Comment permalink

Disaster Zones Like Chernobyl and Fukushima Result In Human-Free Ecosystems

Nearly nonexistant on the globe anymore, a fully diverse and unaffected ecosystem is a prime research area.

The tragedy of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has reminded us of the dangers of nuclear power as we continue to grow in size, and the demand for cheap energy continues to expand with us. Other incidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have likewise served as a reminder that there is a cost to progress. However, there has been an unintended benefit to these now uninhabited radioactive sites, as Dr. Barry Star elaborates on QUEST Northern California.

We imagine an area like Chernobyl to be a desolate place, devoid of life or at least a twisted and misshapen landscape. Chernobyls meltdown caused thousands of deaths and has contributed to cancer, illness, and premature death in tens of thousands more cases. Initially, it also caused a massive die-off of plants and animals in the surrounding ecosystem. However, even as the radioactive levels remain too high to once again repopulate with humanity (although that has started to happen regardless), animals and plant life have resurged in the area.

Around Chernobyl wolves have returned to nearly their pre-human levels, along with beavers and other species. In fact, the biodiversity has proven to be something worth studying for scientists to get an idea of what an ecosystem looks like free of human intervention. One may be asking, “But aren’t the animals sick? How can they live there?” It’s a question of perception. To humanity, who fear for their children developing thyroid cancer, or birth defects, it would seem a hell to live in a as-of-yet radioactive area like that around Chernobyl. However, as Star points out, “It is a chance to live a life without human interference.” The species actually seem to be doing fine despite the radiation. There are higher instances of birth defects and a slightly lowered life expectancy in many species inside the area than those in surrounding areas, but overall the background radiation isn’t significantly affecting their numbers.

Similar cases of natural resurgence are apparent in areas like the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. This area, stricken with landmines and off-limits to the human population (at least those that care about being shot at) has become a kind of safe haven for species seeking respite from the constant threat of human activity. The result is something that is almost eradicated on the planet anymore, an intact ecosystem free of human intervention or activity. No planes, no hunters, no subdivisions, roads, traffic noise, or artificial light; a nearly pristine environment (aside from the radiation and landmines of course), that gets along fine, even better, without us.