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Ukraine trying to lure more tourists to Chernobyl nuclear site

The true story behind HBO's "Chernobyl"

Ukraine is hoping to further exploit the nuclear disaster site at Chernobyl as a tourist attraction. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a decree on Wednesday, more than 30 years after a reactor exploded there, announcing plans to make the site and surrounding areas more tourist friendly.

During an inauguration ceremony for a massive new metal dome at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Zelenskiy said he wanted to shed its dark image and turn it into an opportunity for Ukraine. The dome cost $1.7 billion and was designed to prevent further leaks, BBC reports

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A stray dog lays in front of the New Safe Confinement (NSC) new metal dome designed encasing the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl plant. Sergei Supinsky / AFP/Getty Images

"We must give this territory of Ukraine a new life," Zelenskiy said. "Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine's brand. It's time to change it." 

The plans include new waterways and checkpoints in the area, enhanced cellphone reception and new walking trails. Filming restrictions will also be lifted.    

"We will create a green corridor for tourists,"Zelensky said. "Chernobyl is a unique place on the planet where nature [has been] reborn after a huge man-made disaster. We have to show this place to the world: to scientists, ecologists, historians [and] tourists."

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HBO's hugely popular television series Chernobyl has renewed interest around the world on Ukraine's 1986 nuclear disaster. Genya Savilov / AFP/Getty Images

The Ukrainian president also plans to crack down on corruption in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, where security officials often collect bribes from tourists for access. He will empower officials and law enforcement agencies to coordinate visits. 

"Let's finally stop scaring off tourists and turn the exclusion zone into a scientific and upcoming tourist magnet," he said. 

Zelenskiy's announcement comes months after the debut of the popular HBO mini-series "Chernobyl," which dramaticizes the 1986 nuclear disaster. The show piqued interest in the disaster and the site where it transpired. Fears of radiation have kept many away, but thousands of tourists still travel to the site every year. 

At the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, then a part of the Soviet Union, a reactor exploded in 1986 resulting in at least 32 deaths in the immediate aftermath. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate and hundreds of square miles surrounding the reactor remained off-limits. 

Adam Higginbotham, author of the new book "Midnight in Chernobyl, said the problems at site of the nuclear disaster were known. 

"In reality, so many nuclear scientists knew all along that there were problems with this reactor -- the problems that led ultimately to an explosion and disaster," Higginbotham said.