Returning to Abandoned Land
On the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the number four reactor at Chernobyl, the exclusion zone is not a dead zone.
Yes, a huge swath of what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia was blanketed by dangerous radiation. And hundreds of thousands of people—entire towns—were relocated.
But within a 1,100-square-mile (2,850-square-kilometer) area that remains cleared of most people and agriculture, the wildlife have moved in. A surprising variety of animals actually appear to be thriving in a landscape that is devoid of human activity. Scientists have observed that other species show signs of troubling genetic changes, evidence of the continuing long-term aftermath of what is still seen as the world's worst nuclear disaster.
Even though authorities now reckon Japan's Fukushima Daiichi crisis in Japan to be on par with the April 26, 1986 accident in the northern Ukraine (map) in terms of potential consequences, Chernobyl's immediate impact was far greater, because the reactor was built with no containment vessel. As a result, some 30 workers were killed and as many as 4,000 people are expected to die eventually as a result of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl plant, according to the World Health Organization.
(Related:"Thin Steel Line: Japan's Nuclear Crisis—Now a 'Major Accident'—Could Have Been Worse.")
Despite the questions about the long-term health effects of exposure to the continuing radiation hazards, some people, like this 73-year-old woman in the mostly abandoned village of Paryshiv, have returned to the site.
Though radiation is no longer raining down on the land, levels of dangerous cesium-137, a radioactive isotope that is among the most dangerous to humans, are still elevated throughout the immediate area and as far away as Norway and Germany. Because cesium-137 can accumulate as it passes up the food chain, these chickens could be carrying elevated levels of radiation, absorbed by their food, which then would be passed on to their human consumers.
(Related:"How is Japan's Nuclear Crisis Different?")
Pictures: Animals Inherit Mixed Legacy at Chernobyl
A quarter-century after the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl, the surrounding evacuated area has seen a resurgence of wildlife, but some species have weathered the disaster significantly better than others.