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Wildlife flourishing in Chernobyl fallout zone thanks to lack of humans, say scientists

Wildlife is flourishing in the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, scientists have discovered.

Experts have found that removing humans from the area, which was devastated by radioactive blast in 1986, has allowed animals to return in large numbers.

A detailed survey of the forested area around the plant in Ukraine has revealed that it is teeming with large animals such as elk, deer, wild boar and wolves despite being contaminated with radioactive fallout.

“It’s very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are much higher than they were before the accident,” Professor Jim Smith of Portsmouth University told the Independent.

“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.”

The exclusion zone has developed as well as a heavily-protected nature reserves, scientists said.

The population of wolves in the exclusion zone was also found to be about seven times higher than other nature reserves in the region, they said.

“These unique data showing a wide range of animals thriving within miles of a major nuclear accident illustrate the resilience of wildlife populations when freed from the pressures of human habitation,” said Jim Beasley of the University of Georgia.

The team of researchers published their findings in the journal Current Biology.

The radiation released after the accident sent plumes of radioactive emissions across much of northern Europe, causing radiation “hotspots” within the exclusion zone.

Following the disaster, more than 116,000 local residents were evacuated from the zone around Chernobyl, which covers 1,622 square miles.

Only key construction workers and nuclear staff were allowed into the site to safeguard the stricken reactors.

The researchers used a combination of field surveys and computer models to estimate the density of animal numbers throughout the exclusion zone.

“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 exposure,” the researchers concluded.

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Post Series: Ukraine
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