Chernobyl Area Becomes Wildlife Haven?


Two decades after an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant sent clouds of radioactive particles drifting over the fields near her home, Maria Urupa says the wilderness is encroaching. Packs of wolves have eaten two of her dogs, the 73-year-old says, and wild boar trample through her cornfield. And she says fox, rabbits and snakes infest the meadows near her tumbledown cottage.

The return of wildlife to the region near the world's worst nuclear power accident is an apparent paradox that biologists are trying to measure and understand.

Some researchers insist that by halting the destruction of habitat, the Chernobyl disaster helped wildlife flourish. Others say animals may be filtering into the zone, but they appear to suffer malformations and other ills.

Both sides say more research is needed into the long-term health of a variety of Chernobyl's wildlife species, as governments around the world consider switching from fossil fuel plants, blamed for helping drive global climate change, to nuclear power.

In other studies, Mousseau, whose work is funded by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society and his colleagues have found increased genetic damage, reduced reproductive rates and what he calls "dramatically" higher mortality rates for birds living near Chernobyl. The work suggests, he said, that Chernobyl is a "sink" where animals migrate but rapidly die off.

Eating locally produced food is risky, health experts agree, because plants and animals can concentrate radioactive materials as they cycle through the food chain. Doe Maria fear the effects of her exposure to radiation?

"Radiation? No!" she said. "What humans do? Yes."


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