Chernobyl: The Devastating Nuclear Disaster and Accidental Environmental Success

The Chernobyl disaster will forever be remembered as one of the most catastrophic nuclear accidents the world has ever seen. What was planned to be a safety test at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26th, 1986, soon became international news as the reactor exploded and spewed radioactive contaminants into the air. And while residents of the nearby city of Pripyat were evacuated, an Exclusion Zone was also put in place. 

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Image: National Geographic

An estimated 197 residents (often called the samosely) have since returned to their homes in Pripyat and Chernobyl. However, much of the “Zone of Alienation” still remains abandoned over 30 years later. With this in mind, it’s clear to see that Mother Nature has been given the chance to heal. Some would even say that the Chernobyl disaster has become an accidental environmental success. Here’s how. 

An Untouched Area of Land

The Exclusion Zone may have kept humans at bay for decades, but that hasn’t stopped some of Pripyat’s hairier residents from claiming back their territory. Over the years, researchers have been amazed to see the ecosystem flourishing again after the immediate destruction caused by the disaster. In fact, the increasing biodiversity of this area has taken everyone by surprise. From wild wolves to rare European bison, it’s now teeming with wildlife. And they all seem to love the overgrown expanse. 

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Image: The Atlantic

Watching the Ecosystem Thrive

Most notably, researchers have found that deer, elk, and boar populations are higher than ever. Because of this, ecologists from across the globe have turned their attention to this peculiar area of land with many questions that still remain unanswered to this day.

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Image: Treehugger

Nick Beresford, a researcher at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has said that “Our camera trap surveys in Ukraine have photographed Eurasian lynx, brown bear, black storks and European bison. Ukrainian and Belarussian researchers have recorded hundreds of plant and animal species in the zone, including more than 60[rare] species.” 

While more research is needed to understand whether these animals will suffer health issues in the future, there’s no denying that the populations have boomed over the past few years. Many put this down to the lack of human interruption and the absence of hunting in this area. 

Putting Conservation Efforts In Place

Due to this environmental success, conservationists have also used this opportunity to release animals that require a little extra help in the wild. In 1998, 31 endangered Przewalski horses were released into the Zone of Exclusion. The aim was to increase their numbers in order for the species to make its way off the endangered list and thrive once again.

While the transportation and release of these horses sadly meant that many of them didn’t survive the first five years, it’s now been recorded that there are now around 150 Przewalski horses in the wild within the Exclusion Zone. This just goes to show that in the midst of destruction and devastation, the natural world always comes out on top!