Chernobyl has become a byword for catastrophe. The 1986 nuclear disaster, recently brought back into the public eye by the hugely popular TV show of the same name, caused thousands of cancers, turned a once populous area into a ghost city, and resulted in the setting up of an exclusion zone 2600km² in size.
But Chernobyl’s exclusion zone isn’t devoid of life. Wolves, boars and bears have returned to the lush forests surrounding the old nuclear plant. And when it comes to vegetation, all but the most vulnerable and exposed plant life never died in the first place, and even in the most radioactive areas of the zone, vegetation was recovering within three years.
Humans and other mammals and birds would have been killed many times over by the radiation that plants in the most contaminated areas received. So why is plant life so resilient to radiation and nuclear disaster?