Nature takes over Ukraine’s Chornobyl exclusion zone

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After the explosion at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the first thing to fall under the radioactive cloud was the plant’s neighboring forest. Within minutes of the disaster, the trees turned a rust-red color. The only reminder of the so-called “ginger forest” are small signs. The radiated territory is now covered in new forest growth, as young pine trees take root. The area is being called a unique place for conducting research.

Signs warning of the "ginger forest"

Signs warning of the “ginger forest.” Photo: snapshot from UATV video

Taras Melnychuk, Acting Director of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, an officially designated exclusion zone around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster, told that biodiversity has increased in the area.

“We’re seeing that for the last 30 years, nature has won here. People left this place, and it gave nature a pretty serious push for the biological diversity in the area.”

The 260 thousand hectares of land only recently began to be studied, as there were no scientific bases available. Now, 2/3 of the area is classified as a natural biosphere reserve, with 26 full-time employees.

Ostap Semerak, Minister of Ecology of Ukraine, holds that the resurrection of the environment in Chornobyl here creates an enormous interest for both Ukrainian and international scientists alike.

The existing scientific research center which is set up will expand into a local village, located on the border of the exclusion zone. Scientists are already witnessing the migration of animals into the zone, and a revival of endangered species, as the zone is restricted to people. According to Taras Melnychuk, many moose, deer, and other hoofed animals have appeared, along with a large population of wolves.

[Ed: Ukrainian biologist Serhiy Gashchak, with the help of his western colleagues, set up phototraps to document the environment of the exclusion zone. These traps offer compelling photoevidence of the vibrant animal population of Chornobyl. Read more: Rare animal and bird species return to Chornobyl after 30 years of abandonment ]
A moose with two cubs.

A moose with two cubs. Photo taken by phototrap set up to monitor the animals of Chornobyl. More here.

The nature reserve does not include the 10-kilometer radius around the power plant itself, neither the empty city of Prypyat. The city’s streets are also turning into forest and animals are beginning to take refuge within its buildings. The Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology has not yet decided what to do with the radiated structures, citing the extreme financial cost of removing them.

Photo: snapshot from UATV video

Photo: snapshot from UATV video

Ostap Semerak, Minister of Ecology of Ukraine:

“The buildings’ lifespan is short. They are not being heated, there is water leaking in, and they are collapsing. This issue needs to be discussed, and a decision needs to be made. But to demolish them and ship the pieces somewhere would mean working with radioactive material, and steep financial costs.”

Other than providing a research ground for scientists, the forests of Chornobyl provide a barrier from the radiation, which could spread into unaffected ground. Regardless of the resurrection of nature and animal life in the area, the exclusion zone will only be safe for human life in 24,000 years.

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