11 strange events that happened after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident

Chernobyl gas masksSchoolchildren wear gas masks during a nuclear safety training lesson in an isolated zone near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.Sergey Ponomarev/AP Images

The HBO miniseries "Chernobyl" has cast renewed attention on the world's worst nuclear power plant accident, which took place on April 26, 1986, when the core of a reactor opened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine.

Many of the effects of that fateful day are well-documented in the series: The entire city of Pripyat was abandoned, leaving behind a 1,000-square-mile exclusion zone that restricts access to visitors. Within three months of the disaster, more than 30 people died of acute radiation sickness.

The disaster also led to some strange events in the days, and years, to come. Here are some of the unexpected byproducts of the nuclear accident.
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Some reports say a brand-new Ferris wheel opened early to entertain residents after the accident.

Some reports say a brand-new Ferris wheel opened early to entertain residents after the accident.

The Pripyat Amusement Park was scheduled to debut for the first time on May 1, 1986 — five days after Chernobyl.

Though the park never officially opened or welcomed visitors, its Ferris wheel reportedly operated on April 27 to entertain residents still reeling from the trauma.

Doctors inaccurately advised women in Western Europe to get abortions, fearing their children would have health problems.

Doctors inaccurately advised women in Western Europe to get abortions, fearing their children would have health problems.

Even medical professionals were plagued with "radiophobia," or fear of radiation, in the disaster's immediate wake. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that between 100,000 to 200,000 pregnancies were terminated by mothers in Western Europe who had been advised that Chernobyl could provoke health issues in their unborn children.

Twenty years after the accident, the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that radiation doses weren't high enough to cause "adverse pregnancy outcomes." While the nation of Belarus did see a rise in children with birth defects, WHO attributed the spike to more accurate reporting of these cases.

Graffiti artists drew strange, shadowy figures on the walls of buildings.

Graffiti artists drew strange, shadowy figures on the walls of buildings.

In the years following the disaster, graffiti artists have traveled to the exclusion zone to paint commemorative murals and portraits. One motif seen throughout the area is a series of shadowy, child-like figures that are said to represent the ghosts of former residents.

Artifacts started to deteriorate, but vegetation continued to grow.

Artifacts started to deteriorate, but vegetation continued to grow.

Photographer David McMillan paid multiple visits to the exclusion zone over the course of 25 years. His photo series captures the rapid decay of artifacts and Soviet propaganda material left behind by residents.

By 2009, a portrait of Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Russian Communist Party, had all but disappeared. Other sites such an abandoned book store and the empty amusement park were engulfed with vegetation.

Read more: A photographer visited the abandoned towns around Chernobyl more than 20 times over the past 25 years

Tourists have arranged creepy dolls on abandoned beds and windowsills.

Tourists have arranged creepy dolls on abandoned beds and windowsills.

Contrary to how it might seem, the haunting dolls scattered throughout the Chernobyl exclusion zone weren't left there by residents. Most were likely arranged by "disaster tourists," who have taken to placing the dolls on windowsills and the beds of an abandoned kindergarten for dramatic effect.

It's illegal to reside in the exclusion zone, but many older women chose to move back.

It's illegal to reside in the exclusion zone, but many older women chose to move back.

The water and soil in the Chernobyl exclusion zone is still contaminated, so it's against the law to live there. Still, the land isn't entirely deserted. In the wake of the disaster, hundreds of local residents returned to their villages despite safety warnings that should have barred them from entering.

The group, known as self-settlers, has adjusted to a quiet life among elevated levels of radiation. Most of them are elderly women in their 70s and 80s who have garnered the affectionate nickname "Chernobyl's babushkas."

Read more: Photos show what daily life is really like inside Chernobyl's exclusion zone, one of the most polluted areas in the world

Stray dogs might have started mating with local wolves.

Stray dogs might have started mating with local wolves.

When residents of Pripyat were forced to evacuate their homes, they weren't permitted to bring their dogs, who reportedly chased after their owners as the buses trailed away for good. Today, the descendants of these pets roam the exclusion zone.

While some have fallen prey to wolves, others have reportedly started mating with them. The dogs that survive are often large, sturdy breeds whose appearance is indeed wolf-like.

Read more: Chernobyl workers are adopting the site's contaminated dogs, but not all of them are safe to pet

The European brown bear returned to the region after more than a century.

The European brown bear returned to the region after more than a century.

Prior to the disaster, the European brown bear hadn't been seen in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in more than a century. But in 2014, a Ukrainian biologist recorded a brown bear sighting in the area. The presence of these bears was also documented a few years prior, suggesting that the bears have re-colonized the region.

Read more: There's a thriving population of radioactive animals that have taken over the abandoned Chernobyl exclusion zone, even though the area is toxic for humans

Scientists released an endangered horse species into the area.

Scientists released an endangered horse species into the area.

Przewalski's horses were released into the wilderness near the nuclear power plant in 1998 as part of a conservation effort to save the species from extinction. The horses now appear to be thriving in the absence of humans.

Birds and rodents have come down with tumors and cataracts.

Birds and rodents have come down with tumors and cataracts.

To this day, some of Chernobyl's smaller animals such as birds, rodents, and insects continue to display mutations that scientists attribute to radiation levels. These abnormalities include tumors, cataracts, and smaller brains, which may persist for generations but aren't likely to permanently affect the species.

Cow's milk outside of the exclusion zone was found to contain cesium-137, a radioactive isotope.

 Cow's milk outside of the exclusion zone was found to contain cesium-137, a radioactive isotope.

One toxin released during the accident was cesium-137, a radioactive isotope that can pose a danger to humans for at least a generation.

In 2018, scientists reported that cows were still consuming cesium-137 in their vegetation and transferring the toxin to humans through milk. The study, published in the journal Environment International, found that milk in Ukrainian villages far away from the Chernobyl power plant contained five times the amount of cesium that was considered safe for adults and 12 times the safe limit for children.

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