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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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, 2006 @09:57PM (#15170081)

    thats great about the wildlife , its a shame the same couldnt be said about the children and their offspring [ccp-intl.org] for generations to come, of course we need more power stations because they are the cheapest form of power, right [zeenews.com] ?
  • But ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @09:58PM (#15170082) Homepage Journal
    They have only whitnessed this over how many generations? I would imagine with every offspring, you have a handful more mutations. After a while, you have oatmeal.
  • by wombatmobile (623057) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @09:58PM (#15170086)

    He has found ample evidence of DNA mutations, but nothing that affected the animals' physiology or reproductive ability. "Nothing with two heads," he says.

    It's as if the positive changes are being selected in favor of the negative changes.

  • by mark-t (151149) <{markt} {at} {lynx.bc.ca}> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:00PM (#15170099) Journal
    It's called survival of the fittest.

    The mutations that were seriously debelitating didn't survive long enough to breed.

  • by Hao Wu (652581) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:01PM (#15170102) Homepage
    "disposal of nuclear waste in tropical forests to keep forest land away from greedy developers and farmers"

    Hmm.. increasing mutation rates where they are already sky-high, as opposed to the conventional wisdom of minimizing exposure.

    It's like adding nature to nature. I like it.

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:02PM (#15170105) Homepage Journal
    Leaking tanks of high-level bombmaking waste have made a huge area undevelopable. The animals are pleased as punch with this state of affairs.
  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:02PM (#15170106)
    It's not hard to imagine many of the conceptions about radiation exposure may have been a bit over estimated, simply because nobody has really been willing to undergo an experiment of that caliber. I would not believe the animals are enjoying their radiation poisoning however until I was able to ask them.
  • Just goes to show (Score:2, Insightful)

    by aztec rain god (827341) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:05PM (#15170122)
    that human presence is more hazardous to wildlife than radiation.
  • by wherrera (235520) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:22PM (#15170198) Journal
    Most rain forest is inhabited. The article makes the usual stupid urban-centric assumptions about where the people we care about live. Maybe someone should suggest the waste needs to be buried in parks in the author's neighborhood (not really).

    I still think the Sun is the best pace to dispose of the longer half-life (>100 yrs as very very unsafe) stuff.

  • long-term effect (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lawpoop (604919) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:27PM (#15170231) Homepage Journal
    Well, a lot of animals have life cycles under a year. Even bears don't often live past 20, right? And they become sexually mature and reproduce within a few years. The radiation wouldn't interrupt the life of short-lived animals.

    So, not everyone living in an irradiated area will have their flesh falling off, but for us long-lifed humans, the life would be filled with more misery and an early ending. Maybe cancer at 20. And for normal human socities, "old farts" (those over 30) are really what drive the society.
  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:35PM (#15170267) Journal
    Ah yes. Flamebait = I disagree.

    I for one, disagree, with this simplistic argument. For example, when we use coal or fossil fuels, more damage is done, but it is distributed, and less visible (and easy to take pictures of the victims).

    Nonetheless, there is no way in hell the above post is flamebait.
  • Re:But ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NitsujTPU (19263) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:37PM (#15170275)
    pssst. You're usually supposed to provide a counter-example. Otherwise, it becomes two non-experts slapping each other's wrists.
  • Re:But ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vreejack (68778) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:42PM (#15170298)
    No. Every generation tends to get rid of bad mutations. It's called natural selection. While a few alarming but non-fatal mutations will occasionally be expressed, most mutations will simply result in reduced fertility due to terminated abnormal pregnancy. But wild animals are generally fecund enough to make up for the losses.

    Consider that the average human conception has about three dangerous mutations even without Chernobyl. Why aren't we oatmeal? Because a goodly percentage of conceptions never make it past the blastocyst stage due to excessive nasty chromosomal damage, while we lucky survivors had fewer.
  • Sure they can reproduce but I wouldn't exactly be jumping with glee over this "recovery". The damage merely has yet to express itself.

    So what you're saying is, regardless of the lack of evidence for harmful mutation that should be evident, there MUST be harm becase you KNOW that radiation causes it?

    Way to be scientific about this.
  • by subreality (157447) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:51PM (#15170333)
    • Sure enough, life adapts when it has to.
    • The current radiation levels are probably a lot lower than the levels when the area was freshly sprayed with molten core and irradiated particles.
    • The radiation isn't *that* bad. We'd consider it wildly unacceptable if 1 in 10,000 people died over the course of 5 years. Animals won't notice.
    • Getting rid of humans is *great* for wildlife.

    So why are we surprised that any of this is happening?
  • by slashdotmsiriv (922939) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:06PM (#15170402)
    "Experiments have shown the DNA strands have undergone considerable mutation but such mutations have not impacted crucial functions like reproduction"

    That to me sounds as an opportunity for an evolution leap. Most mutations will be bad and disappear eventually, but there is this slight chance that few others will be beneficial for the species and eventually dominate. I wouldn't be surprised if few hundrend years from now we end up with "Bear Chernobilus" that hibernates only half the time and has double the mating seasons ...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:07PM (#15170408)
    It's always struck me how "keep-out" zones like toxic waste areas (farm irrigation drains for instance, see Kesterson) and military bases have become wildlife refuges, simply for the reason that the public isn't allowed in to bother the wildlife or build. The best coral reef diving in the world? Bikini Atoll.
  • Re:But ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by woolio (927141) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:17PM (#15170446) Journal
    More likely they onle "survivors" were those that had some tolerance (or ability to handle) to radiation...

