The exclusion zone around the Chornobyl nuclear plant remains unfit for habitation, said Dmytro Bobro, the acting head of the State Agency for the Chornobyl Zone.
Short visits to the exclusive zone are not banned, and up to 10,000 visitors arrive there on memorial days, he said at a press conference in Kyiv. Concerning people who returned to the zone of their own accord and live there, relatives are allowed to come and see them for not more than five days, but if a longer term is requested, they are placed under radiological control, he said.
Only 12 people of the 197 residing in the Chornobyl zone were officially allowed to stay. They were not provided with housing immediately after the nuclear disaster and their stay in the zone is relatively legitimate, he said.
"The rest got apartments but returned. We cannot observe the law callously, we look at it from these people's angle. If we just send them away, they would come under enormous strain," the official said.
Bobro said that some 200 square kilometers in the total area of 2,000 square kilometers are relatively safe.
"But again, there is no infrastructure there, and the territory has "contaminated spots" and should not be populated, although it could be sown with crops to be used as biological fuel," he said.
Humans could return to this territory in about 30 years. But if rehabilitation measures are taken, people would be able to come back even earlier to an area of 200 or even 500 square kilometers, he said.
"Half of the exclusion zone will remain unfit for habitation forever as it is contaminated with plutonium isotopes," Bobro said.
Experts said at a press conference on August 15 that part of the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and Chornobyl itself are already fit for living.
"In terms of radiation nothing hinders living in Chornobyl, but law bans living in the exclusive zone. It's time to think of opening part of the zone, its southern sector, for use without limitations," said Oleh Bondarenko, a member of the National Commission for Radiation Defense.
Chornobyl could be opened to personnel working under the Shelter project to make the sarcophagus an environmentally safe facility. These people work in shifts now. The permissible radiation exposure level for the personnel is 20 millisieverts annually. In fact, they get not more than 1.2, he said.
But more people live in the excusive zone in addition to the 300 settlers who returned on their own, he said.
Viktor Sushko, deputy general director of the Radiation Medicine Research Center, agrees that Chornobyl could be populated only after the social infrastructure is restored.