If you are interested in Dark Tourism, Chernobyl should be high on your list of places to see.

The Chernobyl Disaster occurred 32 years ago, on April 26, 1986. It started with an explosion in Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This lead to a large fire that unprepared men from the nearby towns were sent to put out without any kind of radiation protection. As a result, many of these men and others in the vicinity of the reactors experienced radiation poisoning in the weeks that followed the explosion, which often was fatal.

The areas around Chernobyl were evacuated and an Exclusion Zone was set up, which has remained in place to this day. Despite the continued danger of radiation exposure for anyone who goes into the Exclusion Zone, the area is not void of human life. In addition to people who chose to move back to their homes in the zone, there are illegal inhabitants, workers and tourists who enter the zone. Tourism to Chernobyl has been increasing in popularity as photographs of the abandoned area have become more widespread.

20 Not recovered: Radiation Levels - They are still high

While radiation has decreased slightly over the last 32 years, it has not dropped significantly. The levels are still high enough that they are considered dangerous for humans to be in contact with, and as a result, the Exclusion Zone which was set up shortly after the disaster occurred remains in place today.

The zone is 2,600 kilometers square and is made up of the “outer zone” and the “inner zone”. Some people live in the outer zone, mainly those who returned following the evacuation, but the inner zone is expected to be unfit of human inhabitants for thousands of years to come.

19 Not recovered: Pripyat - A Ghost Town

Pripyat was the closest town to the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor site. The town was completely evacuated when the disaster occurred and has remained a ghost town ever since. Many of the famous Chernobyl photographs of abandoned buildings, possessions and the abandoned amusement park were taken in Pripyat. Today the abandoned city is a reminder of Soviet-era architecture and ideals, but also of the dangers of nuclear power.

Today there are some people who visit the area of the town, mainly they are the workers at the reactors, but scientists, journalists and tourists will occasionally be in the town as well as some illegal inhabitants.

18 Not recovered: The Exclusion Zone - still in place

The Exclusion Zone, set up mediately following the evacuation, is 2600 kilometers square and is still in place today. The zone has an inner and an outer ring, and the inner ring is determined to be unfit for human life. However, the outer zone does have a limited number of inhabitants, mainly those who did not leave when the area was evacuated, and those who chose to return following the evacuations.

The zone will be kept in place for the foreseeable future, and will remain likely for at least a thousand year, likely far longer. The inner ring of the zone is estimated to be unfit for humans for as long as 20,000 years.

17 Not recovered: Ukraine and Belarus - still receiving financial aid

Following the disaster, clean up and containment efforts were funded by the Soviet state. However, financial aid was also sent from Western countries and organizations. There has been little change in this regard with the exception of the fall of the Soviet Union. The collapse of the Union resulted in Ukraine and Belarus being left to deal with the costs of the disaster on their own, without Russian aid.

Western countries continue to send money to assist with the disaster effect, with one of the major projects being the new container for Reactor 4 to replace the old “sarcophagus” that was built immediately after the disaster.

16 Not recovered: Some still live in the zone - despite the risk

The outer area of the Exclusion Zone is home to some people still. Most of these inhabitants are those who never left during the evacuations, or those who returned within the first year after the incident. This population is slowly decreasing, mainly due to old age rather than the effects of the radiation.

Those who do continue to live in the zone usually grow and raise their own food sources, but also receive provisions from towns outside of the Exclusion Zone. Many of the few inhabitants who did stay in the zone chose to return because of the familiarity of the area.

15 Not recovered: Symbolism - Of a previous era

The town of Pripyat was built to house the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant. It was developed in the Soviet Era and designed to be an example of Soviet ideals. It was built with communist style apartments blocks and included schools, a supermarket, a public pool and an amusement park. To add to the communist symbolism, there were images of the hammer and sickle displayed throughout the town.

Today, these images of Soviet ideology are still visible around the abandoned town. Hammer and sickles can still be seen on the tops of some of the communist era apartment blocks.

14 Not recovered: Former residents - return each year to remember

While some of the residents who were evacuated from the Exclusion Zone chose to return to their old house, most did not. Every year, many of the surviving evacuees return to Chernobyl on April 26th to remember the men who sacrificed themselves fighting the fire at the nuclear reactor or who passed away from radiation exposure as a result of the disaster.

There are memorials held in Moscow, Russia; Kiev, Ukraine and Minsk, Belarus each year on April 26th as well. For many of the people who once lived in the Exclusion Zone, the memorials are a chance to see old friends and neighbours, as well as a way to remember the disaster that occurred.

13 Not recovered: Fatal radiation exposure - still occurring

The Chernobyl disaster occurred over 32 years ago. Following the events, most of the men who responded to the fire at the reactor were treated for illnesses caused by prolonged radiation exposure. Most of these men passed away within a few weeks from the effects of the radiation.

However, there are still deaths occurring today that have been linked to the radiation. Some of these are the people who chose to return to the Exclusion Zone and live in their old houses, but even people who did not return are passing away due to the effects. These people experienced radiation through proximity to the Exclusion Zone, through contact with contaminated objects or people, or had consumed contaminated water or food grown in contaminated soil.

12 Not recovered: Environmental damage - Contaminated soil and water

Radiation poisoning did not just affect the humans who lived in the proximity of Chernobyl, it also had a significant impact on the environment. The water in the Exclusion Zone was contaminated as was the soil. Those who stayed in the Exclusion Zone were advised not to grow their own food due to the contamination.

Scientists believe that radiation will continue to affect the environment for the next 180 years. However, this is just the environmental damage caused by the radiation; the Exclusion Zone area will not be considered fit for human inhabitation for at least 1,000 years, possibly as long as 20,000 years.

