Now there are tourists, participating in what may be the strangest vacation excursion available in the former Soviet sphere: the packaged tour of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, scene of the worst civilian disaster of the nuclear age, Startribune reported.

A 19-mile radius around the infamous power plant, the zone largely has been closed to the world since Chernobyl's Reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986.
Now it is a destination, luring people in. "It is amazing," said Ilkka Jahnukainen, 22, as he wandered the empty city that housed the plant's workers and families, about 45,000 people in all. "So dreamlike and silent."

The zone's information agency says its chaperoned tours do not carry health risks, because radiation levels always have been uneven. And most of the zone is far cleaner than it was in 1986. A lethal exposure of radiation ranges from 300 to 500 roentgens an hour; levels in the tour areas vary from 15 to several hundred microroentgens an hour. Dangers at these levels, the agency says, lie in long-term exposure.

The zone's popularity as a destination has been increasing since 2002, the year it opened for tourist visits. It is what Mary Mycio, author of a soon-to-be released book, "Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl," calls a "radioactive wilderness," an accidental sanctuary populated by wolves, boars and endangered birds. Its beauty cannot be overstated.

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