Chernobyl, Ukraine: What happens when the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident is left all but abandoned for nearly 30 years? In the case of Chernobyl, it becomes a unique chance to see how wildlife recovers in what is a giant nature reserve, bereft of humans but tainted by radiation. “When the people left, nature returned,” Denys Vyshnevskiy, a biologist in Chernobyl’s so-called exclusion zone, said during a visit, while nearby a herd of wild horses nosed around for food.
Some may wonder how the northern edge of the former Soviet nation, where a part of the station exploded on April 26, 1986, spewing toxic clouds that reached from Sweden to Greece, could host any life forms at all. About 30 courageous and atrociously under-protected rescuers died in the weeks it took to control the fourth reactor's meltdown and a 2,800-square-kilometre-wide (1,100-square-mile-wide) exclusion zone was set up.
The World Health Organisation estimated in 2005 that 4,000 people could eventually die from radiation-related illnesses, a figure that Greenpeace slammed as a gross underestimate.
The region and its 300 or so mostly elderly inhabitants remains far from safe, with radiation readings within 10 kilometres of the plant reaching 1,700 nanosieverts per hour — 10 to 35 times the normal background levels observed in the United States. Today’s animals in the exclusion may have shorter lifespans....