What happens to nature after a nuclear accident? 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" that still surrounds the remains of the reactor.
Viewable online until 10/18/2025:
Chernobyl. It is a word that brings to mind the images of desolation and abandonment, danger and contamination on a continental scale. It is not a term that makes one think of life, resurrection, and hope, but a team of scientists exploring the eleven hundred square mile exclusion zone around the reactor are proving that a land lost to humans has become a gift of a peaceful existence for a distinct population—the Radioactive Wolves.
The Public Broadcasting Service’s Nature documentary was first aired in October 2011, twenty-five years after the world’s largest nuclear disaster. The region that was ravaged by two world wars and the improvement craze of the Stalin era has returned to its prior state: a lush, wetland wilderness with a robust ecosystem. Scientists were drawn to the area by the grey wolf population, which was rumored to be upwards of three hundred individuals. While the numbers were overestimated—the truth lying closer to 120 individuals—there is veracity at the heart of fiction: the wolves of Chernobyl, along with other wildlife once driven from the land by deforestation and hunting, are thriving.
The scenes of the abandoned cities and villages within the contamination zone are haunting, and the documentary is presented in a straightforward, insightful manner. The scientists are devoted to their studies, in spite of the danger that the landscape still presents. The scene in which the wolves join one of the scientists in howling is breathtaking and poignantly beautiful.
Radioactive Wolves tells the story of nature’s resilience, and the wolves themselves are part of a larger story—a story of rigidly cultivated land returning to wilderness in the short span of a couple of decades. What was a blight for humans has become a peaceful paradise for a number of species.