Scientists said there is no previous data on wildlife populations in the evacuated areas as well as proximity and similar landscapes. The level of human activity, elevation, and type of habitat were some of the primary factors in influencing how the animals would react.
The knowledge learned from this research could also be adapted toward other studies from similar disasters, including the other significant nuclear disaster, to receive the highest rating. The promise of new life was also revealed in studies from there.
The nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi has seen a similar resurgence to the one that occurred in Chernobyl. The area impacted by its own disaster is currently inhabited with brown bears, bison, wolves, and lynxes.
One fascinating case there is the Przewalski horse, which was thought to have been extinct before it was seen around Chernobyl around 1998. There have also been more than 200 bird species returning to the area.
The promise of new life after a catastrophic event like the ones in Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi provide new hope that life does go on even after the direst of circumstances occur. Several other studies have noted how different kinds of animals have returned to their once natural habitat.
“Relative abundances of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar within the Chernobyl exclusion zone are similar to those in four (uncontaminated) nature reserves in the region and wolf abundance is more than seven times higher. Additionally, our earlier helicopter survey data show rising trends in elk, roe deer, and wild boar abundances from one to ten years post-accident,” according to a 2015 study.
The amounts of radiation had little influence on how the wildlife was distributed. While the contaminated areas had some dangerous amounts of radiation, they were also void of any human interaction. The researchers surmise that because humans were not present for large amounts of time, the animals were able to adapt to the changes in the habitat.
“Over time, some wildlife species have responded favorably to the absence of humans, even in the presence of high radiation levels, resulting in a rewilding of the evacuation zones,” Dr. Thomas Hinton told Earther.
Radiation is not without its damages. There were several birds and mammals found in areas contaminated from a nuclear disaster to have born or developed with significant health conditions. Some have cataracts in their eyes, smaller brains, deformed sperm, tumors, or other abnormalities.
These conditions are a direct result of ionizing radiation and how it can scramble a creature’s DNA. The further away from the contamination, the more likely that these defects would be less pronounced. The full effects of radiation on animal reproductivity remain unknown at this time.
Despite the handicaps that were caused by a human-made disaster, several animals of all shapes and sizes continue to maintain viable and growing populations. For example, several birds have also set up their nests near the decrepit nuclear plant at Fukushima.
“Although it may seem counter-intuitive, research from our group and others suggests numerous species of large mammals actually increased in the landscape surrounding Chernobyl in the first several years after the accident, and that populations of many species are now abundant and widespread throughout the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,” Beasley told Newsweek.
Because the amount of released from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant was lower than those emitted at Chernobyl, the scientists are not surprised that there is a vibrant resurgence in life now in the environment.
“Given that the amount of radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant was substantially lower than releases at Chernobyl, it is not surprising that we are now seeing evidence of these same types of population-level responses in mammals at Fukushima,” the study said.
While wildlife has returned to both Chernobyl and Fukushima, humans who once lived in the area have been more resistant. The Japanese government has allowed people to return to the evacuation zones since as soon as 2016, but only a small percentage have come back.
Experts have indicated that less than three percent of the area impacted by the nuclear disaster continues to be off-limits. Much of the public trust remains tentative, and the first residents to come back did not return until 2019.
The good news for the area is that the Fukushima area can be posed for a comeback. The place used to be a tourist attraction for many visitors, known for its beautiful autumn colors, historic sites, and mountainous backdrops. However, the concern for radiation has caused the tourism industry to dwindle.
The change in perception is something that will come with time, and experts state the upcoming Olympics games in Tokyo could be a step in the right direction in convincing humans that they could be inhabited again, just like the wildlife and other animals have already discovered.