Inside the Contaminated Waters of Chernobyl – Giant Catfish

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Photo Credit: Robin Esrock/Mental Floss

By Stevie Georgiou, Staff Writer for Save The Water™ | September 16, 2015

The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 is one of the 20th century’s most catastrophic incidents of radioactive water contamination. After a sudden power surge in reactors caused a devastating explosion, deadly levels of radiation left the waters of the Prypiat River lifeless.5 Water-dwellers experienced a high level of toxic chemical intake, which turned the polluted waters of Chernobyl into a no-breeding zone. However, there has been recent reports of large, mutant catfish flourishing within the Prypiat River.1

According to recent scientific research, the waters of Chernobyl has been plagued with radionuclides ever since the explosion, which has strangely increased the size of catfish within Ukraine. Radionuclidse are atoms that hold an excess amount of radioactive energy, which creates unpredictable actions like mutations or deformed growth. Such radiation can cause mutations in all parts of the human anatomy; catfish exposed to these levels of radionuclides have grown from 4 feet to a whopping 9-12 feet over the space of 29 years.2

After examining these catfish, which have been exposed to some of the highest levels of water radiation on the globe, scientists have discovered that apart from their size, the catfish are all perfectly healthy. Moreover, species such as bears, lynx, and wild boars have all been seen drinking from the contaminated water of the Prypiat River, but these animals are also flourishing, with no signs of mutation.3 Could this mean that certain life forms adapt to the conditions of water radiation over a certain period of time?

Despite this discovery, radiation within contaminated water is still something that the human immune system still cannot handle. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, drinking water that contains high levels of radioactive contaminants (such as uranium) can often cause cancer and kidney issues.6 This lethality can be seen with the case of three Russian divers, who attempted to clean up the polluted waters of Chernobyl two weeks after the explosion. Their bodies could not copy with the radioactivity and sadly, all three of their lives ended just 14 days later.4 Cancer continues to claim many human lives today, but rather than suffering from it due to water radiation, Chernobyl’s catfish have instead adapted into what appears to be a new species.

There is still much to be discovered regarding the effects of waterborne radionuclides on organisms. Save the Water™ strives to improve water science and educate the public about sanitary and sustainable practices. For more information on our global projects, visit our website. Any contributions you can make will go a long way towards supporting our development of water technology and our efforts to ensure people around the world enjoy access to clean and safe water.


  1. Daily Star. July 9, 2014. “Are These Giant Fish in Chernobyl Radioactive Mutants?” Daily Star.
  2. Channel 4 News. July 2015. “Chernobyl: Inside the Exclusion Zone.” Youtube.
  3. Robin Esrock. March 11, 2014. “16 Spooky as Hell Photos From Inside Chernobyl.” Mental Floss.
  4. The Scotsman. March 16, 2011. “Lead Coffins and a Nation’s Thanks for the Chernobyl Suicide Squad”. The Scotsman.
  5. Peter Lekarve. September 1, 2015. “The Chernobyl Disaster: Greatest Nuclear Power Tragedy”. Sputnik News.
  6. EPA. March 6, 2012. “Radionuclides in Drinking Water.” United States Environmental Protection Agency.
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