Thriving Wildlife in Chernobyl

New Scientist
Monday, 26th October 2015

Wildlife is flourishing at Chernobyl since the evacuation of over 300,000 people in 1986. Scientists have found that the effects of radiation in the area are less impactful than having people there in the shorter term.

The site of Chernobyl is a living example of nature's resilience.

Scientists have noted an increase in wildlife in the area since the evacuation of over 300,000 people.

Bill Laurence from James Cook University in Cairns, Australia said, “The striking Chernobyl findings reveal that nature can flourish if people will just leave it alone ... This underscores the vital importance of having people-free parts of the planet.”1

Wolves are seven times as common and numbers of other large animals have increased, such as elk, deer and wild boar.

Around 116,000 people fled the area after the radioactive catastrophy in 1986, and another 220,000 were resettled. An area of was vacated, across Belarus and Ukraine.

“Whatever negative effects there are from radiation, they are not as large as the negative effects of having people there,” says Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth in the UK. “We’re not saying there weren’t radiological effects at all, but we can’t see effects on populations as a whole.”1

This is the largest study on wildlife in the area since the nuclear incident. Jim Smith and his team have conducted in-depth surveys on roe deer, elk, red deer, wild boar and wolves between 2008 and 2010. Over 35 winter routes were tracked, a distance of around 315km.

The researchers compared these findings to surveys taken in uncontaminated nature reserves, finding residual radiation was having little impact on animal survival.

The team found that the worst of the radiation effects were within the first few years of the incident. This is because short-lived but highly toxic isotopes, such as iodine-131 and technetium-99, contaminated the landscape where animals would eat.

Jim Smith explained, “By 1987 the dose rate fell low enough to avoid these larger, more acute effects."

It is estimated that the worst hit areas have stabilised, with around 1 milligray of radiation per day, a tenth the dose someone receives during an abdominal CT scan.

More tests will find out whether this daily dose can cause mutations, however, by comparing mutation rates in fish from Chernobyl with those in uncontaminated waters.

For the full article visit the New Scientist HERE


Further resources

How mushrooms can clean up radioactive contamination - an 8 step plan

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World


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