Nearly a decade after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, researchers have found that wildlife is thriving in areas evacuated by humans, despite radiological contamination.
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit Japan. More than 20,000 people were killed or missing in the earthquake and tsunami, while hundreds of thousands more lost their homes.
Three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant melted, releasing radioactive materials into the air, and more than 100,000 people were evacuated from the area.
Scientists have now found that wildlife is abundant in areas where humans no longer live.
Using remote cameras, researchers at the University of Georgia recovered more than 267,000 photos of more than 20 species – including raccoon dogs, wild boars, macaques, pheasants, foxes and Japanese hares in areas surrounding the power plant.
“Our findings represent the first evidence that numerous wildlife species are now abundant throughout the Fukushima evacuation zone, despite the presence of radiological contamination,” said James Beasley, associate professor at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. said in a statement.
Photographic data was collected from 106 camera sites in three zones: areas where humans were excluded due to the highest level of contamination; areas where humans were restricted due to an intermediate level of contamination; and areas where people could stay.
Over 120 days, the cameras captured 46,000 photographs of wild boars, of which more than 26,000 images were taken in uninhabited areas.
In contrast, around 13,000 images were taken in areas where humans were restricted due to contamination and 7,000 in areas inhabited by people.
The researchers also observed increased numbers of raccoons, Japanese martens, weasel-like animals, and Japanese macaques or monkeys in uninhabited or restricted areas.
Species considered “in conflict” with humans, such as wild boars, have been photographed predominantly in areas and areas evacuated by humans, Beasley said.
While the research monitors the radiological impact on wild populations as a whole, it does not provide an assessment of the health of individual animals, the scientists noted.
The study, published Monday in the Journal of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, was produced in addition to the team’s research on Chernobyl, where wildlife also thrived following the disaster.