Award winning Chernobyl research to appear in documentary tomorrow
Dec 20, 2016
Award winning research from Dr Mike Wood, Reader in Applied Ecology in the School of Environment & Life Sciences, will appear in a BBC documentary tomorrow (Wednesday 21 December) at 9pm on BBC4. In November, the outstanding work of Mike and his collaborators was recognised by judges of the Times Higher Education Awards (the Oscars of Higher Education). Mike and his team were awarded the most prestigious research award in UK Higher Education – the Times Higher Education (THE) Research Project of the Year.
Thirty years ago, the Chernobyl accident led to the release of large quantities of radioactive material into the environment and resulted in the creation of an abandoned area the size of Northumbria. That abandoned area is known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The wreckage of the nuclear reactor was covered in concrete to contain the remaining radioactive material, but this was only a temporary solution. Over the last four years, a metal arch has been constructed to slide over the top of the wrecked reactor and prevent further leakage of radioactive material into the environment. Tall enough to house the statue of liberty and with a footprint that would cover the Stade de France, the 36,000 tonne arch is an immense engineering project and the largest structure ever moved on land. The focus of the BBC documentary is the construction and movement of the arch, but the filmmakers were keen to provide an insight into the environment that the structure is intended to help protect. Within the documentary, Mike takes the viewers on a brief radioactive field trip and reveals some of the some of the magnificent creatures that the cameras capture.
For the last three years, Mike has been undertaking research on the wildlife of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Working with collaborators from the NERC-CEH and Chornobyl Centre, Mike uses a variety of technologies to study Chernobyl’s wildlife, including motion-activated wildlife cameras. The filmmakers arranged to travel to Chernobyl with Mike to film his research in action and learn first-hand from an expert on the wildlife of the Zone what the environment around the reactor complex is really like.
Mike’s research has already received significant media coverage including a feature on Channel 4 news, and articles on the BBC News website and in New Scientist, The Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. It has also formed the basis for engaging the public with science and has really captured the public’s imagination. In collaboration with Dr Simon Campion and Dr Michal Cieciura from the University of Salford’s THINKlab – and science communication expert Prof Andy Miah – Mike created an immersive installation held at the Museum of Science and Industry during Manchester Science Festival. The installation used virtual reality technology to enable visitors to explore the sites in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone where Mike and his collaborators work.
Mike’s Chernobyl research is being undertaken within the TREE project, which is led by Prof Nick Beresford at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. TREE is part of the ‘Radioactivity And the Environment’ programme that has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Environment Agency (EA) and Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) Limited.