Life in the Chernobyl Zone

Chernobyl/Pripyat Exclusion Zone; radiation meter shows levels 12 times higher than normal
Pedro Moura Pinheiro, via Flickr

Are people the biggest threat to plants and animals? Spotlight looks at the results of the world’s biggest nuclear disaster – the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ryan Geertsma.

Voice 2 

And I’m Anne Muir. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand - no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3

“You have got to go in spring. It is just full of trees and birds and insects. And it has accidentally become this huge wild, natural area. There is nothing like it. It is a completely special place. And most of it is just beautiful."

Voice 1 

Andrew Blackwell is a reporter. He writes about the environment. Here, he is telling the news organization NPR about a beautiful, wild place. But this place is also very dangerous. It is the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Today, this area is in the countries of Ukraine and Belarus. Many years ago the world’s largest nuclear accident happened here. But what has happened in this zone since the nuclear accident? How can it be so beautiful and yet so dangerous? Today’s Spotlight is on the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Voice 2

In 1986 there was a terrible accident. There was an explosion at a nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union. The Chernobyl power plant made energy using radioactive chemicals. Radiation is very dangerous. It destroys living things. People who are near radiation get radiation sickness. If it is serious, people die from radiation sickness. Some radiation sickness can be treated but it is still very painful. Radiation can also cause cancer. This can happen many years after the person has been near the radiation.

Voice 1 

The Chernobyl nuclear accident created a big cloud of radioactive dust. The radiation in this dust spread across Europe. But it was most dangerous in the area near the Chernobyl plant. So the government made the area around the power plant into an exclusion zone. They put a border around 1,000 square miles. This land had very high levels of radiation. It was not safe for people to live there. Four hundred thousand people left their homes. They could not take anything with them – everything was covered with radioactive chemicals.

Voice 2 

After the accident, people left the exclusion zone. But plants and animals stayed. No one knew what would happen. Many people thought the animals would die. Or the animals might have other health problems like cancer. Other people thought the plants and animals would grow strangely - with body parts that did not form correctly. Scientists have found some of these problems. But not as many as they expected.

Voice 1 

The power plant was near a city named Pripyat. All the people in this city left in 1986. But the city does not look empty. Pripyat is full of plants. Trees grow inside buildings and in the middle of the city square. Green branches cover buildings. Tree roots break through the roads. Colourful flowers grow wild. The town looks fresh and alive.

Voice 2

Plants are not the only things living in the exclusion zone. Birds build nests. Rivers are full of fish. Large animals like moose, bison and horses run freely. And in the empty towns and countryside there are many wolves. These wild animals look like dogs.

Voice 1 

But are these plants and animals in the zone healthy? After the Chernobyl accident the radioactive dust became part of the soil. The soil and water in the zone are full of radioactive chemicals. Plants use this soil and water to grow. So the chemicals enter the plants. Then, animals eat the plants and became full of radioactive chemicals too. Their organs and bones have radiation in them.

Voice 2 

Scientists come to the zone to study the area. They want to see how the radiation affects the plants and animals. One group of scientists studied the wolves. The television program PBS Nature explains why the wolves are so important:

Voice 4

“The state of the wolf population says a lot about the whole environmental area. Wolves are the top hunters here - they eat many other animals. So they can show us about the radioactivity across all of Chernobyl.”

Voice 1

Wolves eat many other animals. In the zone, this means that the wolves are eating animals full of radioactive chemicals. The scientists wanted to learn how this affects the wolves. So they followed the wolves. They looked at what they ate and where they lived. They found that the number of wolves in the zone is growing. The wolves are even having babies in the zone. In total, scientists found about 120 wolves in the zone.

Voice 2

Some scientists even think the zone may be a good place for wolves and other animals to live. There is radiation. But there are no people. Humans hunt, farm and mine. They build cities and put dams in rivers. This often decreases the population of animals and plants. Without people the plants and trees are growing very fast. In some areas, animal populations are also growing.

