In the animal world it seems that the impact of human activity is worse than
the negative effects of radiation!
This somewhat surprising conclusion can be drawn from a recent study of the effects that the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl have had on larger animals. Deer, elks, foxes and wild boars have settled on the site since around 116,000 people fled in 1986. Wolves are seven times as common as in other nearby areas in Belarus and Ukraine. Strangely this place that is linked to so many horrible images and memories have been taken over by animals. A people-free place where animals can thrive without fearing our activity.
It seems that the negative effects on animal populations were not as large as the effects on humans. This is not the same as saying that the nuclear disaster did not have an impact on wildlife. But the worst impacts on radiation on animals took place the first couple of years after the accident. For example, cattle died after eating grass that had been contaminated with the iodine. Also mice suffered many more miscarriages.
The study shows the resilience of nature to deal with things and the impact that other human activities can have may actually be worse such as hunting or agriculture. The estimated radiation that animals in the area that has been worst hit by the nuclear disaster have stabilized at around milligray per day, which is approximately one tenth of the dose that you would receive if you had an abdominal CT scan. Of course, the long-term effects of a lower daily dose could still lead to genetic changes that we simply do not see yet. Thus, it is important to remember that although some animals may be thriving in the deserted areas, radiation may have an impact on mutation rates. Currently research is conducted on fish in the area that is compared to control groups in uncontaminated areas. The impact on insects may also be different and a decline in the number of insects have been seen in the affected areas.
Could the animals in the area have developed resistance to radiation? Probably not since these are large animals that were studied and they breed rather slowly. Yet, the results are surprising and mind-boggling. And also sad because the results highlights the enormous impact our everyday activities have upon wildlife. The results highlights the importance of wild areas and this was not one of the conclusions I expected to draw based on results from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.