When an explosion went off at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, 116,000 people had to be permanently evacuated from the 4,200 square kilometre exclusion zone.
Yet while the fallout from the Ukrainian blast meant that humans had to abscond to safety, researchers have found that there is no evidence the area has experienced a drop in the number of animals in the past 30 years.
On the contrary, scientists found that “human habitation and exploitation of the landscape” was worse for animal populations than the radiation fallout. As a result, the area now resembles a heavily-protected nature reserve.
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Researches found that the “relative abundances of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar within the Chernobyl exclusion zone are similar to those in four (uncontaminated) nature reserves in the region”.
Wolf abundance is more than seven times higher and lynx has returned to the area.
The report said: “These results demonstrate for the first time that, regardless of potential radiation effects on individual animals, the Chernobyl exclusion zone supports an abundant mammal community after nearly three decades of chronic radiation exposures.”
The study found that, although the catastrophic levels of radiation in the immediate aftermath of the disaster severely affected the health of animals, once they recovered the population thrived as the area remained uninhabited by humans.
One of the authors of the study, Professor Smith, said: “We know that radiation can be harmful in very high doses, but research on Chernobyl has shown that it isn’t as harmful as many people think.
“There have been many reports of abundant wildlife at Chernobyl but this is the first large-scale study to prove how resilient they are.
“It’s very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are much higher than they were before the accident.
“This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming and forestry, are a lot worse.”
Chernobyl Wildlife In Pictures: