After the Fallout: Living in Chernobyl Today
People all over the world learned about the infamous Ukraine city known as Chernobyl in 1986 when the nuclear power plant in the city experienced a meltdown. The disaster killed at least 30 people within days — the exact number is a subject of intense debate — and left many more residents with health problems that killed them slowly. It’s known as one of the worst nuclear disasters the world has ever experienced.
Decades later, Chernobyl still stands as a (mostly) abandoned city. Despite ongoing dangerous levels of radiation in the area, vegetation, animals and even a few humans have returned to the area and now call it home. Take a look!
Where Is Chernobyl?
Hidden away 90 miles north of Kiev, Chernobyl is now a secluded ghost town. It was once home to around 14,000 people, many of whom worked at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant when it was still a good town for families to call home.
Privately Owned Until 1896
Before Chernobyl became the home of the nuclear power plant that caused its demise, it was home to many different types of residents. In the 1100s, the land was owned by Rurik Rostislavich, a former ruler of the Kievan Rus, who treated it as a hunting area.
Nuclear Power Supplier for the Ukraine
In 1964, the government built the Chernobyl Power Plant on the land. It was the very first nuclear power plant built in the Ukraine, and it supplied power to several major cities, including Pripyat. Unfortunately, when it was first built, it used a containment system that wasn't designed to last indefinitely.
Disaster Struck in 1986
On April 26, 1986, the true power of the plant became quite clear. A series of ill-advised and unsuccessful experiments on one of the reactors caused the entire thing to blow up. It was a combination of bad decisions that led to the giant explosion of the nuclear reactor.
Evacuation of the City
About nine days after the explosion, the entire city of Chernobyl and the neighboring city of Pripyat both had to be evacuated. The contamination from the nuclear explosion was way too severe for people to continue living anywhere near the two towns.
Delayed Response Proved Deadly
The evacuation of the residents of Chernobyl and the surrounding areas didn't occur until nine hours after the initial explosion, and that was far too late for many people. Only two people died from the initial explosion of the reactor, but 29 others died within days of the explosion from radiation exposure and other injuries.
It Could Have Been Much Worse
The disaster at Chernobyl has contributed to thousands of deaths since it first blew up in the ‘80s, but the consequences could have been much worse. If the explosion had mimicked the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the aftermath of the disaster would have been mortally devastating.
Extremely Dangerous Site
Because the radiation levels throughout the site were so high, it became unsustainable as a living habitat. Many of the people who didn't leave immediately or who arrived to fight the fire and try to clean up the radioactive mess also ended up dying in the following months.
Elevated Levels of Radiation Left a Ghost Town
Because there was no way anyone could survive living in the town for longer than a few months, it essentially became a ghost town. People were forced to leave everything behind, and the Soviet Union’s denial that the problem was out of control meant no intervention came from surrounding countries, and no one flocked to the scene to help any of the people.
Ghost City Became Nature's Wonderland
Without people to maintain the buildings and surrounding areas on a regular basis, Chernobyl has been overrun by nature in the past few decades. Although the flora of the area was probably affected in ways we can’t see, it didn't stop the plant life from continuing to grow in the area after the explosion.
The Exclusion Zone
The closest area to the reactor plant is now called the Exclusion Zone. This area of around 2,600 square kilometers is a zone that is too dangerous to enter. It’s guarded by the military at all times and is off-limits to everyone because of the radiation risk it poses, even in short duration.
Some Animals Managed to Survive
The human inhabitants of the area had to completely evacuate Chernobyl when the reactor blew due to the ongoing grave danger. Even many who evacuated later suffered from radiation poisoning and eventual death.
Invertebrates Weren't as Lucky
Despite the fact that a lot of species of animals have been living it up in Chernobyl since the disaster, some species didn't fare quite as well. Invertebrates — spiders, insects, etc. — didn't have quite the same survival rates as their counterparts with backbones. That’s an interesting twist, considering the joke that only roaches will survive a nuclear holocaust — apparently not.
