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NATURE: Radioactive Wolves

Airs Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 8 p.m. & Sunday, August 11 at 4 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Wolves in an abandoned village in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

The Chernobyl power plant on the Pripyat river and with its vast cooling pond. Built in the Soviet era, the entire plant is now disused.
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Above: The Chernobyl power plant on the Pripyat river and with its vast cooling pond. Built in the Soviet era, the entire plant is now disused.

Christoph and Barbara Promberger, carnivore experts from Germany and Austria, examining and radio-collaring a wolf in the Chernobyl zone. They are measuring the radioactive contamination of the animal's fur. To avoid inhaling contaminated hair, they wear face masks.
Enlarge this image

Above: Christoph and Barbara Promberger, carnivore experts from Germany and Austria, examining and radio-collaring a wolf in the Chernobyl zone. They are measuring the radioactive contamination of the animal's fur. To avoid inhaling contaminated hair, they wear face masks.

European bison in the Chernobyl zone. Bison and feral horses were reintroduced to the zone in the 1990s to bring back the region's original bio-diversity. Both species have been thriving.
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Above: European bison in the Chernobyl zone. Bison and feral horses were reintroduced to the zone in the 1990s to bring back the region's original bio-diversity. Both species have been thriving.

What happens to nature after a nuclear accident? And how does wildlife deal with the world it inherits after human inhabitants have fled?

In 1986 a nuclear meltdown at the infamous Chernobyl power plant in present-day Ukraine left miles of land in radioactive ruins. Residents living in areas most contaminated by the disaster were evacuated and relocated by government order, and a no-man’s land of our own making was left to its own devices.

In the ensuing 25 years, forests, marshes, fields and rivers reclaimed the land, reversing the effects of hundreds of years of human development. And surprisingly, this exclusion zone, or “dead zone,” has become a kind of post-nuclear Eden, populated by beaver and bison, horses and birds, fish and falcons – and ruled by wolves.

Access to the zone is now permitted, at least on a limited basis, and scientists are monitoring the surviving wildlife in the area, trying to learn how the various species are coping with the invisible blight of radiation.

As the top predators in this new wilderness, wolves best reflect the condition of the entire ecosystem because if the wolves are doing well, the populations of their prey must also be doing well. Accordingly, a key long-term study of the wolves has been initiated to determine their health, their range, and their numbers.

"Radioactive Wolves" examines the state of wildlife populations in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone, an area that, to this day, remains too radioactive for human habitation.

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Video

Preview: Nature: Radioactive Wolves

Above: The historic nuclear accident at Chernobyl is now 25 years old. Filmmakers and scientists set out to document the lives of the packs of wolves and other wildlife thriving in the “dead zone” which still surrounds the remains of the reactor in "Radioactive Wolves."

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Nature: Radioactive Wolf Pups

Above: Scientists study wolf pups living outside Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone in an effort to try and assess the health of those populations born inside the radioactive area surrounding the now-defunct nuclear plant. Watch a scene from the PBS Nature film, "Radioactive Wolves."

Video

Radioactive Wolves: Unintentional Green City

Above: The ghost city of Pripyat was once a thriving metropolis. It was abandoned and its residents relocated almost immediately after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Today, it’s a city that is green, filled with wildlife, though in an unnerving and unintentional way.

Video

Radioactive Wolves: A Place For Wild Horses

Above: Przewalski’s horses have been released in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone since the 1990s, to help restore the land’s original biodiversity. (Video limited to U.S. & Territories.)

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