The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was another chance for wildlife to thrive in the now eerily abandoned exclusion zone.
We’re nearing 30 years since the largest and most catastrophic nuclear disaster took place at the nuclear power plant of Chernobyl in 1986. A catastrophe that has put the world on the track of rethinking the safety of nuclear power and the immediate effects of which are still painfully present for some.
Over 100,000 people from Ukraine and Belarus have been displaced, forced to leave their homes, to never return. 100,000 square miles have been affected and the immediate exclusion zone, spanning a radius of 19 miles is estimated to be so radioactive that for the next 20,000 years no human being should return to build a home there.
We’ve certainly seen the eerily desolated photographs of abandoned homes, cracked walls, dolls and pots left in a messy state of chaos.
Yet, the largest study of its kind proves that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was another chance for wildlife. Driven away by development and people encroaching on their habitat, wolves, deers, brown bears or the lynx were a rare sight in the prime days of Chernobyl. Now, Pripyat, once home to workers at the nuclear power plant has become home to a wildly expanding wildlife.
The study, published in the Current BIology journal, puts everything in perspective. Species are thriving in the exclusion zone and in Pripyat, much more than in the natural protected areas in the rest of Ukraine and Belarus. In Jim Smith’s view, this surprising finding:
“shows I think how much damage we do. Not that radiation isn’t bad. But what people do when they’re there is so much worse”.
Jim Smith is a co-author of the study and professor of environmental sciences with the University of Portsmouth. With fellow researchers, professor Smith created the first census of wildlife in the exclusion zones.
Based on video footage that has been taken over the past almost three decades and data obtained on site, the team found that the absence of humans encouraged animals to reclaim what was once theirs. In a 10-year timeframe, the populations of species here have doubled, if not more. Their resilience and adaptation to the high levels of radiation is astonishing.
The grey wolf population, a species endemic to this part of Europe, is estimated to be seven times higher in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl than in any of the four national parks of Belarus. Wild boar is setting up residence in the buildings that are nothing more than a ruin now.
Large swaths of trees and wild flora are reclaiming their space as well. In this new setting, the European lynx is hunting at peace. Deer, foxes, otters, beavers, horses and others are abundant. And in their almost pristine environment now, they seem to be doing much better than with the humans around.
Photo Credits: Wikimedia