I’ve always had a slight obsession with the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident. I remember in middle school singing my own version of Little Bunny Foo Foo that involved the sudden nuclear accident and a mutated bunny. Of course mutated animals have never been found in the disaster zone, either because such mutations just don’t happen or because such horribly compromised animals didn’t last long and their evidence was never found.
Chernobyl fictions (and nuclear ones in general) persist. Back in 2004 stories of a motorcycle riding girl speeding through the radioactive zones spread across the net (myself included). Chernobyl tour guides accuse the author, Elena Filatova, of fabricating the motorcycle rides. Apparently she went on a regular tour with a motorcycle helmet in hand and posed for pictures. It’s also highly questionable that anyone would risk racing a motorcycle across the broken and poorly maintained asphalt in the exclusion zone.
Anyway, much of my new found interest comes from reading the book Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl by Mary Mycio. It’s an in-depth account of the aftermath of Chernobyl, focusing on the natural impact on plants, animals, waterways and more. Sometimes the scientific details were a little too in-depth.
But I did learn one major thing from the book: Life goes on after a disaster. We find ways to carry on, reasons to continue, in spite of incredible odds.
The primary example is the wildlife that’s now exploding in the 30-mile exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Endangered species are thriving. A nearly extinct species of wild horse now has several herds in the zone. It’s a migratory stopover for birds and creating viable habitat for all kinds of animals: elk, moose, roe deer, wolves, boar, foxes, beaver, horses and more.
Many of them are highly radioactive. Which means hunting and fishing are prohibited. And that’s giving some of these animals a better chance than they’ve had before. Nobody knows the extend of radiation damage on these animals, but in the big picture radiation is far less of a threat than humanity. In the exclusion zone where people are limited and vast stretches of open reserve land are available to the animals, nature is thriving. Despite the risk of radiation.
Perhaps a less encouraging example of life carrying on after a disaster is the fact that the Chernobyl power plant itself didn’t just shut down after the 1986 accident when the fourth reactor exploded. I never knew this, but apparently reactors 1-3 remained in use until they were decommissioned in 2000. Chernobyl was generating a huge chunk of energy for the Soviet Union and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) afford to shut it down. When faced with getting their energy from fossil fuel sources, the Ukraine government balked and allowed the three remaining reactors to keep on running.
Sometimes our reasons for carrying on in the face of disaster are a little less inspiring.
But life finds a way.
(Photo by VOA Photo / D. Markosian)