The 1986 nuclear reactor explosion in Chernobyl manifested some of the worsts fears about nuclear power. And while nuclear power has been shown to be a relatively benign force, the concern about “another Chernobyl” is still one that many people fear. After the explosion, the surrounding area was evacuated, and the region declared a permanent “no-go” zone for humans.
The area is uninhabited but people occasionally go there for research and other purposes. Surprisingly, instead of being a blasted wasteland, Chernobyl is actually overflowing with vegetation and animal life.
In the almost 30 years since the explosion, the region has become a veritable wildlife refuge, with elk, boar, deer, wolves and countless smaller animals thriving there. The concern that radiation would prevent animals from living or breeding there has turned out to be unfounded. It’s not clear yet if that radiation is having any real effect on the plants and animals living in Chernobyl, but one thing is for sure: human habitation is a far greater deterrent to wildlife than radiation.
It’s good to know that, even following an event like Chernobyl nature can not only survive—it can thrive. The Earth has put itself through worse than humans can ever likely do to it, but we had kind of thought that was among the worst things we could do, and it seems like the planet doesn’t even really care.
That’s great, but it does say something else about us: human habitation is worse for plants and animals than nuclear radiation. Animals stay away from populated areas because they’re populated, and humans are scary. We come into an area, drive out the local plants and animals, and then transform everything to suit our whims.
This recent discovery has a lot to tell us about recovery rates for regions subject to nuclear accidents, like the recent Fukushima accident in Japan, but it can also tell us a lot about our everyday impact on the world around us.