January 21, 2015
Until a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded on April 26, 1986, spreading the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima bombs of fallout across the entire Northern Hemisphere, scientists knew next to nothing about the effects of radiation on vegetation and wild animals. The catastrophe created a living laboratory, particularly in the 1,100 square miles around the site, known as the exclusion zone.
In 1994 Ronald Chesser and Robert Baker, both professors of biology at Texas Tech University, were among the first American scientists allowed full access to the zone. “It was a screaming place—really radioactive,” Baker recalls.