On April 29th, 1986, three days after the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the government decided to evacuate the nearby city of Pripyat. At the time, Pripyat, which had only been founded 16 years earlier for workers at the plant, was home to nearly 50,000 people. The residents were told they would only be evacuated for a short time, however, despite efforts to clean up the radiation, it has remained unsuitable for human life.
Today, Pripyat stands as a modern day Pompeii, frozen in time by a catastrophic disaster. It is a city of radioactive ruins, slowly being reclaimed by the forest it had displaced. Cold war era posters still adorn the walls of public buildings while children’s’ notebooks remain on their school desks. The Ukrainian government has forbade visitors from entering any of the buildings due to their structural instability, but as my friend and I booked a private tour, our guide was willing to take us into several structures, including two schools, a kindergarten, the palace of culture, the gymnasium, a 16 story apartment building, and the city hospital.
Because the buildings were sealed following the disaster, radiation levels inside the buildings are negligible. Outside, however, countless hotspots remain. At one point, armed with a Geiger counter, I came across beta radiation 220X the level considered suitable for human life. It was exciting…until I considered the implications. Shortly thereafter, we left the ruins and returned to the modern world.
Chernobyl nuclear disaster site becomes a wildlife area, including over a hundred wolves
What happens to nature after a nuclear accident? And how does wildlife deal with the world it inherits after human inhabitants have fled?
In 1986 a nuclear meltdown at the infamous Chernobyl power plant in present-day Ukraine left miles of land in radioactive ruins. Residents living in areas most contaminated by the disaster were evacuated and relocated by government order, and a no-man’s land of our own making was left to its own devices.
In the ensuing 25 years, forests, marshes, fields and rivers reclaimed the land, reversing the effects of hundreds of years of human development. And surprisingly, this exclusion zone, or “dead zone,” has become a kind of post-nuclear Eden, populated by beaver and bison, horses and birds, fish and falcons — and ruled by wolves.
Access to the zone is now permitted, at least on a limited basis, and scientists are monitoring the surviving wildlife in the area, trying to learn how the various species are coping with the invisible blight of radiation. As the top predators in this new wilderness, wolves best reflect the condition of the entire ecosystem because if the wolves are doing well, the populations of their prey must also be doing well. Accordingly, a key long-term study of the wolves has been initiated to determine their health, their range, and their numbers.
Radioactive Wolves examines the state of wildlife populations in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, an area that, to this day, remains too radioactive for human habitation.