Adapting To The Afterglow

Stray dogs play in front of the Chernoby

The plants and animals of Chernobyl are bouncing back:

Lately, some weird reports have been coming from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – wild animals have returned, and, for the most part, they seem fine. Moose, deer, beaver, wild boar, otter, badger, horses, elk, ducks, swans, storks and more are now being hunted by bears, lynx and packs of wolves, all of which look physically normal (but test high for radioactive contamination). In fact, even early effects of mutations in plants, including malformations and even glowing are now mostly limited to the five most-contaminated places.

Although not everyone is ready to agree that Chernobyl is proof that nature can heal herself, scientists agree that studying the unique ecosystem, and how certain species appear to be thriving, has produced data that will ultimately help our understanding of long term radiation effects. For example, wheat seeds taken from the site shortly after the accident produced mutations that continue to this day, yet soybeans grown near the reactor in 2009 seem to have adapted to the higher radiation. Similarly, migrant birds, like barn swallows, seem to struggle more with the radiation in the zone than resident species. As one expert explained, they’re studying the zone’s flora and fauna to learn the answer to a simple question: “Are we more like barn swallows or soybeans?”

Meanwhile, in Fukushima:

Update from a reader:

I’m one of those scientists managing a research group that is trying to tease out answers to radiation effects on animals and plants. There are not a lot of robust studies that include radiation dose AND measured effect for organisms in natural settings. Unfortunately what you find are a lot of anecdotal reports that play into peoples existing stereotypes about radiation exposure and impact.  Even with Chernobyl and Fukushima, funding for this type of research is piddling. Particularly in the USA.  So you get stories like “Chernobyl is a wildlife paradise – or death trap.”

(Photo: Stray dogs play in front of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. By Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)