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Some interesting information from Chernobyl must have people wondering if a global thermonuclear war would be as fatal to the future mankind as we've been lead to believe.
Although we've been indoctrinated with the belief that exposure to the type of hard radiation that would follow such a cataclysmic event would result in large areas of the earth's surface becoming uninhabitable, the reality would seem to be a little different.
When the Chernobyl reactor malfunctioned back in 1986, massive amounts of radiation were spewed into the environment. The explosion and subsequent fire caused radioactive fallout to scatter across a huge tract of Europe and more than 4,100 square KM of land was declared an "exclusion zone" and evacuated -- for fear that anyone remaining there would suffer significant ill-health or death from the effects of that fallout.
One would expect that most mammals would be equally susceptible to the damaging effects related to such levels of irradiation -- but apparently not.
According to this PopSci story, wildlife in the exclusion zone is thriving, now reaching levels far in excess of that found before the reactor meltdown.
Although there was apparently quite high loss of wildlife numbers immediately after the Chernobyl disaster, primarily (as predicted) due to acute radiation poisoning, the half-life of many fallout components has been quite short, some decaying into comparatively harmless isotopes within just a few weeks or months.
Despite this, background radiation levels have, until recently, remained well above normal in the area (as witnessed by a number of independent reports from those who have dared to venture into the area since) -- yet wildlife now seem to have re-established themselves in great numbers.
There appears to be little published evidence of genetic mutations due to radiation within the pool of animals now living in the region -- although it would be expected that natural evolutionary pressures would take care of most genetic abnormalities as they are more likely to have a negative impact on the individual's ability to survive.
Given that it has been just 30 years since the disaster, the fact that mammalian life now seems to have re-established itself and is thriving would indicate that, in the event of a major nuclear conflict, humanity is unlikely to be wiped from the face of the planet. So long as survivors can find sanctuary from the life-threatening levels of irradiation which would exist immediately post-conflict, it may not take too long before we could re-emerge and repopulate significant areas.
Humans are even better equipped to survive in a high-radiation environment than other mammals thanks to our awareness of the risk and our ability to mitigate some of the damage by way of iodine supplements, etc., it's looking as if mankind will not annihilate itself (at least in a nuclear war) any time soon.
A far more likely scenario is that we'll fall victim to a major natural disaster (such as a gamma-ray burst from a nearby galaxy) -- or we'll simply disrupt the natural processes of the ecosphere sufficiently to make the planet uninhabitable. Perhaps we're already a long way down the road to this scenario already.
Any guesses as to what will actually cause the end of mankind and how much longer we've got?
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