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What made you say that? Brown: I was working with a forester in the swampy Pripyat marshes, a good distance away from the Chernobyl accident site. And what I realized is that radioactivity in this region and this ecosystem in the Pripyat marshes predated the Chernobyl accident itself. Then I got into top-level political documents and I realized that the accident was not the first nuclear accident at that very new Chernobyl plant.

There in fact had been accidents and nuclear excursions at that plant in the five years before it blew. Earther: In what ways are we still dealing with the environmental fallout of Chernobyl today?


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Brown: As I traveled around with the biologists, we had this one day where we recorded really high levels of radioactivity in the Red Forest [outside Chernobyl]. And that was because there had been a fire there, and the fire released volatile radioactivity that was stored in the leafs and tree branches. In the summers of , , and , there had been forest fires in the Chernobyl Zone. Until something radical is done, I assume it will keep going. There was storage [of that radioactive fallout] in glaciers up in the polar north that has 10 or 17 times more radioactivity than elsewhere on the globe.

Earther: Where do you think the idea that Chernobyl is an isolated accident came from? The firemen rushed at the radioactive flames and took a hit of radioactivity, and then they fixed it all up. We like to think of ourselves as in control. You see that in the HBO Chernobyl show.

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What do you make of that narrative? Brown: I address this so-called Soviet incompetency in the last chapter of my book. Yes, they covered up everything that could. They had news that they released to socialist countries, and then less news that they released to capitalist countries. They certainly were duplicitous and lied about all kinds of things.

How many people died?

But at the same time, they mobilized a massive army of cleanup workers and doctors and farmers and tractor drivers to do whatever they could to fix this problem. They tried to clean soils, clean food products. The first couple of years alone they examined , people just in Ukraine to see what the lingering health effects were. Although animals and plants inside the exclusion zone still show some effects of radiation , life is finding a way to adapt.

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For example, frogs living inside the exclusion zone are darker than those outside, which may give them extra protection against radiation. In fact, parts of the exclusion zone have become a haven for biodiversity. An unexpected side effect of evacuating people from the area has been to create a wildlife sanctuary, where species can live untouched by human activity. As a result, some scientists have come to two conclusions.

First, animals and plants may be more resilient to radiation than we had originally thought.


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Whether that is a lesson of hope, or a warning about our everyday impact on the planet, is up to you. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum. I accept. Chernobyl has become a safe-haven for wildlife. Join our WhatsApp group. Sign up here. Most Popular.

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A child's gas mask and a shoe at a kindergarten in the abandoned city of Pripyat. But Chernobyl today is far from the wasteland of popular imagination. Have you read? Three decades on, Chernobyl is creating solar power Chernobyl in pictures: 30 years on Is Chernobyl still dangerous?

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The giant steel New Containment Shield over the Chernobyl reactor site. The abandoned city of Pripyat, near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. European bison Bison bonasus , boreal lynx Lynx lynx , moose Alces alces and brown bear Ursus arctos photographed inside Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Ukraine. Are these the 6 best science books of ? Kate Whiting 27 Sep This study wants every child in the UK to spend a night under the stars Katharine Rooney 27 Sep