Radioactive beasts are invading our cities

radioactive boar are invading the towns of southern Germany. They pull out a man in a wheelchair; they cross fences and roam the roads, cutting off traffic on the highways; they travel in packs in search of food. Police are scrambling to restore order in urban centers. The radioactive boars are armed with a post-apocalyptic payload; they live in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. By feeding on radioactive plants, the animals embody the return of a catastrophe that many seek to suppress. Following a reactor collapse and meltdown in Chernobyl, more than 100,000 people were evacuated from the 20-mile exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant. Residents exposed to radiation suffered from radiation poisoning, leukemia and thyroid cancer. It is estimated that some 4,000 people could die from illnesses related to the accident.

Now in the Exclusion Zone, amidst cracked streets overgrown with weeds, a bear makes its way through a decaying city. Markers of human habitation slowly teeter into dilapidated ruins. Paint chips from buildings and windows have lost their glass. The signs are askew, not telling anyone their once-relevant information about a street name, a grocery store, a cafe’s hours of service. In the abandoned pastures, there are only rare traces of ancient cultivation, while native grasses transform the space into prairie. There, short, stocky horses – the only subspecies ever domesticated – run wild where humans will never plant again. Thick-haired bison roam woods and fields they haven’t seen in centuries. Unafraid of being hunted, the animals thrive in a strangely mutated post-human wildlife sanctuary where radiation remains 10 to 100 times higher than safe for occupancy. Rare species not seen in the region for hundreds of years have returned, including Przewalski’s horse, European bison, lynx and Eurasian brown bear.

As for the radioactive boar hundreds of miles away in Germany, with an omnivorous appetite and sturdy snouts to root out its food, it devours its landscape. They eat acorns, nuts and insects, but also dig up truffles, tubers and mushrooms, which absorb high levels of radioactive waste that decades ago drifted downwind after the collapse of the Power plant. In droves, wild boars make their way into nearby towns with the intention of having food density in garbage cans, park trash cans, and alleyways. Weighing around 400 pounds each and with unpredictable defenses and temperaments, they take precedence in urban areas. A coarse-haired savagery is at odds with the orderly environments of the small towns in which they find themselves.

Decades later, Chernobyl fades from memory. Generations have passed for humans. But for the radioactive elements released by the disaster, life is just beginning. The fire in the nuclear reactor core continues, but invisibly. And the boar takes it with them. They carry the materiality of our failing technology and the indifference to the life of a radioactive isotope.

Maybe we should pay more attention to our fictions. Godzilla, a prehistoric sea reptile monster made using nuclear radiation, has reminded Japan and the rest of the world that radioactive materials are a more powerful and longer-lived beast than humans can imagine. Godzilla makes the otherwise invisible nuclear threat visible. His general indifference towards humans makes him a suitable avatar for radioactive materials.

The Godzilla movies have spawned other notable monsters, including the huge, beaming butterfly creature Mothra, accompanied by small humanoid twins who speak for the creature. Mothra has appeared in 16 films, including Godzilla vs Mothra in 1964 and its remake in 1992 and Mothra Rebirthwho, like the Rocky series, had a number of unfortunate sequels. Among the many Japanese monster movies, Mothra versus Bagan never got past a script, but it should have. Bagan is a huge multi-horned rhinoceros with wings that thousands of years ago protected the earth from threats. Cut to the present as Bagan is freed from captivity in a melting glacier due to global warming. As a protector of nature, the monster sets out to destroy humanity, which is destroying the earth. Crowds of people meet their fates while others ask for help. Mothra hears their cries and flies to their aid. But the help is short-lived as Bagan takes on Mothra in what would be an epic scene for an actor wearing a latex suit and a moth with cardboard wings. With the monster moth defeated, all seems lost. But on a remote island, one of the moth monster’s eggs hatches and a new Mothra is born. After various twists and turns, young Mothra defeats Bagan, protector of the earth. Although it is clear that the earth needs to be saved, we find it difficult to exclude ourselves from existence for the betterment of the non-human world. It is as if Mothra versus Bagan replays again and again. As Bagan returns again and again, one day there may not be an appearance of Mothra to save mankind.