Bears and Wolves Reign Supreme
Of all the animals in the Chernobyl area that have begun to multiply quickly because of the lack of human intervention, wolves and bears seem to be the ones that are faring best with the radiation levels. The ecosystem established by these animals has remained untouched since the human evacuation in the ‘80s.
Visible Animal Deformities Are Rare
Despite what comic books lead most of us to believe, radiation exposure doesn't always lead to extra eyes or a few extra limbs. That’s equally true for the animals found in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Mutations Do Exist
Even though the mutations caused by radiation poisoning aren't visible in the animals, it doesn't mean that changes haven’t occurred. In fact, several different mutations within the genetics of the animal populations have been recorded by scientists studying the area.
Endangered Animals Might Thrive in Chernobyl
The phenomenon of animals surviving in the midst of the Chernobyl disaster and after isn't the only amazing thing that animals are doing in the area. The endangered species known as the Przewalski horse has actually been growing in numbers in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
No Petting the Animals
Although people often ignore the warnings, petting the animals that have been in the Exclusion Zone or even getting close to them is strictly discouraged. The furry creatures that frequent the area may be cute enough to want to pet, but the levels of the radiation are unknown and could be dangerous.
Some Puppies for Adoption
Even though the advice related to the animals in Chernobyl is generally to stay away, the many abandoned dogs in the area continue to procreate, and the puppies are put up for adoption. The animals that can be adopted now are the descendants of all the dogs left behind when people evacuated.
What About Human Inhabitants?
To this day, it’s illegal to live in the Exclusion Zone at Chernobyl, and it probably will remain that way for thousands of years due to dangerously high radiation levels. Believe it or not, some residents of the area have chosen to play fast and loose with their health and continue to live in the area.
The Belongings of the Evacuated
During the initial evacuation, when more than 200,000 people had to flee the only homes they had ever known with their families, they were forced to leave all their prized possessions behind. Most of what they took with them could only be carried in their hands, and most people were never allowed to go back in to collect anything.
People Who Still Live There Today
Legal or not, more than 100 people live in the area and dangerously close to the Exclusion Zone today. These people have established homes in the radioactive wasteland in the buildings that are still standing but decrepit from disrepair.
A Rough Life
The houses in the Chernobyl area that are outside the Exclusion Zone are mostly in desperate need of repair. Although they do have basic amenities, such as gas, electricity and cell towers close enough to get a signal, it’s not an easy life for residents.
Choosing Chernobyl to Avoid War
It may not seem like a great place to live and raise a family, but some people who have taken up residence in the area did so for a good reason. The houses in the area are being sold for very little, ranging from $100 to $3,500.
The "Elephant's Foot" Risk
Living in the area surrounding Chernobyl has serious risks, one being the close proximity to the "Elephant's Foot." This metaphorical term is used to describe a huge chunk of radioactive corium and other metals that packs a mighty punch in terms of radiation poisoning.
The Chernobyl Scar
Following the disaster, a lot of people died from radiation poisoning. Additionally, a large number of residents who fled still got sick due to the radiation in the air. Others lived to tell the tale, but it still took a terrible toll to survive.
Living in the Area Isn't Safe
Despite the fact that the residents of the area surrounding Chernobyl feel it's "safe enough" to live there, the truth isn't quite that simple. The levels of radiation that pushed people out of the area almost 40 years ago haven't dissipated nearly enough to make the area habitable.
Weighing Their Options
The people who live in the area know they are taking a huge risk by living next to the Exclusion Zone. The risks of cancer and radiation poisoning are all well known. They aren’t ignorant of the truth, and they know their families could become deadly ill because of it.
Popular Tourist Destination
It’s nothing new that the public is intrigued by disaster, as evidenced by the many popular disaster-based tourist attractions around the world and the success of big blockbuster films that portray epic disasters. The site of the Chernobyl Disaster is no different.
A Full Reactor to This Day
Reactor No. 4 exploded and caused the meltdown, and it still houses more than 200 tons of the same radioactive material it contained when the disaster occurred. The main reason is because it's still too dangerous to enter the area long enough to get most of the waste out.