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Wildlife Defies Chernobyl Radiation 612

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the comeback-trails dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The BBC reports that wildlife has reappeared in the Chernobyl region even with high levels of radiation. Populations of animals both common and rare have increased substantially and there are tantalizing reports of bear footprints and confirmed reports of large colonies of wild boars and wolves. These animals are radioactive but otherwise healthy. A large number of animals died initially due to problems like destroyed thyroid glands but their offspring seem to be physically healthy. Experiments have shown the DNA strands have undergone considerable mutation but such mutations have not impacted crucial functions like reproduction. It is remarkable that such a phenomenon has occurred contrary to common assumptions about nuclear waste. The article includes some controversial statements recommending disposal of nuclear waste in tropical forests to keep forest land away from greedy developers and farmers"
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Wildlife Defies Chernobyl Radiation

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  • by Proudrooster (580120) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:02PM (#15170104) Homepage
    Not all damage to DNA from radiation is harmful. Cells have repair systems and can quickly repair breaks in DNA, with no long-term cellular consequence. Alternatively, the repair may not return the DNA to its original form, but may retain its integrity. If cellular damage is not repaired, it may prevent the cell from surviving or reproducing, or it may result in a viable but modified cell. These two outcomes have different results, leading either to deterministic or stochastic effects [Court of Appeals, 1999, pp. 37, 38].

    Source: http://www.yuccamountain.org/price003.htm [yuccamountain.org]
  • Not that surprising (Score:5, Informative)

    by onco_p53 (231322) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:09PM (#15170141) Homepage Journal
    I am not that surprised really, that is what natural selection is about. The DNA coding for many genes also has quite a bit of redundancy built in, naturally with large radiation doses critical genes may be damaged, but given enough time favourable mutants will arise.

    It reminds me of the large scale experiments done on plant breeding [1] where radioactive material was placed in the centre of a field of crops, and favourable mutants were selected. I love telling this story to anti-GE people, who probably eat plant products produced as a result of these experiments done predominantly in the 1970's. At least with GE only a single well studied change is being made.

    [1] http://www.nias.affrc.go.jp/eng/gfs/index.html [affrc.go.jp]
  • by Anonymous Cowpat (788193) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:11PM (#15170147) Journal
    This story was covered in this months (last months now? the next issue is due soon) National Geographic. Definately one of the better featured pieces of the last few months
  • Re:But ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by dsci (658278) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:17PM (#15170175) Homepage
    I remember reading about thirteen years ago something similar about the Hiroshima radiation results on humans. The folks that were alive when irradiated had all sorts of the expected problems, and their kids too but to a lesser extent. The grandkids (and subsequent offspring) were showing no signs of the exposure.

  • by SydShamino (547793) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:54PM (#15170356)
    Unfortunately her site has been shown to be fake. Yes, she took the pictures, but it was on the official, guided tours that are done in the area. (Note that no pictures inside the secure area include her motorcycle, and that there is clearly at least one other person along to take some of the photos.)

    So enjoy the photos as undoctored, but take the entire story line with a large grain of salt.
  • Whooosh! (Score:5, Informative)

    by jamesh (87723) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:18PM (#15170454)
    That's the sound of the joke going over your head :)
  • by moosesocks (264553) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:42PM (#15170560) Homepage
    That's how they produce heavily resistant strands of bacteria (to just about everything -- not just radiation)

    Grow a colony in a petri dish. Nuke it until only 10% remain. Let it repopulate back to the original population, repeat ad infinitium.

    The bacteria you get at the end are frighteningly hard to kill.

    (That said, there is very limited data on the health effects of living in an environment with higher-than-normal (but not lethal) background radiation. Many of the people who survived chernobyl with no exposure to the initial blast(for whatever reason -- were underground at the time, behind a lead wall, etc.) have had no long-term health problems from living in the area.

