The Great Barrier Reef. The Grand Canyon. The Great Wall of China. The Galapagos Islands. Chernobyl. One of these things is not like the others, but the gap could close if Ukraine gets its way. Monday is the 35th anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster the world has seen: The explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant killed 31 people immediately, thousands more in the following decades, and turned the nearby city of Pripyat into a ghost town. Now, Ukraine’s cultural minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, suggests Chernobyl should become a UNESCO World Heritage site, Reuters reports. "Putting Chernobyl on the UNESCO heritage list is a first and important step towards having this great place as a unique destination of interest for the whole of mankind," he said, noting the designation could lead to a tourism boost.
The AP indicates that such a move only recently became possible thanks to the 2019 addition of an enormous arch-shaped shelter over the reactor building to stop the leak of radiation. Robots inside are taking apart the ruined reactor, and that's giving officials "new optimism about the zone," per the AP. Radiation levels are low enough in the surrounding area for tourists to visit the ghost town, and the zone did see a twofold increase in tourism after the 2019 HBO series Chernobyl, though the pandemic quashed the tourist flow. "This is a place of tragedy and memory, but it is also a place where you can see how a person can overcome the consequences of a global catastrophe," Ukraine's deputy environment minister Bohdan Borukhovskyi said. Reuters suggests the country is in the preliminary stages of putting the location on its national cultural and historic heritage list, after which an application can be made to the UN. (Read more Chernobyl stories.)