The world's most disastrous nuclear event to date took place in April 1986 and since then, Chernobyl has been a name that stirs doomsday chills leftover from the Cold War era. But a recent study might give the deserted city a different kind of reputation. According to researchers, the area around Chernobyl is now home to a thriving wildlife population, its numbers even on par with nature reserves.
Led by Professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth, long-term census data showed the number of wild mammals in the area are likely "much higher than they were before the accident." Researchers say that removing humans from the exclusion zone around the now-abandoned Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has allowed wild animals to flourish.
Co-author of the study and radioecology expert Tom Hinton noted that there was nothing new about increased wildlife population in an area abandoned by humans. But "what's surprising here was the life was able to increase even in an area that is among the most radioactively contaminated in the world," he said.
The survey of the large forested area around the nuclear reactor showed that the populations of animals such as elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar and wolves are booming. The study, however, did not look at the radiation's effects on individual animals.
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Professor Smith did take care to stress to BBC, however, that it "does not mean that radiation is good for wildlife," rather, that human activity was worse: "It's just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming, and forestry, are a lot worse."
In 1986, the explosion of a reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant released 400 more times the amount of radioactive emissions than the bombing of Hiroshima, contaminating large swaths of Europe. More than 100,000 people were evacuated soon after. Over the years, the incident is believed to have killed thousands who were exposed to lethal levels of radiation and its long-term effects such as cancer are still being investigated.
Cover image via iStock / Ihar Byshniou