    Modern science says that these people and animals should be dead. Long-term exposure to low levels of radiation apparently are not as bad as we initially thought they were. Ditto for the animals)
  • by poszi (698272) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:46PM (#15170577)
    Come on. Is anybody really surprized? Scientists for years were questioning the necessity of Chernobyl evacuations and creation of the excluded zone (some evacuations were necessary but the zone was generally too broad). The stress due to evacuations was more harmful than the radiation. In the official UNSCEAR report [unscear.org], these voices were included. People can safely live there now so why not the animals? The radiation level in the "zone" is no more than 10mSv/year. Although it is above the average world natural background radiation (2.4 mSv/year), there are a lot of places where people receive larger radiation doses without ANY harmful effects including Ramsar in Iran, where the doze is 260 mSv/year [uic.com.au], 26 times larger than in the Chernobyl zone.

    It is known (although ignored in strict radiation regulations) that the same dose received in short time is much more harmful than the dose received during longer times. It is probably because the cells have repair mechanism that can cope with small damage over long time while cannot efectively repair large damage in short time. There are even indications that small doses can be beneficial [wikipedia.org] by "training" the repair mechanism.

  • Re:But ... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:23AM (#15170744)
    Chernobyl is not in Russia, it's in Ukraine.
  • Cancer = good? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dire Bonobo (812883) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:25AM (#15170749)
    > But say we take, I dunno, the whole planet...and just douse it in some radiation.
    >
    > Transiently accelerate evolution, yanno?


    If by "transiently accelerate evolution" you mean "give lots of people cancer", then that'd probably work quite well. If you're looking for something more beneficial to humanity than millions of people dying in agony, well, I think you'd best keep looking.

    Don't think that because animals can survive in the region it's somehow beneficial to them. They'd still survive and populate the region if you took a machete and hacked pieces off of each animal, but they wouldn't be "improved" by the process. "Crippled but alive" is an improvement over dead, but it's a far cry from "whole and healthy".

    Don't mistake "not dead" for "new and improved".
  • Re:No suprise (Score:5, Informative)

    by Wolfbaine (116306) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:29AM (#15170762)
    It's not authorative but apparently Elena's story [angelfire.com] is a hoax [www.uer.ca]. According to the linked posting she was 30, not 26 at the time of writing and cannot ride a motorbike. According to the thread she is actually a tourguide [www.uer.ca] with Chernobylinterinform [chernobyl.info]. Sorry for ruining the fantasy.
  • by Phat_Tony (661117) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:30AM (#15170768)
    "Im sure people could live and reproduce there too"

    Yeah, except leave out the "could" part.

    Lots [ccoc.net] of people refused [digitaljournalist.org] to leave the Black Zone, and the government didn't make them. Lots of the ones left behind died of cancer or thyroid problems. But lots didn't. They farm land that's so radioactive the crops have problems, but some of them are still alive. People have children in the black zone, and only 15-20% [hbo.com]of them DON"T have serious health problems.

  • by comp.sci (557773) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:44AM (#15170826)
    Don't act like you know what you are talking. There is a split in opinions, mainly between the IAEA and many scientists over the number of deaths caused by the catastrophe. The IAEA estimates about 60-something deaths total, while most actual estimates list 50,000+ deaths (short and long-term). Please search for pictures of deformed children that are still born today and the terrible effects the radiation had in the long term.
    Please dont falsely publish what your opinion as facts.
  • by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot DOT kadin AT xoxy DOT net> on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:03AM (#15171079) Homepage Journal
    You are aware, I hope, that this sort of thing is going on RIGHT NOW? Sadly, not as a government conspiracy to make killer mutant soldiers, although that would be cool.

    It has, in fact, been going on since.... (checks watch) ...the beginning of time. What we call "background radiation" is doing exactly what you talk about, it triggers mutations during cell division. Just not at a rate high enough to kill us as a species, because we've evolved protective measures to cope with it.