11 Not recovered: Abandoned buildings - still falling apart.

After being abandoned, most of the structures in the Exclusion Zone began to deteriorate. Without upkeep from inhabitants, most of the structures are now filled with debris from building materials, as well as the abandoned possessions left behind in the evacuation.

Some theft has occurred, with people sneaking materials out of the Exclusion Zone, which is illegal due to the object being contaminated by radiation exposure. The looting has left the abandoned buildings in even worse condition. As the Exclusion Zone will remain in place for the foreseeable future, the decay of the buildings will continue until they being to collapse completely.

10 Improving: Wildlife - doing surprisingly well

In the Exclusion Zone, radiation effects were so strong that even the soil was considered contaminated. Therefore, it is surprising that the populations of wild animals that live in the Exclusion Zone have been growing in the 32 years since the disaster.

Despite the radiation, there are numerous species that exist in the zone, and these populations are managing to survive fairly well. Some of the species who live within the zone include moose, bears, lynx and wolves. It is still possible that these populations will be affected by the exposure to radiation, but in the meantime, the lack of hunting and human interference means these animals can thrive.

9 Improving: Horses and Dogs - Thriving in the zone

While most of the animals inhabiting the Exclusion Zone are doing very well, there are two species that are especially thriving: horses and dogs

Przewalski’s horses are a rare and endangered breed of horses that have been introduced to the Exclusion Zone. The horses have managed to survive and grow their population within the zone, surprising many specialists.

The dogs that live in Chernobyl have also experienced a population growth that was unexpected - there are estimated to be around 900 wild dogs that live in the zone which are descendants from the dogs abandoned during the evacuations. There are programs in place to monitor both of these populations.

8 Changed: Sarcophagus Replacement- A new structure but no cool name

The original “sarcophagus” that was built around the crumbling reactor 4 in order to prevent further nuclear radiation spread was in place for 30 years and is now being replaced. While the sarcophagus is not being removed - the danger is too high to do this - there is a new structure being built around it referred to as the New Safe Confinement structure.

It is a €3 billion+ large steel arch that is 110m high and 165m long, and is expected to last for 100 years. Construction began in 2010 and is expected to be completed later in 2018.

7 Improving: Nuclear Waste - Now being removed

The number of workers who are transported into the Exclusion Zone has increased due to the opening of the plant near the reactors. The plant was put in place to process the nuclear waste that is still present at the site of the reactors. Chernobyl nuclear waste is typically liquid and considered to be radioactive as well. Therefore, the waste requires careful handling and processing, and the opening of the processing plant in Chernobyl should be able to make the process of waste removal far more efficient.

However, with the increased numbers of workers in the Exclusion Zone, there is the possibility that there will be an increase in radiation poisoning as well.

6 Improving: Decommissioning - Shutting down reactors 1-3

At the Chernobyl site, there were originally four reactors functioning, and a fifth being planned. The disaster occurred at Reactor 4 when an explosion occurred. The other three reactors were still in operation or functional for a number of years following the incident.

Currently, Reactors 1-3 are no longer functioning and are in the process of being decommissioned. This process has already taken decades and is likely to continue to be slow. The slow pace of decommissioning the reactors is likely due to precautions taken to prevent further incidents from occurring, and to keep the workers in the area as safe as possible.

5 Improving: Radiation levels - they have decreased, slightly

Radioactive elements have half-lives, which means that after a set amount of time, the radioactive element decreases in potency by half. This process of half-lives continues until the element completely decays, to use the scientific terms.

Due to the half-lives, the radiation levels in the Exclusion Zone have decreased somewhat since the incident occurred 32 years ago. However, this process is happening much slower than scientists originally anticipated. This has resulted in the radiation levels of the zone being much higher today than what was anticipated, and this will continue to be the case for a number of years, possibly close to 180 years.

4 Changed: Dark Tourism - growing in popularity

The phenomenon of so-called “dark tourism” has increased over time and Chernobyl has become a popular attraction. Dark tourism typically includes abandoned places and or places where disasters have occurred. Chernobyl encompasses both of these elements.

There are specific routes set out for the tourists that have been going through the Exclusion Zone to see the reactors. While tourism is growing, there are restrictions on who can go and for how long, and tourists must be accompanied by a guide. There are a few companies that offer the Chernobyl tours now.

3 Changed: Unlawful Inhabitants - "Stalkers"

“Stalkers” is the term given to the people who choose to go into the Exclusion Zone illegally. These people tend to be drawn to the freedom of the abandoned area and the closeness to nature, and they will live in the zone for periods of time. However, the main draw for most of these “stalkers” is the danger and thrill of risking their health and life by spending time in contact with the radiation.

Some of these people return to the Zone multiple times a year despite knowing of the dangers. This concept has also come up in video games and movies in recent years.

2 Changed: Nature - It is taking over the zone

Alongside the wild animal populations, nature is thriving in the Exclusion Zone. Without human interference, plants and trees have been able to reclaim the abandoned areas of the Exclusion Zone. In all of the evacuated cities, trees and other plants have taken over, growing through and over the abandoned buildings. This will continue to happen into the future as the Zone will be unfit for human life for many years to come.

Trees and plants will continue to reclaim the buildings left behind, likely leading to structural damage and collapses, making the abandoned cities even more dangerous for those who enter the zone.

1 Changed: No Longer a Secret - Not even the Soviet Union could keep this quiet

When the disaster occurred in 1986, it was kept a secret by the Soviet government. It was only when other non-Soviet countries began to notice the radiation levels increasing in monitoring stations that the Soviet government was forced to share some information on the incident.

Now Chernobyl is fairly well known around the world and is studied in many different scientific fields due to the uniqueness of the events. Chernobyl has also started to become a topic that is used in television, movies and video games, creating further discussion and awareness of the events that occurred.