It’s been a long time since the accident at Chernobyl but the scientific arguments over the long-lasting effect of radiation on the local wildlife continues. Local ecologists claim that the wildlife is flourishing and now humans are no longer living in the region the wildlife is doing better than ever. On the other side a clique of scientists headed predominately by American based scientists claim that wildlife in the area is still suffering radiation damage from the accident.
Heated debate over long-term impacts of Chernobyl on wildlife.
The debate has gotten quite heated in the past with collaborations between local ecologists and American teams turning bitter. One joint study involving Dr Mousseau and Dr Moller from the US and local ecologist Dr Gashchak led to Gashchak asking for his name to be removed from the paper as an author because he did not agree with the conclusions. Mousseau and Moller refused to do so. In another study Mousseau and Moller worked with another local ecologist Igor Chizhevsky and they published the paper without giving Chizhevsky a chance to read the study before publication despite naming him as a co-author. Chizhevsky disputes the conclusions that Mousseau and Moller came to in the paper. [pullquote]I wasn’t really surprised by these findings – there have been many high profile findings on the radiation damage to wildlife at Chernobyl but it’s very difficult to see significant damage and we are not convinced by some of the claims.[/pullquote]
Because most of the English published papers of the impact on the wildlife of Chernobyl are produced by the American teams it is very easy for the public and the media to believe that life in Chernobyl is still being affected by the radiation from the nuclear accident.
Bird populations can cope with radiation levels of Chernobyl exclusion zone.
However a new study to be published in Royal Society journal Biology Letters indicates that bird populations can combat the effects of radiation much better than previously thought.
Professor Jim Smith, of the University of Portsmouth, and colleagues from the University of the West of England has cast doubt on earlier studies that seemed to show that small birds were suffering ongoing genetic damage due to radiation levels found in the exclusion zone.
What Prof. Smith’s study seemed to show was that the birds anti-oxidant defence mechanism could easily cope with the rise in free radicals produced by the increased radiation levels of the exclusion zone.
Professor Smith, an environmental physicist at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “I wasn’t really surprised by these findings – there have been many high profile findings on the radiation damage to wildlife at Chernobyl but it’s very difficult to see significant damage and we are not convinced by some of the claims.
“We can’t rule out some effect on wildlife of the radiation, but wildlife populations in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl have recovered and are actually doing well and even better than before because the human population has been removed.”
Oxidative stress resistance of birds could be found in other wildlife.
The team believe that the same levels of oxidative stress resistance could be found in other species of wildlife. They also expect the same protection to be displayed in wildlife following the Fukushima accident.
Professor Smith said: “We showed that changes in anti-oxidant levels in birds in Chernobyl could not be explained by direct radiation damage. We would expect other wildlife to be similarly resistant to oxidative stress from radiation at these levels.
“Similarly, radiation levels at Fukushima would not be expected to cause oxidative stress to wildlife. We believe that it is likely that apparent damage to bird populations at Chernobyl is caused by differences in habitat, diet or ecosystem structure rather than radiation.”
Professor Smith has spent 20 years studying the impacts of contamination in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. He was part of a team who last year published findings of a study into the aquatic life found in the exclusion zone. This study also found that life in the lakes and rivers where flourishing again. Even those species most sensitive to radiation levels such as freshwater snails had recovered from the initial accident.