Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Chernobyl Myth (Again)

There is an article at the about what the Earth would be like without humans on it. I started to say it was an interesting article but I retracted that assessment as I'm not really sure what the point of the article is. It does manage to get a number of "humans bad, nature good" talking points, so I suppose that must be author's rationale for writing it.

I mention the article only to attempt--and I'm sure in vain--to squash the myth of the Chernobyl disaster once more time. The author is explaining how quickly certain human creations would be swallowed up by nature, and how slowly it would subsume others.
The best illustration of this is the city of Pripyat near Chernobyl in Ukraine, which was abandoned after the nuclear disaster 20 years ago and remains deserted. "From a distance, you would still believe that Pripyat is a living city, but the buildings are slowly decaying," says Ronald Chesser, an environmental biologist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock who has worked extensively in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl. "The most pervasive thing you see are plants whose root systems get into the concrete and behind the bricks and into doorframes and so forth, and are rapidly breaking up the structure. You wouldn't think, as you walk around your house every day, that we have a big impact on keeping that from happening, but clearly we do. It's really sobering to see how the plant community invades every nook and cranny of a city."
That is an interesting observation. Yet the article continues:
The area around Chernobyl has revealed just how fast nature can bounce back. "I really expected to see a nuclear desert there," says Chesser. "I was quite surprised. When you enter into the exclusion zone, it's a very thriving ecosystem."

The first few years after people evacuated the zone, rats and house mice flourished, and packs of feral dogs roamed the area despite efforts to exterminate them. But the heyday of these vermin proved to be short-lived, and already the native fauna has begun to take over. Wild boar are 10 to 15 times as common within the Chernobyl exclusion zone as outside it, and big predators are making a spectacular comeback. "I've never seen a wolf in the Ukraine outside the exclusion zone. I've seen many of them inside," says Chesser.
He expected to find a "nuclear desert". Really?

In case you aren't aware, the scope of the Chernobyl event has now reached mythical proportions. I wrote about this topic previously. Estimates of immediate deaths caused by the accident are now widely reported between 15,000 and 30,000. The actual number of deaths was 56. Deaths from radiation sickness are suggested to be as high as 3.5 million when in fact they were less than 4,000. Chesser expected to see a nuclear desert because he's bought into a deliberate distortion of the truth. I write this in the hopes that at least a few people won't be fooled.