In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster devastated a region of what is now Ukraine. Around the nuclear plant, a ~1,000-square-mile "Exclusion Zone" was created, marking the area contaminated by dangerous levels of radiation. One estimate suggests that the Exclusion Zone may be safely habitable by humans in 20,000 years, though it is currently possible to make short visits without receiving lethal doses of radiation. In the meantime, a few hundred people, mainly elderly, do live there in villages. Cancer is a major problem.

So for nearly 30 years, the Exclusion Zone has been bathed in radiation, causing changes in plant and animal life, while areas just 10-15 miles away are almost entirely clean (and unpopulated), allowing scientists to study the differences between plants and animals in these areas. For years, Dr. Timothy Mousseau has been studying those changes, and gives us a peek at them in the video below. Radioactive mushrooms? Check. Radioactive spiderwebs? Oh, you betcha. Dr. Mousseau has also begun visiting Fukushima, Japan, the only other site of a level 7 nuclear event in the world. Have a look at a recent trip to Chernobyl to study animals, plants, and insects: