Until the 19th century the Pripyat river basin on the border between Ukraine and Belarus was a wetlands and forests. As usual, the people ruined it. They burned the forest to pastures and cut down trees for wood or fuel to boil the glass and the vodka. By the mid-20th century a large part of this industry has disappeared, and the efforts of reforestation caused by human activities, refreshed Pripyat region. 26 April 1986 the Chernobyl nuclear power station on the river Pripyat exploded and caught fire, scattering radiation across the Northern hemisphere.
That’s where the transformation began.
Chernobyl: the catastrophe for people, good for nature?
In the end, the Soviet Union evacuated more than 300,000 people from the station. Most of this area is called the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and the old power plant is enclosed in a giant concrete sarcophagus, by the way, check out how it was built. But what happened to the zone after all gone, this issue is being discussed. For decades, scientists who study the region, said that the life of plants and animals dried up, and the remaining crumbs of life mutated and sick. However, recent studies indicate the opposite — plants grow, and animal life more diverse than before the accident. The exclusion zone has become a living experiment of what the world will be after his men completely destroy and leave.
Obviously, to put 3 billion people, the impact of the cloud of radioactive strontium, iodine, cesium and plutonium was awful. 134 emergency services in the station area suffered acute radiation sickness, 530 000 people received a high enough exposure to survive. Still, research continues on the subject of what happened to their bodies.
One effect seems indisputable: the more radioactive iodine affecting you, the higher the likelihood that you will have thyroid cancer and other problems with it. Among the members of the cleaning team today, a disproportionate number of cases of leukemia and other cancers, and cataracts. Fortunately, radioactive iodine-131 does not stay in place.
“He has such a short half-life, it quickly disappears — after a few days and weeks after the accident,” says Jim Beasley, an ecologist from the University of Georgia, examining life in the exclusion zone. “Today, animals in Chernobyl it does not hurt”.
What is going on in the exclusion zone? A large part of the coniferous forest to the West of the station where the radiation level was the highest, blushed and soon died; it is still called Red or Rusty forest. The first studies of birds and invertebrates showed the decline of populations, and later confirmed the same scenario for large mammals. The level of radiation to measure the vocal activity of birds.
Environmentalists Anders møller and Timothy Musso know well about the negative effects of radiation on the ecosystem. They found that the frequency of mutations at swallows 2-10 times higher than in Italy or elsewhere in Ukraine; the same is the case with genetic damage in other species of plants and animals. And they study the exclusion Zone in 1991.
The discouraging fact that after a General inventory of invertebrates in the exclusion Zone and around it, it became clear that the population inside was less. The same, according to scientists, refers to birds, mammals. “We see the negative impact of ionizing radiation on living organisms. This applies to mammals, insects, spiders, butterflies and the like. Another question: are these populations of large mammals from healthy individuals? Or of individuals who are sick or ugly? It is not studied, and this is a big issue for the exclusion Zone”.
Other researchers using other methods, found just the opposite. In the 1990s, a preliminary study of rodents showed that radiation did not affect the population. Twenty years later, a group of international researchers, the actual counts of animals from helicopters, did not find significant differences in populations of elk, deer and wild boar — and found a sevenfold increase of the wolf population — compared to similar uncontaminated nature reserves. And all this the population has grown since the first decade after the accident.
Where is the difference? Perhaps, the animals reproduce faster than the radiation kills them. “If 10% of the population that have an influence — and I’m not saying it was, but if — in most cases this would be enough to cause a recession,” writes the author of the study from 2015. “A very low level of mortality will not be enough to manifest itself at the population level”.
Maybe the animals die prematurely from mutations or cancer? “Most of the animals die within the first months of life, and those who reach maturity, most of them do not live more than a few years. Cancer often develops long.” But there is not taken into account the quality of health or an individual’s life history. Perhaps animals do not die from radiation, but they can manifest a cataract or a tumor. Their lives may be long, but not unpleasant.
Changes and methodology. Currently, some scientists use “station odor”, seasoned fatty acids that love to sniff the animals. During this process, turn on the camera and makes a photograph showing the approximate range of the population. Scientists have found wolves, raccoon dogs, wild boars and foxes in populations that can be expected only in regions where they are not trying to kill people.
After the accident exclusion Zone re-colonized brown bears. In the late 1990s, European scientists introduced the nearly extinct Przewalski’s horse. There are thriving bison. The absence of people does not prevent these animals to grow.
The question is to balance the competing ways of life — the lack of human pressure means that thriving lush ecosystem, but the radiation can attenuate certain aspects of it. The problem is that nobody knows for certain how many radiation. Some believe that the radionuclides left in the ground, hit the ground; others think that animals wandering through the forests, can carry these particles with themselves and transport them to new places. Determination of the level of radiation presents a problem. Use drones to map, and attach GPS collars with built-in dosimeters for the animal.
From these differences, there are side effects, which explains why all of this flora and fauna so difficult to study. In Rusty forest, for example, dead conifers were replaced by deciduous trees that can better tolerate radiation, but their leaves are less acidic that changes living organisms in them. “You have changed the ecosystem,” he says. “It’s not just radiation. Factors mixed”.
The exclusion zone of Chernobyl — unique
All of this is important because the exclusion Zone is unique. On Earth there are only a few other places where previously was people, but now they are not. They became examples for other world, despite the fact that two such zones, Chernobyl and Fukushima, also radioactive. It is also important. If we assume that nuclear energy will be one of the key ways of producing energy, not contributing to the ongoing climate crisis on Earth, it is important to know how serious it can be an accident on one of these nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy is considered clean source of energy — you need only cold water and creates a certain amount of waste, but the safety of its use remains a highly debated issue.