It has been nearly 30 years since the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant prompted the surrounding area to be evacuated, creating a region now known as the "exclusion zone." A recent study found that while most people are now gone, there may be more animals around Chernobyl than there were before the accident.
Over 116,000 people left during the evacuation, and those who still work in the area are restricted in the number of days that they can stay inside the exclusion zone due to health concerns associated with prolonged exposure to radiation. But when the people moved out, new tenants moved in. “Our long-term empirical data showed no evidence of a negative influence of radiation on mammal abundance,” the study, published in the journal Current Biology, says. “Relative abundances of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar within the Chernobyl exclusion zone are similar to those in four (uncontaminated) nature reserves in the region and wolf abundance is more than 7 times higher.”
The scientists believe that it’s the lack of humans, and not an attraction to radiation, that has caused an increase in the animal population. “This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife,” Professor Jim Smith of Portsmouth University tells The Independent, “just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming and forestry, are a lot worse.”
Last year, the New York Times published a video titled "The Animals of Chernobyl" featuring Dr. Timothy Mousseau, a biologist who studies the changes in plant and animal life in the exclusion zone. Conversely, Dr. Mousseau found that many species of birds were “depressed” in areas of high contamination, which led to a decrease in biodiversity and 50% fewer species.