Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, April 25, 2016

 Humankind : Threat to all Living Creatures

"Thirty years ago, two things happened at once. The whole area was contaminated with radiation, and the human population vanished. That gives us a unique opportunity."
"We're not saying that radiation is not as dangerous as we thought. Rather it is possible that in the absence of humans, the stress of radioactive contamination is a manageable one for wildlife populations."
Dr. Mike Wood, British naturalist

"You could say that the overall effect was positive."
"Radiation is a matter of increased potential risk. But when humans are around, animals are simply shot or lose their habitat."
Professor Nick Beresford, Chernobyl expert, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Lancaster, England
© Vasily Fedosenko

When the Chernobyl reactor number four exploded thirty years ago, a huge area around the nuclear installation became contaminated by radiation, and a wasteland remained. Radioactive toxins spread from the April 26, 1986 explosion at Chernobyl across Europe. Thousands of people died as a result of radiation-related illnesses and cancers. The lingering effects of the catastrophe remain the cause of birth defects in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

Scientists believe that the area around the power station will exclude human habitation for hundreds and quite conceivably for thousands of years, as a result of the dreadful depth penetration of the toxic cloud of radioactive material that was released on that date. The area population of 120,000 souls was evacuated expeditiously, leaving a 4,500 square-kilometre region between Ukraine and Belarus a ghost area.

The town of Chernobyl which had hosted residents for its 800-year-history was totally evacuated, along with dozens of villages. Also abandoned was a secret Soviet military base. To remain would be to surrender to a gradual debilitation onset, morbid illness and certain death. The food that was grown for centuries to feed the local population would be grown on deadly soil. Potable water would be unavailable; everything was malignantly befouled.

A radiation sign is seen in the 30 km (19 miles) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Dronki, Belarus. © Vasily Fedosenko
What was left was a dead "zone". A place where only emergency workers were dispatched to for brief intervals and even with all safety procedures in place, they would succumb as additional victims to a world-shattering nuclear disaster, the product of human error. Void now of people living where they had traditionally as long as memory could recount and history validate, nature has turned the "zone" over to its other more deserving creatures who could never create a disaster of such magnitude.

The dead "zone" created by the Chernobyl blast has become one of Europe's largest wildlife reserves by default, where wild boar, wolves, elk and deer thrive throughout the forested region and the grasslands that make up the landscape. The presence of wolves, of feral horses and bison are known because cameras set up to record their presence provide their images. The wild species called Przewalski's horses introduced to the area in the 1990s, is proliferating.

And scientists are studying the "zone" and its new residents. Three areas of the "zone" are set up with cameras to reflect the presence of free-ranging and carefree-from-human-presence animals. The three areas represent high, medium and low contamination-designated regions. The issue of ecological-system health, one in comparison to the other and judging soil samples and animal droppings help the naturalists understand the situation in the round.

Terrain horribly compromised and remaining a long-term threat to human life, has become a refuge for animals who appear to have adjusted to the "zone", finding it a place of comfort and haven where they can roam freely without fear of being trapped or shot at as prey, stalked by hunters. Drs. Wood and Beresford are part of a contingent of British scientists who have converged on the "zone" to interpret the evidence they are studying.

As yet it is largely unknown whether or how much the animals are impacted by the radiation suffusing the atmosphere and the environment. It is assumed that there is some measure of deleterious fallout to their health from the corrupted land, but its extent can only for the present, be a matter of speculation. One thing seems clear, however, and that is that animals can better cope in the absence of man, even in dreadfully compromised landscapes, than they are able to in pristine forests stalked by man.

Wolves walk in the 30 km (19 miles) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Orevichi, Belarus. © Vasily Fedosenko

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