When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded in April of 1986, more than 300,000 people were evacuated from what’s now known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the plant has been encased in cement ever since. But what has happened to the land in the 33 years since the disaster is up for debate amongst the scientific community.
Research into Chernobyl over the past few decades has consistently said the nuclear explosion decimated plant and animal life, leaving what survived sick and mutated, as Wired reports. But a more recent look says otherwise. Scientists are saying that plant life has regrown and the animals in the area are even more diverse now than before the accident.
Chernobyl is, in Wired‘s Adam Rodgers’s words, “a living experiment in what the world will be like after humans are gone, having left utter devastation in our wake.”
While the immediate clean-up crew members are facing the longterm effects of exposure in the form of thyroid cancer and leukemia, Jim Beasley, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who studies life in the Exclusion Zone, tells Wired that, “The animals in Chernobyl today aren’t exposed to that.”
Some researchers have found that today, larger mamas populations, like that of wolves in the area, have increased sevenfold over time. This might be because the animals are able to reproduce faster than the radiation is able to kill them.
“If 10 percent of the population was impacted by something — and I’m not saying they are, but if they were — in most situations, that wouldn’t be enough to cause a decline,” says Beasley, an author of a 2015 study.
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