On April 26, 1986, the number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant blew up in what is now Ukraine. The site spewed a cloud of radioactive material that spread over much of Europe. The area immediately around Chernobyl received more than 400 times the radiation as Hiroshima and won’t be safely inhabitable for about 20,000 years. The government set up a 1,000 square mile exclusion zone around the site. While short visits to the zone are possible without too much danger, living there is not advisable. Cancer is a real problem for the couple hundred elderly stalwarts who still make the zone their home.
Within the zone, nature has taken its own course, dismantling the Soviet-era brutalist tenements of the surrounding abandoned cities and turning it into what at first blush looks more and more like a prelapsarian Eden. The truth proves to be more complicated.
Dr. Timothy Mousseau, a biologist from the University of South Carolina, has been examining the wildlife around Chernobyl for fifteen years. He’s discovered that the radiation that has been bathing the area for almost 30 years is changing nature. As you can see in the New York Times Op-Doc video above, birds are developing tumors, bugs have abnormal spots and spider webs seem much more freeform than usual. Get more on the story over at the Times.
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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.