30 Years Later, Chernobyl Still Lies As A Monument Of Disaster, But Is There Hope?

April 26, 1986, still marks a tragic event in the history of humanity. On that day, an erroneous test led to a massive reactor explosion; the fuel rods melted and the plant burned for nine days straight.

“During this time, 400 times more radioactive material was released than when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency,” the International Business Times said.

Within 36 hours after the explosion, a 30-kilometer exclusion zone was set up and the nearby town Pripyat was told to evacuate. Today, this exclusion zone is still in place. Pripyat, once home to 50,000 people, stands deserted, a haunting reminder of the fear that ran rampant in late April 1986. Photojournalist and tour guide Anton Petrus recently visited Pripyat in order to capture the chilling nature of the town through photos.

“Pripyat is the worst place I’ve ever been,” Petrus said. “I first visited five years ago and the first thing I thought was ‘this place looks like our planet after humanity disappears.'”

An abandoned classroom in Pripyat [Image by Anton Petrus]

The Mirror reported that the devastating event tragically highlighted the “shortcomings of the Soviet system” and that many people have likely died as a result.

“Mikhail Gorbachev has since said he considered Chernobyl one of the main nails in the coffin of the Soviet Union which eventually collapsed in 1991. The accident killed 31 right away and forced tens of thousands to flee. The final death toll of those killed by radiation-related illnesses such as cancer is subject to debate.”

The Inquisitr reported on Tuesday that scientists have been fascinated by a surprising turn of events in the exclusion zone.

“[The] 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. […] 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.”

While the town and surrounding villages (not to mention Chernobyl itself) stand as reminders of radioactive devastation, scientists have found hope in the fact that wildlife has been flourishing in the exclusion zone.

Timothy Mousseau, a professor of biological studies at the University of South Carolina, has been working off and on at Chernobyl for the last 15 years. He has specifically been interested in the effects of radiation and the “impact of the disaster” on surrounding wildlife, IBTreported.

“Population studies have shown that wildlife has rebounded following the disaster,” IBT explained. “This is often taken to mean animals, such as wolves, deer and boar, are thriving in this accidental sanctuary. But this is too reductionist, Mousseau warns. That wildlife populations have increased in the absence of humans is true. But it is likely they would have grown far more substantially in the absence of radiation.”

Mousseau explained his theory further.

“We realise – even more starkly – the impact of human disturbance on natural populations when it seems like even following a nuclear disaster, some of the populations have rebounded and are doing better in the absence of humans. But the problem with some of that kind of coverage is that it ignores the bigger pictures and it obscures the more important question of the impacts on these populations. If there had been a fence put round and the radiation had disappeared, we would expect the numbers to go up much much more.”

Although the situation is not ideal, there are hopes of making the area a bio-preserve — a plot of land specifically set aside for the renewal and revival of wildlife and organic life.

“The big goal is to turn area into a bio-preserve,” Mousseau said. “Given that the effect humans have on many larger animals are bigger than the effects of radiation, putting this area into a bio-preserve would seem a reasonable purpose for these areas that can’t be used to grow food.”

[Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]