Blog Action Day - Nature Lessons in Chernobyl

Today is Blog Action Day, and this year's topic is the environment. In keeping with this theme, I want to discuss the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and it's current status.

It has been over 21 years since the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. After the accident, an area within 30 kilometers of the plant was designated as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The area is still contaminated and considered unfit for human habitation.

Even though above normal levels of radiation continue to persist throughout the area, nature has started to reclaim the land. As you have probably seen in photographs all over the internet, this place is not a nuclear wasteland, but an area almost overrun with foliage.

The massive amounts of vegetation can be attributed more to the lack of human intervention that to the surrounding radiation. With the exception of approximately 300 elderly people who returned to their homes in the Zone, the area is unpopulated. The only other people in the Zone are Chernobyl plant workers, and scientists and researchers.

Roads in the Zone are not maintained. Lawns are not mowed. Buildings are not maintained. As a result, grass, weeds, and moss have grown in the pavement. Trees grow wildly, making formerly wide streets look like small paths. In the summer, if you walk in Pripyat, a city that used to be home to almost 50,000 people, it is difficult to see many of the buildings from the street.

If there is anything people can learn from the Chernobyl area, it is that humans cause more problems to the environment than anything else in the world. Nature is extremely strong and resilient, but it doesn't stand a chance when humans continue to expand their civilization at an astonishing rate. Chernobyl proves that the Earth can reclaim the land, if we let it. I am not proposing that we all go back to living in caves, but it is time that we stop this crazed expansion and carefully consider our next steps before we destroy the planet. And we better do this soon, because we have nowhere left to go.

3 Comments

Thanks for choosing this topic for Blog Action Day and addressing it so thoughtfully. I've visited the evacuated zone only one time ... but I've made frequent trips to somewhat contaminated but habitable areas. What strikes me is not only how odd the re-wilding of the Zone looks, but how "normal" contaminated but populated cities and towns look. It is easy to see how people forget, that in the midst of the normalcy, that they must show caution in what they eat and drink, how they must prepare it, etc.

All the best to you in your project, Kathy Ryan

It is very important to realize that this area is a testament to human greed and disregard for the environment. Mutants are quickly edited from the gene pool, but you can google image "Chernobyl swallows" or search for the studies which show that there are cellular, superficial, and chromosomal (permanent) damage to these birds (and presumably all lifeforms there). If people's lives were truncated like these birds we would all be dying before our children graduated middle school. An area so poisoned by radiation nobody lives there isn't a wildlife preserve, it's a disgrace.

Jane,

Thank you for your post. I must point out that the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is not completely devoid of human population.

There are approximately 300 elderly people who have moved back to their homes in the Zone (in various villages). Some of these people moved back within weeks of the initial evacuations 21 years ago.

When I visited the Zone in June 2006, I met a couple that moved back to their home almost immediately after being evacuated. The woman had health complaints, but they were the same things you would hear from elderly people throughout the world.

I am sure that they are sick and their bodies are dealing with radioactive contamination, however, they have successfully lived in the Zone for over 20 years since the accident. Their home is in Staryye Sheplichi, a few kilometers north of Pripyat.

I am certainly not saying that the Zone is safe for human habitation. I am noting that people have lived in the area for substantial amounts of time and not died from it.

Regarding the area as a wildlife preserve, I think people say that because animals can live freely in the Zone with very little human contact - similar to some "real" wildlife preserves elsewhere around the world.

I would not call the Chernobyl area a disgrace - if anything, I would say the way the Soviet government hid the truth from their own citizens and waited to evacuate the residents of Pripyat and surrounding villages was disgraceful.