A to Z: G is for Gamma WorldPosted: April 7, 2011
This fascinating article from Outside Magazine by Henry Shukman describes a trip to the Chernobyl “exclusion zone” in The Ukraine more than twenty years after the reactor exploded.
Shukman describes how the area around Chernobyl has returned to a state of near wilderness. Elk, wolves, wild boar, lynx and other animals not seen outside of zoos in this part of Europe have returned and are prospering. The towns within the exclusion zone were abandoned right after the reactor failed and nature has been taking it all back; wood rots, iron rusts, ice and roots crumble away the asphalt and concrete.
But the exclusion zone might also be the world’s biggest unguided experiment in genome mutations. Researchers have discovered many species of plants and animals that are changing in unexpected ways. Some birch trees within the zone resemble tree-like giant feathers rather than the common birch tree. Bird populations exhibit unusually high rates of albinism. Animals inside the exclusion zone have higher levels of cancer than animals outside the zone.
Meanwhile, the ‘containment’ structure that was built over Chernobyl #4 (the reactor that caught fire) has begun to fail and the expected replacement structure is overdue. Engineers claim the containment structure was never adequate to begin with. In Japan, problems continue to plague the earthquake and tsunami damaged nuclear plants.
I’m not sure whether to be fascinated or scared to death.