The Exclusion Zone: the turn of the century
The Exclusion Zone: the turn of the century

Scientific and environmental activities at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the early 2000s are usually divided into several categories. A part of the scientific research was concentrated purely on the technical platform, and thereby a part of the scientists tried to find a use for themselves inside the sarcophagus or on the industrial site.

Another part of the research was to monitor the environmental consequences of the accident throughout the Exclusion Zone. In the early 2000s, the first direction had some support in the person of research institutes of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

While natural research activities in the Zone fell into decay and almost ceased to exist. First, the departmental structure subordinated to the Zone disappeared, then the Chernobyl Scientific and Technical Center and the Chernobyl Center for International Studies sunk into oblivion.

At the turn of the century, the specialists of these scientific departments quit on their own, experiencing serious financial difficulties due to regular underfunding, or were forced to transfer capable scientific research structures to other more paid ones.

Along with this, practically the entire scientific infrastructure of the Zone gradually ceased to exist – experimental training grounds, scientific laboratories, experimental farms, hospitals, etc. Only a few laboratories, almost without enthusiasm, continued their activities, barely making ends meet.

Rehabilitation of the territory is on the agenda

This is almost the only thing that representatives of the scientific and experimental laboratory were busy with remaining in the Zone at the turn of the century. They were engaged in the development of various programs aimed at returning the territory of the Zone to agricultural circulation.

Thus, at the beginning of the 90s, officials, using scientific experiments, tried to “blow smoke”, focusing public attention on the main aspect in the development of the Zone – the rehabilitation of its territory.

In fact, the scientific and practical interest of that time in rehabilitation projects, the development of the Zone’s activity strategy, falling under the wording “rehabilitation”, was critically insignificant. Nevertheless, individual scientific experimental projects still deserved attention.

The program “Fauna”, the so-called “Program for the restoration of the primary faunistic complex and biodiversity of Ukrainian Polesie in the exclusion zone and the zone of unconditional (compulsory) resettlement,” was successfully launched back in 1998. The successful start was facilitated by the prevailing environmental situation in the zone, which had signs of rehabilitation of the territory due to anthropogenic activities.

The spontaneous revival of natural foci in the absence of any signs of human activity on them began to give its first positive results. Scientists have accurately calculated everything and came to the conclusion that it is necessary to create a set of practical measures aimed at monitoring and managing these natural environmental processes – you cannot deceive nature.

The main stake in the activities of the above program was made on animals. It was decided to regulate some species of predators, shooting, for example wolves, and thereby create as safe and comfortable conditions as possible for the successful assimilation of other species of animals — Przewalski’s horse, “restored” auroch, bison, Polish “tarpan”.

Voluntary ranger units were created that were part of the Chernobyl state enterprise to implement the main directions of this program. It must be said that the proposed scientific grounds for such a practice of human intervention in the development of the animal world of the Zone did not convince everyone, which caused a lot of disagreement among experts.

Therefore, in practice, it was decided to start with one measure of the Program – the shooting of wolves, the importation of a few Przewalski’s horses and two heterosexual bison individuals.

Today it is not known exactly how many wolves were destroyed. Witnesses claim that they shot about a dozen a year. The huntsmen were proud of their trophies and staged public demonstrations of dead animals, exposing them on the hoods of official vehicles in the most crowded places of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The female and male bison had died for various reasons by the end of 2000. Of the 25 individuals brought in 1998, Przewalski’s horses, eight horses died in the first few months. A year later, the group “leader + females + foals” was formed from the remaining horses. In a year, the first six males were released.

Following a similar group was formed and over time, the herds of horses obtained as a result of assimilation were released into the wild. They scattered at a great distance from each other and at first almost never crossed. Reproduction proceeded favorably – in total, about 20 heads of offspring were added per year.

In 2004, there were 60 individuals of Przewalski’s horses in the Zone. But in 2007, there was a decline in the number of this species of animals. The official reason for this fact of the decline in livestock has not been established, but many believe that there is reason to associate this with the human factor. Now, the estimated number of these horses that are listed in the Red Book is about 20-40 individuals.

The gradual practical implementation of certain ideas of nature conservation in the Exclusion Zone was quite interesting. In 2002-2005, there were rumors about the creation of a project for the regional landscape park “Chernobyl Forest”, which planned to include the southern landscapes of the Zone outside the 10-km range.

The central site for the park has already been selected for this purpose – a conserved research and production complex in the village of Kupovatoye. But as a result, as they say, they wanted the best, but it turned out as always. They either renamed the old structure, expanding their tasks and increasing responsibility, then they simply changed the signs with the names and demanded that the staff intensify their work on the implementation of the functions to protect biodiversity.

As a result, everything returned to normal. Some continued to “blow smoke”, and others slowly but surely continued to do their direct business – a scientific research, as part of the assimilation of rare species of animals in the Zone, which ultimately yielded fantastic results.

For today, one thing is clear that the beginning of the 2000s for the Zone is a time of difficult trials, and sometimes a time of physical survival. This difficult transition period has passed, it has become history. Today, there is every reason to believe that the Exclusion Zone is on its feet more and more every year, within the framework of the large-scale structure of the Chernobyl radiation-ecological biosphere reserve.