    But if you brought some alien species to our planet, that evolved on a planet (hypothetically) with very low background radiation and had come here in heavily shielded spaceships, and they just started living here and breeding, you can bet that they might have some Funny Looking Kids* as a result of our 2.4 mSv per year [wikipedia.org]. In the absence of such stimulus, their cellular structure would not have evolved to protect their genetic material from ionizing radiation, as ours has.

    I do wonder though whether you could "harden" a species over time using some sort of selective mutation and breeding program to make them more suitable for space travel, though ... probably more work than just shielding the ship properly.

    * This assumes that the aliens aren't funny-looking to begin with.
  • by wolf369T (951405) on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:13AM (#15171105) Homepage
    Exactly. The Cernobyl incident happend because in Soviet Russia nuclear powerplants were build in normal, usual buildings (like a shoe factory, or whatever). When the fire came, the roof of the building just blew up and all the radiation got into the air. In a Western nuclear facilities, the reactor is held in a building made of thick walls and covered by a dome, kept at a pressure below the atmosferic pressure, to avoid any potential radioactive air leak putside the facility. When such incidents occurs (and it did), they simply evacuate and seal off the building. Now one complains about Three Mile Island incident nowadays. Why? Because the damn reactor buidling was built with security issues in mind, not like an ordinary Soviet building. And the Soviets tried to keep the whole thing a secret, until some scientist from Sweeden (!!) (if I'm not mistaken) found out that their air is polluted more that usual. The problem is that now people think that nuclear energy is a dirty one. It's not like that, the Greenpeace guys are assholes, the nuclear power is the cleanest possbile nowadays. It is much more clean to burn uranium that coal, but who cares?...
  • Re:But ... (Score:5, Informative)

    by natmakarvitch (645080) * <nat@makarevitch.org> on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:54AM (#15171212) Homepage Journal
    ... No problems... for the survivors, and those able to have childs.

    Moreover let's scrutinize all this Chernobyl 'material' because disinformation rulz.

    Sept. 2005: the Chernobyl Forum (IAEA, in fact), during a press conference, publishes an abstract of its draft report stating that 4000 people have and will die. But the name of the authors abstract and report was not known, it did not state that those 4000 people are from a small subset of the human beings concerned, the report did not contain the key sentence of the abstract, the report was presented as an UN report albeit it was not (it is published by agencies, and not published by UN), it was only a draft...

    The abstract [iaea.org] (''4,000 people will die from the effects of the 1986 accident at Chernobyl'') was largely propagated (see for example this BBC's account [bbc.co.uk]). It was not definitive nor adopted by the UN, albeit presented as such.

    April 2006; the very same Chernobyl Forum discreetly publishes the definitive version of the report [who.int], where this 4000 figure was replaced (see page 106) by ''9000'', which was stated only for a subset of the Soviet population and for solid cancers (numerous other illnesses are radiation-induced). It was then accepted by the UN. See http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060417/full/440982 a.html [nature.com], http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4922508.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    Therefore those guys induced the whole media into spreading the ''Chernobyl: 4000 people will die globally'' during 7 months, albeit their ''best'' minimization is ''9000 people will die from from solids cancers amongst the approx 7 million who were in the vicinity''

    Lies, damn lies... and the Atomic Guys [makarevitch.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @03:52AM (#15171365)
    ...is not because the science is inheritently dangerous or evil or destructive or anything like that.

    The issue comes down to the inherent agricultural and economic weaknesses of monoculture crops. The economic incentives for farmers to become dependent on GM crops lead to antisocial and destructive outcomes.

    The reason people should object to GM foods is that they are basically software patents on the things that keep us alive. It's an economic objection, not a scientific one. It's certainly not a religious one, and it shouldn't be treated with the distain people rightfully have for Christian luddites who reject evolution and global warming and so on.
  • Re:propaganda (Score:2, Informative)

    by Hurga (265993) on Friday April 21, 2006 @04:26AM (#15171431)
    The problem with nuclear energy is not that it can be unsafe. Of course it can ... if handled as badly as the Russians did it is an unmitigated disaster. Contrast that with the Three Mile Island event, which did in fact melt a lot of equipment but so far as nuclear accidents go was a success because containment wasn't breached.

