It’s been quite some time since that fateful day approximately three decades ago when the nuclear reactor leaked deadly radiation at Chernobyl thereby wreaking havoc on half the global atmosphere. The radiation caused immense damage to life and its effects still remain as a study shows.
The by-now dead trees and plants in the central area affected by the catastrophe have a slower decomposition rate than the rest in the surrounding loci. The researchers who carried out the investigation discovered to their surprise and shock that the logs and leaves that disintegrated beneath their boots were not in such a bad condition.
"We were stepping over all these dead trees on the ground that had been killed by the initial blast," Tim Mousseau, a professor of biology at the University of South Carolina, said in a statement. "Years later, these tree trunks were in pretty good shape. If a tree had fallen in my backyard, it would be sawdust in 10 years or so."
Normal vegetation would have been in a powdery state by now. But since this luxuriant growth had undergone such extreme radiation, which had occurred so many years ago, it had been almost magically frozen in time.
The state of nuclear wastage regions such as Chernobyl and Fukushima (Japan) has shown such a paradoxical effect. The Red Forest around Chernobyl contains trees that died the moment the radiation penetrated them. But they have also been preserved in the selfsame state they were in when the disaster took place.
A handful of ants were the only life forms found in the terrain. Otherwise the tree trunks had a reddish aura that they had adopted since the moment of the tragic accident. In order to test this preservation hypothesis, researchers placed normal leaves in packets within the environs of Chernobyl. The normally fast-decaying leaves too showed an extended time lapse before rotting away.
Thus the paradox seems to be a local phenomenon. There are concerns about the Red Forest region catching fire some time in the future and spreading harmful radiation throughout half the world once again. The possibility of a fire in the dry and parched region is very real and so ways will have to be found to reduce the chances of such a crisis in the approaching years.
"This litter accumulation that we measured, which is likely a direct consequence of reduced microbial decomposing activity, is like kindling," Mousseau added. "It's dry, light and burns quite readily. It adds to the fuel, as well as makes it more likely that catastrophically sized forest fires might start."