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Life in Chernobyl

A green plant in a contaminated land
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Nature has its own ways to recover from any magnitude of damage caused by human beings and their eternal ignorance. It proves the human species its healing power and its ability to replenish lives on lands that are made barren by the everlasting human stupidity. When one among the four nuclear reactors exploded in Chernobyl power station in the Northern Ukraine on 26th April 1986 at 0124, when its engineers tested whether it’s cooling pump system would operate under low power, it scripted history as one of the deadliest nuclear disaster ever that wiped out thousands of human lives and forced evacuation of 350,000 people. A few weeks after the reactor spewed radioactive elements into atmosphere ruthlessly, not even a very few would have thought that life in Chernobyl will be a possibility again. The impact of the explosion was horrendous that no one might have possibly thought that the land would revitalize itself.

But against all the expectations, it reinvigorated its ability to nourish and nurture lives. Mortals may give up so easily but not our nature and the energy around us. Thirty years after the disaster, today Chernobyl is not a dead, barren land anymore. Life still thrives there and it will continue to.

There was mayhem of unprecedented scale killing 48 people immediately after the explosion due to acute radiation poisoning. The actual number of deaths due to the explosion is still ambiguous but experts reckon that there were 40,000 additional deaths due to cancer and more than 7000 cases of thyroid cancer, a rare occurrence in children reported in 2005 in the radiation affected area including regions of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

A vast structure called sarcophagus is built to cover the site protecting it for 100 years. The sarcophagus was built over a period of twenty years and is larger than the Wembley and taller than the Statue of Liberty. It is said that the new sarcophagus is the heaviest object that human beings have ever moved.

A view of Chernobyl's Sarcophagus

A view of Chernobyl’s Sarcophagus [Image Source: Gerd Ludwig, National Geoographic Creative]

After the appalling incident, an exclusion zone was marked off covering 1600 square miles including territories from Ukraine and Belarus, removing every human life from the abandoned land leaving behind the animals, along with an 800-year old town of Chernobyl and a soviet military base. A third of a million people left the land leaving everything as they were all immersed in radioactive chemicals. There was no hope for life in the region. The animals and plants that remained in the region were expected to grow abnormal due to gene mutation. But nature had other plans.

Today, the plants there are not shady filled with soot. The animals are not sombre without any life. Despite its high radiation level, the region is flourishing with different kinds of animals becoming a haven for wild life with almost zero human intervention to poach or hunt them down. Researchers were able to identify hints of substantial animal presence in the exclusion zone and camera traps have reported ample evidence for animals including bisons, boars, badgers, moose etc. living in the region.

Some endangered species of Przewalski horses were also been sighted by some researchers. The myth that new animals have started appearing in the absence of human beings is not supported by any evidence, says Sergei Gaschak, a field biologist and photographer for 30 years in Chernobyl. But relatively the number of animals have not gone down since the explosion.

Anyhow, scientists differ in their opinions about Chernobyl mutations and their impacts on animals and human beings. Some of them say that the region has become a good place for animals whereas others say the number of animals have become half than before the explosion.

Water, soil, and plants became contaminated with radioactive chemicals. Researchers have been following the animals, especially wolves, as they are at the top of the food chain in the region and hence they can give a clear picture of how the Chernobyl animals have been reacting to the radioactive spillage. There is no evidence that the number of wolves have declined. But Sergei says the number has been almost similar since 1960 and numbers from official state census supports her claim. On the other hand, Anatoly Tsiganenko, a localite from Radcha, a village at the boundary of the exclusion zone, says the number of animals have increased since the last three decades.

High radiation levels have not been stunting the growth or existence of animals but any human intervention could have. Unfortunately, human beings are once again a real threat for the land and its fauna, but not the noxious radiation. Luckily for the animals, the exclusion zone is not much occupied with human beings, as one may think, but it’s not completely devoid of human lives as well.

Life in Chernobyl at the moment is not just animals and plants, but also humans. There are people still living in the exclusion zone that is still considered uninhabitable by scientists. According to a report from American Geophysical Union, the radioactive Caesium in the region is not disappearing at the rate it is expected to. The half-life of Caesium-137 is 30 years, which means that half of the total amount of Caesium-137 present in the region should decay in 30 years. But it is not happening. Thus, the effort to officially reinhabit the region is delayed.

But today life in Chernobyl is all about grit. It’s about the self-determination to defeat the unseen, imperceptible threat in air. Felt deeply connected to their land, a group of people, predominantly women, decided to get back to their contaminated home soil, months after the cataclysmic event. Out of those 1000 elderly women who moved back to their homeland, around 100 of them remain. They are called as the Babushakas of Chernobyl.

The Babushaka women were removed from their lands after the explosion, but a few weeks and months later, they decided to go back to their cradles. Initially the authorities turned them away. Later, they allowed the older ones so that they can be happy for the remaining life. The exclusion zone doesn’t look apocalyptic, but serenic and beautiful with wild life, birds, and plants and lesser few humans of great valor and spirit. Also, nearly 7000 people work in the plant to decommission it.

Though it is one of the worst tragedies that can happen ever in history, Life in Chernobyl, along with the scope for scientific studies, has a lot of positive lessons about human morale and mettle and nature’s love for the species it beholds on its womb.

Featured Image Source: Vice.com

Also read: The Uncontacted Peoples on Earth

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