About 35 years ago during the tail end of the Cold War, the world was rocked by The Chernobyl Disaster in 1986. This catastrophic nuclear accident changed people's perception of nuclear power forever and even helped crack the image of the powerful Soviet Union. Even though the power plant was still under construction with the first four operational, it already had a record of accidents. But while it had already had mild nuclear meltdowns, no one was prepared for its reactor #4 exploding. Mass evacuations followed and a massive exclusion zone was created.


The neighboring city is called Pripyat and has been a ghost city for over 35 years now. But the question is when will Chernobyl be habitable again and for how long will Chernobyl be radioactive? It may surprise many people but Chernobyl is considered safe to visit for short periods today.

The most common question about Chernobyl is this: More than three decades later, is the area safe to visit? The answer is a little more complicated than a simple "yes."

Updated January 8, 2022, by Aaron Spray: Updated to reflect more tour options and to reflect the current situation.

How Long Will It Take For Ground Radiation To Break Down?

On average, the response to when Chernobyl and, by extension, Pripyat, will be habitable again is about 20,000 years. That sounds like an extraordinary number until it's broken down scientifically: the radioactivity that penetrated the ground - and everywhere within a 1,000-mile radius - operates differently than other types of nuclear radiation.

When Will Chernobyl Be Habitable: Around 20,000 Years

The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was designed to detonate on impact and release all the contained energy in one shot, shortly dispersing afterward. Chernobyl, on the other hand, fell under the unfortunate instance of ground absorption.

Ground Absorption: The Radiation Leeched and Was Absorbed Into the Ground

When pieces of the reactor scattered and hit the ground, radiation continued to leech into the surrounding area, along with all of the scattered particles that made it into the air. The rain was responsible for pushing even more radiation down into the ground, making it nearly impossible to avoid it without evacuating immediately.

Related: 10 Unsettling Things From Chernobyl That Still Have Not Recovered (10 That Have Changed)

When Will Chernobyl Be Safe?

With that being said, the most dangerous place to be in Chernobyl is anywhere near the reactor - that area will take at least 20,000 years to disperse as far as radiation breakdown. Many will ask, "then how is it safe for tours to happen at Pripyat?"

Safe: Chernobyl Was Deemed Safe For Visiting in 2011

The site of the disaster was deemed safe back in 2011 which, in reality, is still only within the last decade. Touring the area does not come without risks, though.

Surprisingly, while humans were unable to inhabit the land (although there are some who have since moved back to the outskirts), the wildlife around the exposed area has simply exploded. Nature has reclaimed what was once Chernobyl and given way to an increase in wild animals, which could potentially be seen on tours but it's not likely.

Wildlife: Wildlife Has Made A Big Come Back Here

The biggest risk associated with visiting Chernobyl is said to be the ruins that have been left behind - not due to radiation, but due to their structural instability.

In short, the good news is, it is now possible to place a safe and exciting trip to Chernobyl and there are several tour options that make it easy.

Related: The Somewhat Unnerving And Fascinating History of Chernobyl

Tours Through Chernobyl

In order for tours to be possible, certain areas have been designated as 'safe' with reasonable levels of radiation that are comparable to that of a long plane flight. Therefore, tourists must still with their tour guide or specialist and only endanger their own lives by veering from the tour group.

Tour Guide: Tourists Must Come With A Tour Guide

Certain areas are still registering too high in terms of radiation and they're marked as hazardous, including places such as the basement of the hospital, where clothes were discarded from the first responders who were exposed to the highest levels of radiation.

High Radiation: There Are Some Places With Higher Radiation to Avoid

Since the first responders - and everything they had on them - were so close to the reactor, it will take much longer for the radiation attached to these items to disperse and break down.

Related: 25 Stunning Pics Of Chernobyl (And Why We Shouldn't Set Foot In It)

Visitors to Chernobyl will also be subject to radiation checks, which entails gaging how much radiation exposure they've had prior to entering Pripyat as well as a check when they leave the exclusion zone.

Radiation Checks: Visitors Are Subject to Radiation Checks

Overnight tours are also available and tourists can spend up to two days in the area but are subject to strict rules including a curfew in order to limit the exposure to any remaining radiation.

Next: Chernobyl and 9 Other Places Thrillseekers Should Visit