The accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986 had a devastating impact on the local population and forced 116,000 people to permanently leave their homes. But now researchers have discovered that, while the people may not have returned, the contaminated area of Belarus is teeming with wild animals, including elk, wild boar, deer and wolves. Perhaps surprisingly, many of these numbers seem to be on the rise and some of them are higher than in uncontaminated areas.
The abandoned area around the nuclear power plant, known as the Chernobyl exclusion zone, includes about 4750 square kilometres of land in both Ukraine and Belarus. The contamination in the exclusion zone is patchy, as the distribution of radioactive isotopes on the ground was influenced by the weather conditions at the time of the accident and the days following it. The radiation levels have reduced over the nearly 30 years since the accident, but in many parts of the zone they are too high for people to return.