Power surges at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in April 1986 resulted in what is now known as the world's worst nuclear accident. The danger posed by radiation contamination led to the site being declared as a permanent no-go zone for humans.
Nearly 30 years after the catastrophic incident, however, wildlife is breeding and thriving in the area. The disaster zone made a remarkable transition to a nature reserve with researchers reporting that the site now teems with animals such as wild boar, elk, roe deer and red deer.
There has always been the concern over the impacts of chronic radiation on animals and even plants though. The 1991 International Chernobyl Project Technical Report revealed that the horses and cows that were left behind after the explosion died from thyroid complications. The incidence of birth defects in animals in the affected regions also increased dramatically after the disaster.
A 2014 study published in the journal Functional Ecology, however, showed that some animals, birds in particular, in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl are adapting and possibly even benefit from long term exposure to radiation.
"Previous studies of wildlife at Chernobyl showed that chronic radiation exposure depleted antioxidants and increased oxidative damage. We found the opposite - that antioxidant levels increased and oxidative stress decreased with increasing background radiation," said study researcher Ismael Galván, from the Spanish National Research Council.
Researchers of a new study published in Current Biology also said that the flourishing population of animals in the region is a good sign. Researchers said that the presence and the remarkable increase in the population of the wolves, an apex predator, indicate that exposure to radiation has had no impact on the overall populations of mammals.
"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," Jim Smith, from Britain's University of Portsmouth, and colleagues wrote in their new study that looked at the wildlife populations at Chernobyl.
Despite the teeming wildlife, it does not mean that the zone is no longer dangerous. The researchers did not study the animals individually and potential molecular damage associated with the contamination. Although the populations of the animals in the area are not dying out, the researchers said that individual animals could be getting sick.