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Chernobyl sparks tours, stokes fears in Lithuania

  • Published at 07:33 pm August 19th, 2019
Chernobyl
Official poster of the record-breaking mini-series 'Chernoby' | HBO

Similar in design to Chernobyl, some 450 kilometers away, the Ignalina reactor provided the backdrop for the show's outdoor scenes

Walking along the top of Lithuania's decommissioned nuclear reactor, the set of HBO's critically acclaimed Chernobyl TV series, tourist Vytas Miknaitis says he's not "afraid at all".

"They know what they're doing," the retired computer engineer from Chicago says, referring to organizers of the three-hour tour of the Ignalina power station in eastern Lithuania.

Similar in design to Chernobyl, some 450 kilometers away, the Ignalina reactor provided the backdrop for the show's outdoor scenes, shot last year.

The Baltic state's only nuclear power plant built in Soviet times was open to the public even before the Chernobyl drama first aired in May but has since seen a steady uptick in visitors on the heels of the show's success.

Tourists don white overalls, walk on top of the reactor and tour the various work stations, including a command post built to resemble the one in the series. 

They can even pretend to be the protagonists pushing the various buttons.

Ignalina plant spokeswoman Natalija Survila-Glebova said that the series had attracted a new stream of visitors, mostly Lithuanians but also foreign tourists from countries like Poland, Latvia and Britain.

Last month, there were 900 visitors, she told AFP, adding that tours were "almost completely booked through the end of the year". Due to the ongoing dismantling work, tours are only open to adults.

Dark tourism

The Soviet Union's Chernobyl plant, in what is now Ukraine, was the scene of the world's worst nuclear disaster, when one of its reactors exploded in 1986 during testing.

It polluted a big part of Europe, with the area immediately around the power plant the worst affected.

In recent years, the abandoned site has become a "dark tourism" destination, even before the eponymous TV drama that has picked up 19 Emmy nominations.

Lithuania, which like Ukraine is a former Soviet republic, began decommissioning Ignalina in December 2009. 

The European Union made its closure a condition of the small country's 2004 entry into the bloc as the plant had two reactors that were the same model as those at Chernobyl.