Nearly 30 years after the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power plant, wildlife populations have returned to the radiation-contaminated area. More importantly these groups of mammals, including elk, deer, roe deer, red deer, wild boars, wolves, and lynx, appear to be thriving.
A recently study of the area seems to reveal that events such as nuclear disaster may actually be less harmful to wildlife populations than human interference.
The study, published in the Current Biology journal stated “These results demonstrate for the first time that, regardless of potential radiation effects on individual animals, the Chernobyl exclusion zone supports an abundant mammal community after nearly three decades of chronic radiation.”
Furthermore, studying the Chernobyl area provides biologists insight into other nuclear disasters such as the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plan in 2011. Based on what happened in Chernobyl, scientists have an idea of a time period for recovery in Japan.
1986’s meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is one of the most catastrophic nuclear disasters to happen in the world. The fire and explosion at the plant released radioactive material in the atmosphere, with radiation being detected as far away as Italy. Approximately 116,000 people were forced to permanently evacuate the 1,622 square-mile zone surrounding Chernobyl as a result of the meltdown.
Unfortunately, wildlife cannot be forced to evacuate the radioactive area. Researchers feared the worst for Chernobyl’s wildlife.
The study reported, “Several previous studies of the Chernobyl exclusion zone indicated major radiation effects and pronounced reductions in wildlife populations at dose rates well below those thought to cause significant impacts.”
However, recent research proves that as of today levels of certain species of wildlife in the contamination zone including elk, wild boar, roe deer, and red deer are comparable to levels in uncontaminated areas. Some species in the contamination zone, such as wolves, have even reported populations up to seven times the size of populations in uncontaminated regions.
Population numbers had begun to rise as early as the 1990s, even as numbers in other former Soviet Republics were on the decline. The decline may be attributed to a changing socioeconomic climate.
Ultimately, the study found that there was no evidence of radiation having a negative effect on the size of wildlife populations in the area.
“Our 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 authors of the study concluded.