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May 31, 1986
July 26, 1992

Chernobyl

This area is near the common borders of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. The plant lies near the Pripyat River, at the northwest end of a cooling pond. The pond is 12 km long; during normal operation the plant discharges warm water counterclockwise around the pond, taking in cool water near the north end. Just northwest of the plant is the city of Pripyat. The smaller town of Chernobyl lies south of the cooling pond.

The 1986 and 1992 images clearly show farm abandonment. Agriculture appears as a collage of bright red (growing crops) and white (highly reflective bare ground). Many of these areas appear a flat tan-green in 1992, indicating natural grassland vegetation which has taken over the abandoned fields.

While the reactor was still on fire, all settlements within 30 km were evacuated, including Pripyat (1986 population 45,000), Chernobyl (1986 population 12,000), and 94 other villages (estimated total population 40,000). As of 1992, this area remained almost completely abandoned.

Radiation contamination later forced abandonment even outside the 30-km zone. In all, more than 120,000 people, from 213 villages and cities, were relocated outside contaminated areas.

The radiation also affected wild plants and animals around Chernobyl. Pine forests soon died, swamp vegetation mutated, and wild animals declined in number. But in the coming years, as the short-lived radionuclides decayed and the longer-lived contaminants settled deep into the soil, the wildlife rebounded. Human abandonment also made habitat available for birds, deer, rodents, wolves, boar and other animals. These populations appear to be increasing despite the extraordinarily high mutation rates caused by contamination in the food chain and by one of the highest background radiation levels in modern history.

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May 31, 1986
July 26, 1992