photo by rusocer (Flickr Creative Commons)

A survey of wildlife around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine – site of the worst nuclear accident in history – has shown that biodiversity there is declining.

On April 26, 1986 explosions at the Chernobyl plant sent radioactive fallout into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Europe, eventually killing thousands. 24 years later, the downwind city of Pripyat is still off limits, though some have returned there illegally to farm.

The wildlife around Chernobyl has been the stuff of legends. Highly irradiated, rumors of mutated wolves and moose abound, but the reality – as usual – is less sensational.

A three-year consensus on wildlife found a reduction in biodiversity and significant effects of contamination, including migratory birds with tumors on their feet, necks and around their eyes.

From a BBC News article:

The truth is that these radiation contamination effects were so large as to be overwhelming.

– Professor Timothy Mousseau, University of South Carolina

Other scientists have stated that the area around Chernobyl is a kind of unintended wildlife sanctuary where animals have rebounded due to the absence of man.

The authors of the new study disagree, but see the idea of treating Chernobyl as a wildlife refuge as a good opportunity to study the long-term effects of a nuclear accident on flora and fauna.

Additional resources:

Discovery News – Chernobyl Radiation Still Harming Animals

Reuters – Chernobyl animals worse affected than thought: study