    Well... there was a lot stuff going on which was way worse.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nucl ear_accidents [wikipedia.org]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_radi ation_accidents [wikipedia.org]

    Hanno
  • Re:Diluting (Score:3, Informative)

    by mpe (36238) on Friday April 21, 2006 @04:31AM (#15171440)
    Actually, we have already discovered DNA repairing abilities. Virtually all organisms have some DNA repair ability.

    Also the contamination now is not the same as the contamination 20 years ago. e.g. the article refers to horses being killed by radioactive iodine. This, along with any other short lived isotopes, is long gone from the environment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @06:29AM (#15171673)
    (posting A/C for privacy reasons)

    My cousin has Hemophilia (unfortunately, he also got HIV through a blood infusion before they were testing, but that's an aside, except that it means he gets to be on all the newest treatment regimes)

    Last year he went to get genetically scanned as part of some experimental gene-tailored thepary thing, and they found that he is the ONLY person in the entire world that has Hemophila at the specific gene location, and that the location was entirely unknown before him.

    They traced it back to his mother, and from there to my grandfather, where the random mutation originates. Before having my Aunt, my grandfather was in WW2, and was a POW.

    In Nagasaki. When the bomb went off.

    Obviously not right IN there, otherwise he would have been toast. But he was right near it, and he saw the mushroom cloud.

    And now there's a new strain of leukemia in the world, my cousin has got leukemia, and his sister is also a carrier, and so won't be having kids.

    Spread across an entire species, we may well be able to adapt. But the effects are going to SUCK for a lot of individuals, and then we'll have to sped a shitload dealing with them. My cousin has probably cost millions to treat over his whole life (so far).

  • by poszi (698272) on Friday April 21, 2006 @08:10AM (#15171956)
    I didn't discuss the effects of the dose people received just after the catastrophe. There is still debate about the number of deaths that can be attributed to the accident. But even this number of deaths is not astronomical. Even though the pictures of deformed children make a good emotional journalistic story, they can be found in any hospital anywhere and they are not a proof of anything. An the UNSCEAR report linked in my post above does not show evidence of increase in deformities.

    Another story is how safe is living in the zone right now. And based on the natural level of radiation around the world, it is safe. Or put in another way, there are places around the world that are much more "contaminated" by natural radiation and no journalists care. Apart from Ramsar which bears the world record in natural radiation there are large areas with elevated background radiation larger [uic.com.au] than the Chernobyl zone. And "people living in these HBRAs [high background radiation areas] do not appear to suffer any adverse health effects as a result of their high exposures to radiation". [sciencemag.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @08:27AM (#15172036)
    Absolutely not. There is complete agreement that around 60 people died from the effects of the accident (afaik 56, but some more will undoubtedly die from thyroid cancer).

    The disagreement is about the estimated additional deaths due to long term effects. WHO expects 4000 death among liquidators and the most exposed civilians with reasonable confidence and around 5000 more among the rest of the worlds population, but that number is so badly supported, it could be completely wrong. Eco-Wackos "expect" anything from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions, but refuse to name any number or cite any study to support their claims.

    As far as real deaths due to increased reates of cancer, congenital abnormities, leukaemia and all sorts of other bad things are concerned, there is no data yet. Increases of some kinds of cancer have been recorded, but also decreases of other cancers. Both are statistically insignificant, so we don't know anything. Don't forget, just because you get cancer near a nuke plant doesn't mean you got it because of the plant. Unless a significant increase can be measured, we cannot make any connection.

