Actually, in the early years, when contaminated dust coated everything, researchers found countless examples of the monstrous mutations imagined in 1950s horror movies: malformations, dwarfism, gigantism, strange growths, and, yes, even some glowing.
But those effects were seen only in plants. While Attack of the Giant Leaves doesn’t seem as horrible as the Creature With the Atom Brain, no one has ever found seriously deformed wild animals (or zombies) after the Chernobyl accident. Mutant animals born in the wild die or get eaten before they can be discovered. Whatever the biological costs of radiation to individuals, the fittest survived.
Chernobyl’s abundant and surprisingly normal-looking wildlife has shaken up how biologists think about the environmental effects of radioactivity. The idea that the world’s biggest radioactive wasteland could become Europe’s largest wildlife sanctuary is completely counterintuitive for anyone raised on nuclear dystopias.
The news isn’t good for all animals. Many species that like human company—swallows, white storks, pigeons—mostly left the region along with the people. Also, small creatures seem to be more vulnerable to the effects of radiation than large ones. That may be why Chernobyl rodents studied in the 1990s had shorter life spans and smaller litters than their counterparts outside the zone. Stag beetles had uneven horns. But it didn’t affect their population numbers.
And because the health of wild animal species is usually judged by their numbers rather than the conditions of individuals, Chernobyl wildlife is considered healthy. According to all the population counts performed by Ukraine and Belarus over the past 27 years, there is enormous animal diversity and abundance. The prevailing scientific view of the exclusion zone has become that it is an unintentional wildlife sanctuary. This conclusion rests on the premise that radiation is less harmful to wildlife populations than we are.
The showdown over Iran’s nuclear program is likely to accelerate in 2013 as sanctions tighten, Israel threatens military strikes, and the centrifuges keep spinning. While most attention will be focused on the two most oft-discussed sites of uranium enrichment — Natanz and Fordow — a third site on the gulf could prove to be this year’s most dangerous nuclear wild card.
Tucked between two sleepy coastal fishing villages, the Bushehr nuclear power plant has long been seen as the “acceptable” face of Iran’s nuclear program. Built by Russian engineers and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, it is already producing electricity, and most nuclear experts agree that it does not merit the same level of concern over weaponization as Iran’s other nuclear sites.
Bushehr, however, could turn out to be the most dangerous piece of Iran’s nuclear puzzle for another reason: haphazard planning and ongoing technical problems mean it could be the next Chernobyl, igniting a humanitarian disaster and explosive economic damage across the oil-rich region.
Technical problems in the past 12 months have raised serious concerns about Iran’s capacity to competently operate the facility. The plant was shut down in October to limit potential damage following the discovery of stray bolts found beneath its fuel cells, the Reuters news agency reported, citing a Russian industry source. Western officials expressed concern about the plant after an I.A.E.A report in November stated that Iran had informed the agency about unexpected fuel transfers. Last week, the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, called upon Tehran to work more closely with the I.A.E.A. “to ensure the safety of the region’s state and its people.”
Meanwhile, Russian scientists have delayed the transfer of operations to their Iranian counterparts. That is now expected to occur in March.
The PBS series Nature kicked off its 30th season with what I thought was a fascinating piece about the fate of the zone around Chernobyl after it was abandoned. In a zone where radiation levels are still 50 times higher than normal, the “dead zone” is a lot less deserted than we initially expected.
GLENN BECK: The UN says the worst nuclear disaster in human history is Chernobyl. The UN says 4,000 people died because of that. That’s the “I hate nukes” people that have adjusted that number. Stu, what are the confirmed dead in — from Chernobyl? Was it 40?
STU BURGUIERE: Uh, I believe it was - estimates ranged between about 55 and 70.
BECK: Okay. Many of those were in the stage that, God forbid, we now start to head towards in Japan. Those were the people that went in and did the work on the containment facility.
BURGUIERE: Yeah, the vast majority. There were some, children, unfortunately afterwards who drank contaminated milk and passed away. You’ve got to believe that Japan is not treating their citizens like the Soviet Union did, and feeding children contaminated milk.
BURGUIERE: So hopefully we can avoid a lot of that.
KIEV, Ukraine – Want a better understanding of the world’s worst nuclear disaster? Come tour the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Beginning next year, Ukraine plans to open up the sealed zone around the Chernobyl reactor to visitors who wish to learn more about the tragedy that occurred nearly a quarter of a century ago, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Monday.
Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 exploded on April 26, 1986, spewing radiation over a large swath of northern Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people were resettled from areas contaminated with radiation fallout in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Related health problems still persist.
The so-called exclusion zone, a highly contaminated area within a 30-mile (48-kilometer) radius of the exploded reactor, was evacuated and sealed off in the aftermath of the explosion. All visits were prohibited.
The government will come up with tour routes that would be both safe for the tourists and be educational for them. Apparently, much of the exclusion zone, from what I have read, has seen radiation levels drop to within safe levels. Don’t expect to get up close with the Sarcophagus, as it’s cracked, leaking dangerous levels of radiation, deteriorated beyond repair and threatening to collapse. A New Safe Confinement has been planned for completion around 2015 or so.
Personally, I wouldn’t mind touring the area, but not without one of those protective suits on!
Proteomics Analysis of Flax Grown in Chernobyl Area Suggests Limited Effect of Contaminated Environment on Seed Proteome
The accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (CNPP) on April 26, 1986 is the most serious nuclear disaster in human history. Surprisingly, while the area proximal to the CNPP remains substantially contaminated with long-lived radioisotopes including 90Sr and 137Cs, the local ecosystem has been able to adapt. To evaluate plant adaptation, seeds of a local flax (Linum usitatissimum) variety Kyivskyi were sown in radio-contaminated and control fields of the Chernobyl region. A total protein fraction was isolated from mature seeds, and analyzed using 2-dimensional electrophoresis combined with tandem-mass spectrometry. Interestingly, growth of the plants in the radio-contaminated environment had little effect on proteome and only 35 protein spots differed in abundance (p-value of ≤0.05) out of 720 protein spots that were quantified for seeds harvested from both radio-contaminated and control fields. Of the 35 differentially abundant spots, 28 proteins were identified using state-of-the-art MSE method. Based on the observed changes, the proteome of seeds from plants grown in radio-contaminated soil display minor adjustments to multiple signaling pathways.