BITS ‘N’ PIECES
The explosion of the Chernobyl reactor on April 26, 1986 near Pripyat, Ukraine, on the Belarus-Ukraine border is considered the worst nuclear disaster in world history. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it released 400 times more radiation into the atmosphere than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. More than 116,000 people were evacuated from a 1,622-square mile zone (which is half in Belarus and half in Ukraine). The town of Pripyat, once home to over 50,000 people, was abandoned, along with the surrounding farms and villages. In the immediate aftermath, 31 people involved in the emergency response died, and by 2004 another 19 had passed away from radiation.
In the immediate aftermath, plants and wildlife were clearly devastated. Within months, up to 4.3 miles of pine forests to the west of the reactor died, earning the nickname “Red Forest.” In addition, according to the IAEA, large populations of rodents and insects living in the soil died off. For a few years after the accident, cows and sheep that had been evacuated were noticeably sickened, as were their offspring. Researchers have also observed increased genetic damage in fruit flies, mice and a weed called thale cress.
Using motion-triggered cameras, scientists have documented a growing ecosystem in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. 14 species, including the moose, wolves, foxes, deer and the endangered Eurasian bison (which was introduced in the 1990s as a conservation effort) have been detected.
They saw no correlation between contamination levels and the abundance of animals there. In other words, many animals were living - and thriving - in highly contaminated areas.
Did you know that trees can talk - and they love to share? Through complex root networks that span entire forests, they exchange not only nutrients but also “information”. Older “mother” trees nurture their young by feeding them and sending them chemical defense signals to help the saplings later in life. When their neighbours are in need, many trees will even send over nutrients like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and water.