He is part of a group of experts from the University of South Carolina who are recognizing the 25th anniversary of the tragedy. SCETV will air a pair of specials on the disaster starting at 7 p.m. tonight with “NatureScene: Chernobyl,” followed by “Nature Comes Back – 25 Years After Chernobyl,” which will air from 7:30 – 9 p.m.
The other USC participants include: Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies; Dr. Tim Mousseau, who has studied the impact of radioactive contaminants on the area; Dr. Gordon B. Smith, USC professor of political science and director of the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies.
Mancke is the naturalist-in-residence at USC and the naturalist on ETV’s “NatureScene,” which aired nationally on PBS for 25 years. He traveled to the stricken country, which is now the Ukraine, four times between 1998 and 2003, observing the diversity of plants and animals and noting mutations, such as abnormal markings on birds and the wild growth of lateral branches on trees.
The crisis resulted in the death of dozens of people and countless plants and animals. Those that survived reproduced, including some turtles and snakes observed by Mancke.
He said that some birds that were missing from the area after the disaster were those that typically liked to cluster near people. When the people were forced to move from the contaminated area, the birds left, too.
He explained that when the reactor melted down, officials had to cover it with concrete, which was called the sarcophagus.
“Basically, what you’ve done is you’ve built a concrete, U-shaped structure over the meltdown reactor, or what’s left of it,” he said. “And all the radioactive material is sitting there. And a lot of what is sent out goes through the concrete and will go on for a quarter of a million years. Turn around and little birds called house martins are building their nest right behind you, as if there’s no big deal.”