photo by Andrzej Karoń (Flickr CC)

In 1946, in the aftermath of the atomic bomb detonation in Hiroshima Japan, American journalist John Hersey traveled to the devastated city to write an article, entitled ‘Hiroshima’, for the The New Yorker magazine. The resulting, incomparable 31,000-word piece describes the experiences of several survivors of the attack.

Among the harrowing portrayals of death and destruction, ‘Hiroshima’ also recounts how an unusual amount of greenery quickly sprang up to cover the ruins of the city, as if the radioactive fallout from the bomb had stimulated plant growth.

As a symbol of human and ecological disaster, the 1986 incident at Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine lives on in our imaginations. It is a very real consequence of human attempt to master the physical world. It symbolizes the apocalypse, technology gone wrong and the very blatant fact that despite our best intentions, accidents do happen.

Chernobyl also provides an opportunity to observe how life reacts to abnormally high levels of radioactivity. A new study on flax and soybean growth around Chernobyl has yielded interesting results on how plants adapt to radiation.

Though the nearby city of Pripyat has remained a ghost town since the disaster occurred, in 2007, sparked by interest in how the local ecosystem was coping – and in some ways apparently thriving – scientists planted soybean and flax seeds in both Pripyat and Chernobyl.

Since plants are among the most sedentary of life forms, they must either adapt or die out. Both soya and flax plants have adapted well, perhaps due to prehistoric conditions on Earth:

There was a lot more radioactivity on the surface back then than there is now, so probably when life was evolving, these plants came across radioactivity and they probably developed some mechanism that is now in them.

–Martin Hajduch, Slovak Academy of Sciences (via BBC News)

For more on the story, see the following article from BBC News:

Chernobyl plant life endures radioactivity

Additional resources:

New York Times – Plants Near Chernobyl Appear to Grow a Shield