Danger zone? The ‘new safe confinement’ over the reactor at Chernobyl
Danger zone? The ‘new safe confinement’ over the reactor at Chernobyl

Ukraine’s national airline plans ‘joy flight’ over Chernobyl 35 years after the nuclear accident

The £77 trip includes flying at 3,000 feet above the site of the reactor that exploded

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 13 April 2021 09:44

In perhaps the weirdest “flight to nowhere” since the coronavirus pandemic began, the Ukrainian national airline plans an overflight of the location for the worst nuclear accident in history.

On 25 April 1986, reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power planet exploded – killing some people instantly and many more over the following years. Radioactive material covered the surrounding area, laying waste to territory both in Ukraine and across the border in Belarus.

While desperate efforts took place to limit the destruction, the wind carried nuclear debris across Europe, reaching as far as Sweden in just 24 hours.

The site of the blast is still contaminated and cleaning up the area is expected to take decades.

Yet on the eve of the 35th anniversary, Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) will operate what it calls a “Flight over Kyiv and Chernobyl”.

The company says: “On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine International Airlines invites you to take the opportunity and visit the unique flight ‘Flight over Kyiv and Chernobyl’, which will take place on the eve of the anniversary – April 25!

“Passengers of the flight will be able not only to see Kyiv and Chernobyl from the most unusual angles and the minimum allowable height - 900 metres [3,000 feet] – but also to deepen their knowledge about the causes and consequences of the Chernobyl accident.”

Participants are offered the chance to “take a photo in the cockpit and take a selfie with the pilot”, presumably while the plane is on the ground rather than in the air.

One of the tour companies that normally runs terrestrial trips to the exclusion zone will be onboard.

The airline says the flight will be accompanied by “aviation stories from UIA pilots who will fly with passengers in the cabin”.

There will also be a raffle for “souvenirs and gifts from UIA” with a top prize of a day trip to the Chernobyl zone, “one of the most popular tourist locations in the world”.

The cost is 2,970 Ukrainian hryvnia (£77), much less than most “flights to nowhere”.

British tourists will be unable to take part because the UK government bans non-essential travel overseas.

Before the flight, UIA recommends: “You can plunge into the whirlpool of emotions of the flight and watch a video from UIA co-pilot Ivan Iliuchenko.”

Dr Claire Corkhill, reader in Nuclear Material Corrosion at the University of Sheffield, said the experience should not be dangerous for participants.

“Now that the new safe confinement – the large arch covering the reactor – is in place, the radioactive particles in the reactor are completely sealed in, so there should be no issues with flying over the top,” she told The Independent.

“And 35 years after the disaster is roughly the equivalent of one half life of the most radioactive elements in the reactor. So the gamma rays that are emitted from the hole in the top of the reactor building are not only shielded by the new safe confinement, but they are half as intense as they were at the time of accident.”

Dr Corkhill added: “I often watch airplane maps on long-haul flights to spot when we’re flying over nuclear reactors, but this is really something.”

Several other airlines have offered “joy flights” during the coronavirus pandemic, as international air travel remains in a deep slump.

The latest was an Emirates flight from its hub in Dubai, notable because everyone on board had been vaccinated.

You can view Simon Calder’s film on Chernobyl here.

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