Nine years after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, wildlife populations are flourishing in the abandoned area.
In 2011, an earthquake caused a tsunami that disabled the power supply responsible for cooling three of the plant’s reactors. All three cores melted within three days, forcing more than 100,000 people to evacuate the area. A study published this month in the Journal of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment reports that more than 20 species of animals are returning to the area, including wild boar, Japanese hares, macaques, pheasants, foxes, weasels, and black bears. It appears the animals are flourishing in areas that are still off-limits to humans, though photos also document their presence in places with a limited number of people.
“Our results represent the first evidence that numerous species of wildlife are now abundant throughout the Fukushima Evacuation Zone, despite the presence of radiological contamination,” said James Beasley, a wildlife biologist and one of the researchers.
University of Georgia researchers analyzed 267,000 wildlife photos, gathered from 106 camera sites, and found that the level of human activity, elevation, and habitat type influenced the abundance of species far more than radiation levels did. In general, each species continued the same behavioral patterns they exhibited before the disaster.
The researchers concluded that any effects of radiation on middle- to large-sized mammals occurred within individuals, not within whole populations. They did not assess the health of individual animals. —J.B.