Thirty years later, Chernobyl is a very different place than it was in 1986. In April that year, a nuclear disaster filled the air with a radioactive cloud and sent thousands fleeing from their homes.
The blast and fire killed 31 people that day, April 26, 1986. According to NBC News, the World Health Organization believes 4,000 more people will die as a result of the power plant explosion, although some believe that number is much higher.
The reactor burned for days. Fallout affected people 1,450 miles away in Britain and Norway. About 130,000 people living in the area, including the city of Pripyat, had to leave their homes behind; about 300 of them have since returned.
Today, 30 years later, a 19-mile area around the power plant, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, won’t be safe for humans for 10,000 more years. But beside the shrub-filled buildings, radioactive moss, and rusty swing sets, there is life.
Although humans are few and far between, 30 years later wildlife has taken over.
As biologist Denys Vyshnevskiy put it, “When the people left, nature returned,” according to Phys.org.
“Radiation is always here and it has its negative impact. But it is not as significant as the absence of human intervention.”
The air, water, and soil are still deadly 30 years later, and the wildlife that lives in the exclusion zone have been negatively affected. Radiation readings taken about six miles from the plant reach 1,700 nanosieverts an hour, which is 10 to 35 times higher than background levels in the U.S.
Eating, drinking, and reproducing in this radioactive environment is a host of wildlife, leaving some to dub the exclusion zone a preserve. Among the creatures are elks, wolves, bears, lynxes, white-tailed eagles, and a group of endangered Dzungarian horses brought in for an experiment in 1990. A hundred of them now roam.
The Red Forest, a stretch of pine that died almost immediately after the disaster when the ground became radioactive, was cut back, and a new forest has grown up in its place. Species that live off human crops and waste, like storks, sparrows, and pigeons, never returned.
Vyshnevskiy has called the return of wildlife 30 years later an “environmental renaissance.” He expects biodiversity will increase, woods will fill empty fields, and flora and fauna will flourish.
“There is a huge contrast between Chernobyl just before the catastrophe and Chernobyl (now). These animals are probably the only positive outcome of the terrible catastrophe we had.”
YouTube video captures Chernobyl's wildlife reclaiming radioactive wasteland in Ukraine ... https://t.co/H8k6tw0vUy— UK News Information (@AnglosearchNews) April 19, 2016
A study out of the University of Georgia has confirmed that nature has returned. Researchers with the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory set up cameras across the exclusion zone and verified 14 species living in the area, Science Daily reported.
Among those discovered were the gray wolf, wild or Eurasian boar, red fox, and raccoon dog. All of them lived near the most contaminated areas. Researcher James Beasley concluded that radiation didn’t keep critters away, as would’ve been expected.
But others are less hopeful about the explosion of life at Chernobyl three decades later. The animals don’t live very long or have fewer babies.
“Overall, in almost all cases, there is a clear signal of the negative effects of radiation on wild populations. Even the cuckoo’s call is affected,” said biologist Tim Mousseau.
And while it’s teeming with wildlife, a non-radioactive area would have even more animals and more biodiversity after humans left.
Maryna Shkvyrya, a researcher at the Schmalhausen Institute of Zoology in Ukraine, said Chernobyl is not a nature preserve.
“It’s unique… but not exactly a paradise for the animals nor an oasis.”
[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]