'Life After: Chernobyl' Examines Radiation Effects On Plant And Animal Life

Real Screen shared that Animal Planet's Life After: Chernobyl will air on the 30-year anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. Although people have been making short and strictly monitored forays into the area, biologist Rob Nelson and anthropologist Mary-Ann Ochota are the first scientists to be granted unlimited access to the Chernobyl exclusion/danger zone. For Life After: Chernobyl, the pair investigated how the environment and the wildlife have been affected after three decades of radiation exposure.

The disaster began during a routine systems test at reactor number four of the Chernobyl plant located near the town of Pripyat, on April 26, 1986. After a power surge, an emergency shutdown was attempted and after a subsequent power spike, there was a reactor vessel rupture and a series of steam explosions. The cascading course of events led to exposing the graphite moderator of the reactor to the air, causing it to catch fire. This sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere.

The fallout from Chernobyl prompted mass evacuations as it drifted over an extensive geographical area, including the western Soviet Union and Europe. Over 350,000 people were resettled from contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and the Ukraine. Thirty-one deaths are directly attributed to the accident, and all the deaths were among reactor staff and emergency workers.

Prevention Web shared a Chernobyl Forum report (in PDF form) from 2005, predicting that the death toll could eventually reach 4,000 among those exposed to the highest levels of radiation, which included 200,000 emergency workers, 116,000 evacuees, and 270,000 residents of the most contaminated areas. This figure was based on combining the deaths of around 50 emergency workers who died soon after the accident from acute radiation syndrome, nine children that died of thyroid cancer, and a future prediction that there could be up to 3,940 more deaths from radiation-related cancers and leukemia.

This is the kind of atmosphere Nelson and Ochota are investigating on Life After: Chernobyl as they attempt to determine how the radiation continues to impact the affected areas. They are allowed to stay for as long as they need to in order to conduct their ground-breaking research, but the duo must also be sure to take the necessary safety precautions. Broadway World noted in their Life After: Chernobyl article that by staying in the area for too long, the radiation exposure could reach dangerously high levels in their bodies, and they must always monitor the radiation levels.

A sneak-peek video of Life After: Chernobyl hints that what they discover about what the effects of high radiation do to the animal and plant life in the Chernobyl region both astonishes and surprises them. For example, some species of birds have evolved to produce antioxidants to protect them against radiation damage. Their melanin has also changed, making their feathers darker, but they also have fewer tumors. The video goes on to say that this is natural selection at its best, and that the flora and fauna are adapting at an unbelievable rate.

Although there have been numerous documentaries and TV shows (think Animal Planet's River Monsters with Jeremy Wade) produced after the Chernobyl disaster in the exclusion zone, the discoveries made by Nelson and Ochota for this special documentary will reveal more information. Although they are only scratching the surface in regard to what the effects of high radiation over a long period of time is doing to the plants and wildlife in the Life After: Chernobyl exclusion zone, what discoveries they find could be of the utmost importance in several ways, many perhaps even unforeseen at this time.
Ochota from Life After: Chernobyl stated during a live question-and-answer session on Facebook that the fish are indeed huge, but that viewers will have to watch the show to see what was discovered. She also shared that amazingly, there are some elderly people who have moved back into the area and are trying to scratch a living from the land. They feel that they will die from old age before they are stricken with cancer due to the radiation. If you want to know more and have your own questions before Life After: Chernobyl airs, Nelson will host his own session on Animal Planet's Facebook page on April 26.
Life After: Chernobyl is produced for Animal Planet by STV Productions. Executive producer for STV Productions is Anne Laking, with Erin Wanner as executive producer and Krishna San Nicolas serving as producer for Animal Planet.

Will you be watching the new documentary? Life After: Chernobyl will air on Tuesday, April 26, at 10 p.m. ET on Animal Planet.

[Image via Life After: Chernobyl/Twitter]