Updated 09:07 AM EST, Wed, Mar 03, 2021

Chernobyl, Nuclear Disaster Area, Recovers: Wildlife Returns Decades Later

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Chernobyl is known around the world as the site with the worst nuclear disaster, and was declared a permanent no-go zone for people since the accident in 1986. The nuclear power plant in Ukraine was among the largest nuclear disasters. A fire at the plant released radioactive material into the atmosphere, which displaced around 116,000 people in several countries covering 1,622 square miles of the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

However, almost 30 years later, Reuters reported that there is remarkable turnaround in the area, with its evolution from one of the most popular disaster zones, to a nature reserve. This suggests that radiation contamination has not hindered wildlife from thriving in what is supposed to be a disaster area.

A specialist in earth and environmental sciences, Jim Smith of Britain's University of Portsmouth said that without humans, nature flourishes, even in areas with the worst nuclear accidents. He shared, "It's very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are now much higher than they were before the accident."

Smith and his co-researchers checked out the area to see what happens to wildlife, and earlier studies showed that the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone showed high levels of radiation and reduced wildlife populations. However, based on the long-term census data, it has been found that mammalian populations have now increased, revealing a relative abundance of elk, deer, and wild boar. The number of wolves living in and around the site is also said to be more than seven times greater compared to other nature reserves.

Jim Beasley of the University of Georgia in the United States said, "These unique data showing a wide range of animals thriving within miles of a major nuclear accident illustrate the resilience of wildlife populations when freed from the pressures of human habitation."

This indicated that human encroachment on wildlife habitats, such as hunting, forestry, and even agriculture, may have been the reason for the reduction of mammal population before the incident -making humans more dangerous to the environment than nuclear radiation.

The research also noted, that "data on time trends cannot separate likely positive effects of human abandonment of the Chernobyl exclusion zone from a potential negative effect of radiation .... Nevertheless, they represent unique evidence of wildlife's resilience in the face of chronic radiation stress."

The Los Angeles Times pointed out that the research on Chernobyl's budding wildlife may also help scientists understand the effects of other nuclear disasters, including the 2011 meltdown of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

You can read more about the research on Current Biology.

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