On April 26th, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor neighboring Pripyat, in what is now the Ukraine, experienced a catastrophic meltdown, releasing massive amounts of radiation into the air. 31 people died as a direct result of the accident and residents were evacuated. It’s considered the worst nuclear power plant accident of all time, and the long-term health effects and indirect deaths attributable to the disaster are still not completely understood.
Even today — 30 years later — the area around Chernobyl remains largely abandoned. Though it’s possible to take guided tours through the exclusion zone, lingering radioactive contamination deters people from resettling there, leaving it a modern-day ghost town. But through virtual reality, you can now take a tour of Chernobyl from the safety of your home, without even a Geiger counter.
First launched on the Oculus Rift this past July, Farm 51’s’s Chernobyl VR Project recreates not just the abandoned city of Pripyat but the experiences of those who lived through the disaster, through a combination of 360 degree photography, archival film, and rendered environments. You can explore a bit of it for yourself in the video below, which — like the VR project itself — is viewable in 360 degrees.
“We decided we need to go serious because after visiting the Ukraine and seeing how sensitive this subject is for many people, we [realized] that we can not create some kind of horror game or action game or something like [that],” team member Wojciech Pazdur told Polygon in August. “We have expanded stories of people who are there, who were there, and the people who left the city with promise that they would come back one day and never came back.”<
Today, Chernobyl VR Project expands to the HTC Vive, and in conjunction with the release Farm 51 has released a small making-of documentary discussing the origins of the project. You can check out the documentary video up top, or head over to the project’s official website to learn more.
“Virtual reality was created so that people can go places that are normally out of their reach. We were looking for placed that would be the most exotic, where everyone would want to go,” says a Farm 51 team member in the documentary short. “[Chernobyl] is a place where most of us won’t ever dare to go, be it because of the war in Ukraine or out of fear of radiation. [It is] a place which on the one hand is close, but on the other, we treat it as a truly forbidden zone, as a place of total isolation.”
Chernobyl VR Project retails for $14.99 with a portion of proceeds going to Chernobyl-related charities.