What happened to Chernobyl. Can it be considered a paradise on Earth?
On April 26, 1986, the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant 100 km from Kiev on the Pripyat River became an unprecedented disaster with the emission of radiation in the northern hemisphere.
300,000 people were evacuated from an area of about 5,000 km² around the plant. The old power station was enclosed in a giant concrete sarcophagus, and part of the adjacent territory became the Chernobyl exclusion zone. For decades, the scientific community has maintained that animals and plants in the exclusion zone either died or mutated and became ill. However, recent studies have shown that the plant and animal world has become even more diverse than before the accident.
The results of observations of scientists show how the planet will look after the extinction of mankind.
The effects of radiation can be unpredictable. 134 rescuers received acute radiation sickness, 530,000 who worked on the restoration of the zone, were also severely exposed. The effect that it had on the organisms of these people is still not fully understood.
Radioactive clouds with strontium, iodine, cesium and plutonium affected 3 billion people to varying degrees. Undoubtedly, the higher the concentration of radioactive iodine that the body is exposed to, the higher the risk of developing thyroid cancer or endocrine diseases. Among those who worked on the Chernobyl cleanup, the number of patients with leukemia, various types of cancer, as well as cataracts is much higher than the average. Due to the short half-life, radioactive Iodine-131 is not retained in the atmosphere for long. It evaporated days, weeks after the disaster, and now the animals in the Chernobyl zone are no longer exposed to this radiation.
What is happening now in the exclusion zone? The coniferous forest, also called the “Red Forest”, located west of the plant, where the radiation level was the highest, turned brown-red and died. The earliest studies of invertebrates, insects and birds showed a decrease in population. The same results were obtained in the study of large mammals.
Ecologist Andre Möller of the University of Paris-Sud has been studying Chernobyl since 1991. He noted that in contaminated areas, such as the Red Forest, it is difficult to hear the singing of at least one bird and learned to determine the level of radiation from the singing activity of birds.
Scientists Möller and Timothy Musso have long warned of the negative effects of the disaster on the ecosystem. Researchers have found that village swallows in the exclusion zone have two times more mutations than in Italy or elsewhere in Ukraine. A similar situation with other genetic diseases is still in a whole group of plants and animals. Signs of radiation infection are pigment spots in birds and they are found more often near Chernobyl.
Anomalies occur in the sperm of rodents and birds.
Möller and Musso explore the invertebrate population in and around the exclusion zone. Inside, their numbers are smaller, the same applies to birds and mammals. Möller notes the negative effects of ionizing radiation in mammals, insects, butterflies and other organisms.
However, studies by other scientists who have used other methods have shown opposite results. A study of rodents in the 90s showed that radiation had no effect on the population.
20 years later, an international group of scientists who counted animals from helicopters did not find a significant quantitative difference between deer, elk, wild boars in the exclusion zone compared to similar ecologically clean reserves. A seven-fold increase in the number of wolves was noted in the Chernobyl zone, and in the first ten years after the incident, all animal populations grew.
How could this happen? Maybe animals breed faster than radiation kills them, or they die faster than radiation or cancer can hit them.
Beasley’s research team is applying new methodologies. Scientists use special racks with a bait of odorous fatty acids that attract animals. When approaching the stand, the camera fires, and the images taken help determine the general portrait of the population. It was found that the number of wolves, raccoon dogs and foxes is as high as it should be in an area where people do not hunt animals. Scientists placed bait with fish along rivers and canals to detect minks and otters.
At the end of the 90s, in the exclusion zone, scientists discovered Przhevalsky’s horse that had almost disappeared, brown bears returned, and the bison feel good. Territory without people allowed these species to grow freely.
The absence of humans allows the ecosystem to thrive, but at the same time, radiation can inhibit this development. Much depends on balance and intraspecific competition. The main problem is that no one can say for sure how much radiation is left in the zone. The study of the terrain is very difficult due to the direct effects of radiation exposure and additional side effects.