The accident is still one of the worst in nuclear history but, as its 30th anniversary fast approaches, scientists are revealing that the 1,600 square miles of contaminated land has become one of Europe’s largest truly wild sanctuaries and its inhabitants appear to be thriving.
A recently published study, led by biologist Jim Beasley of the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, catalogued 14 species of mammals and ‘found no evidence to suggest that their distributions were suppressed in highly contaminated areas … and contrast[s] with research suggesting that wildlife populations were depleted within the CEZ.’. Sergey Gaschak, a Ukrainian researcher who has worked in the zone for the past 30 years, agrees with the most recent findings. His camera traps have recorded sightings of red deer, wild boar, moose, bison, horses, brown bears, lynx, beavers and wolves, not to mention the additional 20 mammals and ten or more species of birds, all of whose populations have grown ‘dramatically’.
With such encouraging findings, it is easy to forget that the area is still dangerously radioactive. Shortly after the explosion, serious mutations were reported but scientists are now trying to discover what long-term genetic effects prolonged exposure to radiation has had on the individual health of the animals. Beasley, however, maintains that ‘for many of those species [the effects of radiation], even if they’re there, probably aren’t enough to suppress populations to the point where they can’t sustain themselves … [and] humans have been removed from the system and this greatly overshadows any of those potential radiation effects.’.
In other words, people have a bigger negative impact on the ecosystem than radiation… why is that not more surprising?