Voice 1 

Does this mean that the radioactive zone is a healthy place for animals to live? Scientists have different opinions about this. Professor Tim Mousseau of Canada leads a scientific research team. They study the environment in the zone. He says that the radiation makes it a difficult place for animals. He told the BBC:

Voice 5

"Many people come here expecting it to be like the moon. So when they see trees, and birds and a few animals, they are surprised. They think, 'Well maybe it is not so bad'.

But we are finding a big effect on the number of different animals in the zone. And these numbers are directly related to the level of radioactivity. In areas of high radiation there are only about half as many animals."

Voice 2 

Dr. Jim Smith has a different opinion. He has been studying Chernobyl for 20 years. Dr. Smith told the BBC that the damage to animals in the zone may not be so serious:

Voice 6

"Now the people have moved out the results are clear. Normal human activity did much more damage than the radiation left by the accident. Whether radiation is damaging wildlife in Chernobyl is still an open question."

Voice 1

The future for the wildlife in the zone is still not clear. Dr. Mousseau says it is important for people to know what happens in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. People can learn about the effects of radiation over many years. He told the BBC that scientists will continue to study this zone:

Voice 5 

"This place gives us the chance to do research that we cannot do anywhere else in the world. It is very important for us to do more of these studies. We will be back next spring."

Voice 2

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at This program is called ‘Life in the Chernobyl Zone’.

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Are people the biggest threat to plants and animals?


Avatar Spotlight
said on April 29, 2013

It is important to protect the environment!

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 02, 2013

Research of scientists after this terrible accident is important, plants and animals maybe can occupy this exclusion zone but people don’t! This zone will stay closed for them forever.
Greetins Spotlight Radio

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 03, 2013

The most dangerous enemy of animals and nature are people. People are selfish, they only think about their benefits, don’t care about life of animals and nature. Protect the environment, nature and animals are also protection of human life.

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 02, 2014

we have to aware of the important role of enviroment.If the enviroment is damage. it can cause such as flood, climate change…that make serious damage for property and human.

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 02, 2014

What is really the problem the human or the radiation. It’s sad to know that the animals survived to an nuclear accident like this, and they don’t can survive in presence of the humans beings.

hellokitty's avatar
said on June 02, 2014

I was impressed with this sentence.

“Without people the plants and trees are growing very fast.”

It is a little different problem, but we must protect our environment.

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 03, 2014

It was all people did. But nature was affected. We should protect nature.

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 03, 2014

There are much nonsenses in this broadcast. I live in Ukraine, Kiev and I was in Chernobyl zone. There is life there. People live near exclusion zone about in few kilometers. and there are not so many animals. I had never seen no one animal. Every day anybody can pay fo enter in Pripyat. There is also website where you can see the prices

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 05, 2014

In the life risk may happen. We always follow slogan ‘‘safety first’‘.  Risk happening affects the life negatively. We wish beautiful good things. We try much to live our lives well. We try much to live our lives for beautiful good things. We try much to prevent risk. We wish a beautiful good world. We feel our weakness. We feel bigness of difficulties. Living a beautiful good life is our desire. Becoming a good person is our desire.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on March 06, 2017

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Monday 06, March 2017

Dear Anne Muir, Rena Dam, Ryan Geertsma, and Mark Drenth:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing us readers and learn of English more one great article, thanks!
Yes, there are.
Here in Brazil there are the environmental Police to protect the environment. But before there was a intelligent and good man who protected the plants and animals. His name was CHICO MENDES. But unfortunately he was mudered by bad guys that wanted to explore the environment and destroyed it.

God Bless you
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on January 11, 2019

I remember the terrible accident in Chernobyl and I remember the great accidents in Three Miles Islands, US, and in Fukushima, Japan. The human kind needs more and more energy to grown up the progress and the way of life we adopted in every parts of the world. I don’t know where we are leading our planet. If all nuclear plants in the world would be transformed in exclusion zone, where will live the people?