Has Chernobyl, Nuclear Disaster Site, Become A Haven For Wild Animals?

By | May 25, 2021

test article image
A photo taken on January 22, 2016 shows wild Przewalski's horses on a snow covered field in the Chernobyl exclusions zone. (Getty Images)

On April 26, 1986, a nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant led to the worst nuclear disaster in world history, expelling 400 times more radioactive material than the Hiroshima bomb and leaving over 1,000 square miles of Earth uninhabitable for human life. But what about wildlife? Clearly, they didn't get the memo about the adverse effects of nuclear fallout. Since the catastrophe, the area around the defunct power plant has been teeming with animals and plants.

Nature Is Healing

Of course, initially, the radioactivity wiped out most animals, even the invertebrates living in the soil, but despite the half-life of nuclear fallout being around 30 years, it seems that it only took several months for animals to begin feeling well enough to reenter the area. Over the next decade, animals began not only living but thriving in the abandoned towns of Belarus, with large animals like boar, elk, and deer doing especially well. Predator species like the grey wolf, raccoon dogs, lynx, and red fox have blossomed in the forgotten forests, as they no longer have humans to contend with.

test article image
This photo was taken from a helicopter several months after the explosion. The destroyed Chernobyl reactor, one of four units operating at the site in Ukraine in 1986. No units operate today. (Chernobyl, Ukraine, 1986). (IAEA Imagebank/Wikimedia Commons)

Is Chernobyl Safe For Animals?

But are these animals healthy? After all, the effects of radiation on humans can range from short-term effects like nausea and fatigue to long-term effects like cancer. Radiation poisoning itself is an extremely fatal and painful disease, as first witnessed in young physicist Harry Daughlin, who developed large blisters, intense abdominal pain, and a rapid heartbeat after dropping a tungsten carbide brick into the plutonium "demon core" during the Manhattan Project. He was dead only 25 days after initial exposure.

Clearly, these rambunctious beasts frolicking around the defunct power plant are not suffering from radiation poisoning, but that doesn't mean there aren't other health concerns. Presently, scientists have only been able to track the diversity and number of animals in the Exclusion Zone, not their health or life span. However, the teams studying these Chernobyl critters have expressed the desire to better monitor their health and the effect, if any, the radiation is having, as that would obviously be beneficial information in case of a future catastrophe.