Tag Archives: International Nuclear Event Scale

Life After Chernobyl: Wildlife Thrives

30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, wildlife thrives in the radioactive zone.

The Chernobyl disaster was a wildly catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. The accident occurred on Tuesday, April 26, 1986 and has since then been categorized as the worst nuclear disaster in history. It was also classified as a level seven, which is the maximum classification in the International Nuclear Event Scale.

chernobyl

The Chernobyl nuclear plant after the disaster. The catastrophe involved more than 500,000 workers, left 31 dead, cost approximately 18 billion rubles, and led to massive radioactive contamination that contributed to long-term effects, such as cancer. [Image: www.nytimes.com/]

The catastrophe was such that the city of Pripyat where the Chernobyl power plant was located was completely evacuated of all residents. It is now an abandoned city and is considered part of the 30-km Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation (also known as the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,” the “30 Kilometer Zone,” or “The Zone”).

Since then—with the exception of other structural collapses, contamination-limiting projects, and spontaneous fires in the vicinity—the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has been devoid of people. But 30 years after the disaster, in an area devoid of human occupancy, wildlife activity is seen to thrive.

bison herd in chernobyl

A bison herd near the abandoned village of Dronki, Belarus. [Image: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

While there may have been some immediate effects in wildlife, nature has since reclaimed the area. Moose, deer, European bison, hares, foxes, wild boars, and grey wolves are only a few of the animals that are thriving in the radioactive zone. Perhaps one of the greatest questions is: How are wildlife surviving in such a highly radioactive area?

chernobyl horse

The wild Przewalski’s horse (other common names include the Dzungarian horse, the Asian Wild horse, Mongolian wild horse, takhi, or the Przewalski’s wild horse) is an endangered species and extinct in the wild, but was introduced to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. After the introduction, the species rapidly thrived and grew to up to 200 individuals from only a dozen until they were reduced to 30–40 individuals as of 2011 due to poachers. [Image: Genya Savilov/AFP–Getty Images]

The answer may lie in different genetic makeups and some less contaminated areas of the seclusion zone. But the genetic effects are still evident in the Chernobyl animals. Many of the grey wolves, for instance, have cataracts in their eyes, and some birds have smaller brains. Though there are no other easily identifiable direct genetic consequences of just how much the radiation is affecting the animals in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in terms of genetic damage and injury, the animals are, for all intents and purposes, indeed thriving in a zone where humans have been removed.

With the exception of the occasional illegal hunting that occurs in the Exclusion Zone, wildlife’s numbers have been increasing impressively. The grey wolves’ numbers in Chernobyl are estimated to be more than that of the numbers present in Yosemite and are seven times bigger than the official Ukraine nature reserves.

Wildlife’s flourishing numbers are a testament to the damage that humans can do to them. Abandoned farms and hollowed-out hotels have given way to overgrown weeds and thick shrubs that are now prime for new animal homes. Because of this, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is now considered one of the largest wildlife sanctuaries in Europe. It is an important reminder of the extent of human influence and just how much we can affect wildlife’s populations.

With that, we leave you a video of an ingenuous Chernobyl fox making a sandwich. Sure shows how much they’re flourishing!