The explosion of the reactor could turn Chernobyl into a paradise on earth

Until the 19th century, the Pripyat River basin on the border betweenUkraine and Belarus was a wetland and forest. As usual, people messed things up. They burned wood for pastures and cut down trees for wood or fuel to make glass and vodka. By the middle of the 20th century, most of this industry had disappeared, and reforestation efforts caused by human activity refreshed the Pripyat region. On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on the Pripyat River exploded and caught fire, scattering radiation throughout the northern hemisphere.

This is where the change began.

Chernobyl accident: a disaster for the people, a boon to nature?

As a result, the Soviet Union evacuated more than 300,000people from the station. Most of this area is now called the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and the old power station is enclosed in a giant concrete sarcophagus - by the way, read how it was built. But what happened to the exclusion zone after everyone left, this issue is being discussed. For a decade, scientists exploring the area said that the life of plants and animals had dried up, and the remaining crumbs of life had mutated and hurt. However, the latest research suggests the opposite - plants grow, and animal life is more diverse than before the accident. The exclusion zone has become a living experiment about how the world will be after people completely destroy it and leave.

Obviously, subject 3 billion peopleThe effects of radioactive strontium clouds, iodine, cesium and plutonium were terrible. 134 emergency services in the station area received acute radiation sickness; 530,000 people received high enough radiation to survive. Research on what happened to their bodies is still ongoing.

One effect seems undeniable: the more radioactive iodine affects you, the higher the likelihood that you will have thyroid cancer and other problems with it. Members of the cleaning team today have disproportionately many cases of leukemia and other types of cancer, as well as cataracts. Fortunately, radioactive iodine-131 does not linger in place.

"He has such a short half-life that hedisappears quickly - a few days and weeks after the accident, ”says Jim Beazley, an ecologist from the University of Georgia, who explores life in the exclusion zone. "Today he does not touch animals in Chernobyl."

What generally happens in the exclusion zone? Much of the coniferous forest to the west of the station, where the radiation level was highest, turned red and soon died; it is still called the Ginger or the Rusty Forest. The first studies of birds and invertebrates showed reductions in populations, and later confirmed the same scenario for large mammals. The level of radiation could be measured by the vocal activity of birds.

Environmentalists Anders Möller and Timothy Musso know wellabout the negative effects of radiation on the ecosystem. They found that the frequency of mutations in swallows is 2-10 times higher than in Italy or anywhere else in Ukraine; The same is true for genetic damage in other plant and animal species. And they have been exploring the Exclusion Zone since 1991.

The most discouraging thing is that afterinventory of the total invertebrate population in and around the Exclusion Zone, it turned out that the population inside was smaller. The same, according to scientists, applies to birds, mammals. “We see the negative effects of ionizing radiation on free-living organisms. This applies to mammals, insects, spiders, butterflies and the like. And another question: are these populations of large mammals from healthy individuals? Or from individuals that are sick or ugly? This is not being researched, and this is a big question regarding the Exclusion Zone. ”

Other researchers using other methodsfound something completely opposite. In the 1990s, a preliminary study of rodents showed that radiation did not affect the population. Twenty years later, a group of international researchers counting actual animals from helicopters did not detect any noticeable differences in the elk, deer and wild boar populations — and found a sevenfold increase in the wolf population compared to similar uncontaminated nature reserves. And the entire population has grown since the first decade after the accident.

Where does the difference come from? Perhaps animals breed faster than radiation kills them. “If something had an effect on 10% of the population - and I’m not saying that it was, but if - in most cases it would not be enough to cause a recession,” the author of the 2015 study writes. "A very low mortality rate will not be enough to manifest at the population level."

Maybe animals die prematurely frommutations or cancer? “Most animals die during the first months of life, and those who reach maturity, most of them live no more than a few years. Cancer often develops long. ” But it does not take into account the quality of health or the life of an individual. Animals may not die from radiation, but they may show a cataract or a tumor. Their life can be long, but unpleasant.

Changing and methodology. Currently, some scientists use the "smell station", refilled with fatty acids, which love to sniff animals. During this process, the camera turns on and takes a photograph showing the approximate range of the population. Scientists have found wolves, raccoon dogs, wild boars and foxes in populations that can be expected only in regions where people do not try to kill them.

After the accident, the Exclusion Zonecolonized brown bears. In the late 1990s, European scientists introduced the almost extinct Przhevalsky's horse. Bison thrive there too. The absence of people does not prevent these animals from growing.

The question is balance, competinglife ways - the absence of human pressure means that a lush ecosystem flourishes, but radiation can weaken some of its aspects. The problem is that no one knows for sure how much radiation there is. Some believe that the radionuclides left on the ground hit the soil; others think that animals wandering through forests can carry these particles with them and transport them to new places. Determining the level of radiation is a problem. They use drones to create a map and attach GPS collars with built-in dosimeters to animals.

These differences have side effects thatexplain why all this flora and fauna is so difficult to study. In the Rusty Forest, for example, dead conifers were replaced by deciduous trees that could better tolerate radiation, but their fallen leaves are less acidic, which changes the microorganisms living in them. “You have changed the ecosystem,” says the scientist. “This is not just radiation. The factors are mixed.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is Unique

All this is important, because the exclusion zoneis unique. There are only a few other places on Earth where people used to be, but now there are none. They became examples of another world, despite the fact that two such zones, Chernobyl and Fukushima, are also radioactive. And this is also important. If we assume that nuclear power will be one of the key ways to produce energy without aggravating the ongoing climate crisis on Earth, it is important to know how serious an accident at one of these nuclear power plants can be. Nuclear energy is considered an environmentally friendly source of energy - only cold water is needed - and creates a certain amount of waste, but the safety of its use remains a very debatable issue.

Do not forget to subscribe to our news channel in order not to miss news from the Zone. And also watch the show from HBO, it's very cool.