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Will Chernobyl get World Heritage Site status?

With an eye on more funding and more tourists, the Ukraine government has begun a process that could eventually allow it to apply to the United Nations’ cultural, scientific and education body for World Heritage Status for Chernobyl.

On April 26, the former Soviet republic marks the 35th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, when a reactor at the plant, located some 108 km north of the capital Kyiv, exploded during a botched safety test. The result was the world’s worst nuclear accident that sent clouds of radiation across much of Europe and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate. Thirty-one plant workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, mostly from acute radiation sickness. Thousands more later succumbed to radiation-related illnesses such as cancer, although the total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of intense debate.

Before sending an application to the UN, locations seeking UNESCO protection had to be included on a national cultural and historic heritage list, according to the minister. Therefore, the Ukraine government recently decided to include a huge military radar built near the city of Chernobyl in the 1970s in the list. It is also discussing expanding that to the whole of the 30-km Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Most of the area around the abandoned nuclear plant is a wilderness of empty buildings, scrubland and rubble. All of the buildings in Pripyat, a ghost town that was once home to 50,000 people mostly working at the plant, are in need of repair.

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