Researchers have completed a study that shows wildlife flourishing in the Fukushima exclusion zone,' following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011. They used a network of 106 remote cameras placed along a gradient of radiological contamination to collect data over a four-month period.

A serow captured on camera in Fukushima
A serow captured on camera in Fukushima © University of Georgia

Areas around the reactor were evacuated following the radiation leaks, which occurred as a result of damage from the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese Government created three evacuation zones based on predicted radiation doses to humans and 154,000 residents were evacuated. Beginning in 2016, people were allowed to return to the areas of lower contamination although only about 5% of the original population has chosen to re-establish residence.

Wildlife ecologist James Beasley of the University of Georgia and his colleagues aimed to see how animal populations had responded after the disaster in what they termed the 'humans excluded,' 'humans restricted' and 'human-inhabited' zones.

A wild boar captured on camera in Fukushima
A wild boar captured on camera in Fukushima © University of Georgia

They captured images of more than 20 animal species, including wild boar, serows, Asiatic black bears, Japanese hares, macaques, domestic cats, foxes, pleasants and Japanese hares. They were, however, unable to ascertain the health of the animals detected, but noted that, for the most part, the activities of the species in the evacuated areas remained normal.

 prior to the dissaster  Tomohiro
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in 2010 prior to the disaster © Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Their research showed that several species were most abundant in human-evacuated areas, despite the presence of radiological contamination. These include wild boar, raccoons and Japanese macaques who tend to avoid areas where humans are resident.

A raccoon dog captured on camera in Fukushima
A raccoon dog captured on camera in Fukushima © University of Georgia

The researchers concluded that their study provided unique evidence of the natural rewilding of the Fukushima landscape following human abandonment. They suggest that if any effects of radiological exposure in mid to large-sized mammals in the exclusion zone exist, they occur at individual or molecular scales.

You can read the full report in the Journal of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

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