Real World Half-Life: Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Still Harming Animals
Photo: Chernobyl reactor after explosion. Source: Soviet Authorities23 Years Later...A study published in the Royal Society Biology Letters shows that the nuclear reactor explosion on April 26, 1986, at Chernobyl is still making victims. "Scientists Anders Moller and Timothy Mousseau determined that insect, bird and other animal populations have dramatically diminished there in the two decades following the disaster." Read on for more details.From Discovery News:
Throughout this latest study, the researchers controlled for natural population reduction factors, such as soil type, habitat and height of vegetation. They found that the abundance of invertebrates decreased with increasing radiation.
The radiation wasn't just higher right at the plant site, either.
Due to factors such as wind direction, the nuclear blast released radiation "in a very patchy manner, so while the highest areas of contamination are closest to the plant, there are also areas of higher radiation quite a ways away from the reactor," Mousseau said.
Radiation isn't the only problem. Ecosystems tend to fall into equilibrium with time, but if something rapidly kills off the populations of some species, others that are more resistant, or that migrate from elsewhere, might fill their niches and keep them from bouncing back.
Thankfully, a big part of the problem with the Chernobyl explosion was horrible communist management and serious reactor design flaws (partly because they needed access to the core to get plutonium for nuclear weapons, as far as I know). Modern reactors are much, much safer, but nuclear safety is still not something to take lightly. I'm personally more worried about badly secured and aging stockpiles of nuclear warheads than about active nuclear power plants, but an economic argument can be made about these plants (many need huge subsidies, cost more than planned, etc).
And don't forget, this study was about animals in the area... But the human tragedy shouldn't be forgotten. It's a whole other article, but if you want to know more, a good place to start is the Wikipedia page.
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