in the afternoon of 27 April, over 24 hours after the incident, without explanation. They were given an hour to pack up their most valued possessions and were shipped out of the area. Pripyat and 188 villages had become part of a 10 km exclusion zone. Many of the people that left that day were never to return.
While the people were being evacuated, toxic radiation was escaping into the atmosphere. Spread by the wind, it covered everything. The first that the rest of Europe knew was when the censors in a nuclear plant in Sweden started receiving high level radiation readings. They thought the problem was within their own reactor but after investigation they found it had been blown north by the wind from Chernobyl.
Pripyat is still part of an exclusion zone, probably never to be lived in again. Chernobyl village is home to workers at the power plant and a handful of mainly elderly locals who have been allowed to return.
Chernobyl was given a lot of coverage on the 25th anniversary of the disaster as it had such a big effect on Europe at the time and until this day continues to have an impact on farming in northern European countries. Today, depending on the time of year, between 20 and 400 tourists a day visit the area. The government strictly controls the exclusion zone and only a few tour operators are allowed to work within the area, with a specially allocated government guide. The time spent there is limited and there is a curfew. Since the area was opened to tourism in 2001 the numbers of visitors have increased.
Another reason Pripyat has become a household name is it featuring in the game, Call of Duty. The designers clearly toured around and made copies of some of the main features of the city as they are undoubtedly duplicated in the game. Even the exterior of reactor 4 is featured in the opening credits and, whilst the general layout of the game may not be quite as close together as the game suggests, some details such as the Ferris wheel are pretty spot on. There is reason to believe a lot of the visitors are Call of Duty fans and wish to view the game play footsteps.
It is doubtful that Pripyat will ever be habitable in our lifetime and for now it stands as a testament and reminder of the destruction that nuclear disasters can actually do.