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  • Of all Chernobyl-related subjects, why did you decide to write about natural history?

Actually, I didnt at first. In the first years after the disaster happened, when my hobby became ferreting out information about the disaster in Soviet periodicals and obscure Western scientific journals, I would have laughed derisively at the very notion of natural history in Chernobyl. Natural history is the study of life of what plants and animals do and it seemed an oxymoron to study that in what I imagined to be a lifeless dead zone. It would be I thought -- like studying the natural history of a parking lot.

It was only after I first actually went to Chernobyl in 1996 that I understood how wrong I was. On assignment for the Los Angeles Times to do a story for the disasters 10th anniversary, I initially set out to find out what scientific discoveries had been made in what had been billed as the worlds largest open air laboratory for radiobiology. But while I was talking to a roomful of Chernobyl scientists, I overheard them talking among themselves about seeing a boar munching apples in an abandoned orchard nearby. That story led to my article about how the zone was becoming a wildlife refuge, and an abiding fascination with the unique radioactive wilderness around the ruined reactor. One of Chernobyls many paradoxes is that the radiological disaster helped nature, rather than harmed it.

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