    Evaluating statistics is not a trivial thing to do. If a study tells you, it measured a significant increase in something, this only means the probability of randomly observing the results is below 5%. However, if you look at 20 cities this way, you will find one "significant increase" be sheer chance. One such report exists in Germany. If you mention the other 19 cities looked at, where nothing was found, it is no longer significant, though.
  • by j_peeba (860583) on Friday April 21, 2006 @10:12AM (#15172929) Homepage

    Me and few of my friends went to Chernobyl last year. The radiation levels there are indeed not that bad in general but the amount varies greatly within small distances and thus a guide with a Geiger counter is more than necessary. However, there was no place that badly radiated that any plants wouldn't survive there and the nature was really lush there so I'm certain that animals liked it there too. Even the abandoned town of Pripyat, which was hit quite badly by the radioactive falloff, had trees and greenery growing everywhere and there even was a small birch growing on a balcony in the top floor of an old hotel. In terms of radiation we probably were more exposed to it during our flight from Helsinki to Kiev than in our one day trip to the exclusion zone. And if we were to live in the town of Chernobyl (around 200-300 people still live there today even though the last reactor was shut down in the year 2000) we would probably be as safe there as in some residential area here in Finland with radon-rich soil.

    All in all, I don't think it's that much about adaptation anymore.. In its natural state the area would be dense forest and thanks to the low amount of human interference that's what it's slowly turning out to be again.

    Here you can check out some of my photos from Chernobyl. [gfxile.net]
  • by poszi (698272) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:05PM (#15174187)
    Does anyone know if people in these areas have genetic differences that help them survive the higher local radiation?

    Well, I'm not an expert in radiation medicine but it seems that they are indeed less susceptible to radiation. I found an article where they radiated lymphocytes from the blood of Ramsar's inhabitants and observed [health-physics.com] that "inhabitants of high background radiation areas had about 56% the average number of induced chromosomal abnormalities of normal background radiation area inhabitants following this exposure". However, although it is possible that those people are selected by generations of exposure, it is also possible that this is similar to physical training, i.e anybody can be "radiation hardened" by chronic exposure. Another story [aapsonline.org] (warning PDF file):

    "An extraordinary incident occurred 20 years ago in Taiwan. Recycled steel, accidentally contaminated with cobalt-60 (half-life: 5.3 y), was formed into construction steel for more than 180 buildings, which 10,000 persons occupied for 9 to 20 years. They unknowingly received radiation doses that averaged 0.4 Sv--a "collective dose" of 4,000 person-Sv. Based on the observed seven cancer deaths, the cancer mortality rate for this population was assessed to be 3.5 per 100,000 person-years. Three children were born with congenital heart malformations, indicating a prevalence rate of 1.5 cases per 1,000 children under age 19. The average spontaneous cancer death rate in the general population of Taiwan over these 20 years is 116 persons per 100,000 person-years. Based upon partial official statistics and hospital experience, the prevalence rate of congenital malformation is 23 cases per 1,000 children. Assuming the age and income distributions of these persons are the same as for the general population, it appears that significant beneficial health effects may be associated with this chronic radiation exposure.

    I agree that the theory of the beneficial effect of small doses of radiation is controversial and not proven yet. It is a subject of ongoing debate and more research is necessary. But based on the molecular repair mechanism it is not that far-fetched theory.

  • Re:But ... (Score:3, Informative)

    by networkBoy (774728) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:07PM (#15174207) Homepage Journal
    The only way a child is going to be affected is if it is directly exposed or if the mother were to have an uptake of radioactivity large enough to expose (significantly) the child some time later. An uptake of this size would preclude the mother from living long enough to give birth.

    No, it wouldn't.
    If the exposure was enough to damage the DNA in the Ovum (or sperm in the male, should mating have occured shortly after the bombing), then the offspring could have a genetic anomoly without the mother receiving a lethal dose.
    These anomolies could be silent, preclude procreation, be fatal to the fetus, or simply be disfiguring. In all cases where the fetus is not sterile and survives, they will be passed to subsequent generations.
    -nB
  • Re:But ... (Score:2, Informative)

    by natmakarvitch (645080) * <nat@makarevitch.org> on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:38PM (#15174479) Homepage Journal
    > Whenever you see President Bush's lips move, you hear a bold lie.

    Well, maybe, dunno 'bout that.

    Here is the link to Nature [nature.com]

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