In A Nutshell
In April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power station experienced the worst meltdown in history. Fast-forward 25 years and the radiation-soaked site has flourished into an accidental wildlife park.
The Whole Bushel
Just after midnight on April 25, 1986, Chernobyl reactor No. 4 went into meltdown. In the following chaos, over 100,000 square kilometers (38,000 sq mi) of land were contaminated, 350,000 people were displaced, and clouds of radioactive dust spewed high into the sky. When authorities closed off the area, it was speculated that nothing would be able to live there for thousands of years—and then something unexpected happened.
Within 20 years of the meltdown, Chernobyl had become an accidental wildlife park. In the absence of humans, local animals were thriving and old species that hadn’t been seen for decades had returned. Lynx, bears, and even moose made their way back into the zone. Most astonishingly of all, none of them were suffering the effects of radiation poisoning. In all the years since, only a single mouse has ever been found with cancer symptoms.
The mind-bending conclusion is that a full-blown nuclear disaster is actually less-damaging to wildlife than simple human existence. By 1986, human incursion meant only 100 eagle owls were thought to be left in the whole of Ukraine. By 2006, they’d established a colony in Chernobyl and are currently flourishing. In light of this evidence, it’s even been suggested that endangered habitats be sprinkled with nuclear waste to keep humans at bay.
Currently, Chernobyl remains more or less off-limits to people. Weirdly, the nuclear disaster responsible for this decision may yet turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to the place.