    I don't think they adapted. The ones that didn't survive didn't have the capability.
  • by RalphBNumbers (655475) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:17PM (#15170451)
    Actually, at geosync orbit altitudes, the earth's escape velocity is ~4.3km/s. And you gain a good deal of orbital velocity (~3km/s) when going up a space elevator, which can be converted into escape velocity. So you only really need a delta-v of ~1.3km/s to escape earth's gravity once you're at the top of a space elevator (compared to ~11km/s from earth's surface).

    The earth's ~30km/s velocity in orbit around the sun has no real impact on this scenario. Once you hit earth's escape velocity, you're effectively free of earth's gravity and into the domain of the sun's gravity. You'll get to the sun eventually as long as you don't hit something else first, or accelerate far more to beyond the sun's ~43km/s escape velocity, and I don't suppose it really matters how long it takes waste to reach the sun once it's on trajectory.

    But, in any case, dumping all our radioactive waste in the sun would be a horribly short sighted squandering of a potentially precious resource for the future. Heavy metals don't exactly grow on trees you know.
  • by JanneM (7445) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:19PM (#15170458) Homepage
    in fact, the offspring are pretty much normal.

    The offspring you find in the wild is pretty normal. Of course, just about all offspring that does exhibit deleterious phenotypic expression die very quickly, and is in most cases spontaneously aborted long before birth. Most species can produce a lot more offspring than actually survive to adulthood (and most species do usually produce slightly more, as a hedge), so dramatically higher infant mortality or aborted pregnancies would just be compensated for by having more pregnancies and larger klutches in the first place. Of course, to some extent the mortality is lowered by the lack of human activities. You could hypothesize a donut-shaped overall mortality graph with the senter around the reactor and the outer edge at the edge of normal human habitation. Near the center you'd have high mortality from the radiation effects, and high mortality in human-habitated areas, but in between there'd be a sweet spot, with just a small increase in radiation mortality completely swamped by the lack of humans.

    In fact, it would be really interesting to see a study of klutch size among birds nesting at the plant compared to the same species at various distances away from the area.
  • by Entropius (188861) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:01AM (#15170656)
    That's not a problem inherent in nuclear reactors, or a problem for the people who design them.

    When scientists and engineers create a cost-effective and safe way to do something, it's not their fault if politicking and societal faults get in the way of its implementation.
  • by alchemist68 (550641) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:14AM (#15170718)
    It's simple really... the creatures that survived were more intelligently designed than those that died.

    Well, I have another interpretation of this statement: 'the creatures that died were selected to go to heaven before the other animals with the better-designed DNA.' So, which animals have the 'better-designed' DNA? The ones that died first and are now with the creator, or the ones still left foraging in the forest? Something else to think about. One could argue that the animals who went back home to the creator before the other animals really had the better-designed DNA.

    I hear so much in the media about how life is/was intelligently designed, but no one seems to make the argument I just posted. Death is very much apart of life, and according to supporters of ID, one would think that at least some of them would take sides with my argument, not that I believe the argument, which I do not because I'm a scientist. Good discussion is healthy for everyone.

  • Re:But ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wheany (460585) <wheany+sd@iki.fi> on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:21AM (#15170740) Homepage Journal
    Chernobyl happened 20 years ago. Some species, like mice, have probably had several dozen, if not hundreds of generations. Even dogs rarely live 20 years, and I'd imagine wolves to be the same. If that's true, assuming that a wolf first reproduces on average at the age of 2, there have been 10 generations of wolves after the Chernobyl accident. In any case, there has been time for several generations to be born.
  • by nick_davison (217681) on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:15AM (#15170935)
    Possibly, the conceptions regarding what radiation exposure does to screw up those exposed are relatively true.

    Perhaps the understanding of just how freakishly robust nature can be in coming back from devastating damage is where the misunderstanding comes in.

    In the first generation, massive radiation exposure deaths did destroy the population and had a massive effect on birth rates for that generation.

    However, in nature, ecosystems are just that - systems. With most predators dead and most of the same species competition for their resources, those herbivors that did survive would have been in pure nirvana. Additionally, natural selection would mean that only those most able to survive the effects of radiation would be passing their robust genes on down.

    As the herbivorous population began to rebuild and bloom again from the weird but now ideal environment, those carnivors that could survive would similarly have a minimum of competition and could thus flourish. They too, as the survivors, would be passing on their resiliant genes as well as having larger surviving litters as they were more able to feed them.

    Plus, remember, many animals only need a year or two to reach sexual maturity. 20 years can be a full ten generations.

    In short, nature has all kinds of tricks built in to help it recover very quickly from any given kind of devastation.

    The thing is, whilst this is great for there being an ultimate animal population, it sucks just as badly for specific individuals. Whilst animals will bounce back as a species, individual humans would likely take offense at not getting to be the specific ones who survived and passed on genes.

    Look at Iraq or the 9/11 attacks - a couple of thousand deaths out of a population of many hundreds of thousands of times that is considered utterly unacceptable. In animal populations, a 50% die off in a hard winter or 95% die off in a nuclear accident is recoverable. In modern human populations, a 1-2% death rate would be considered a massive disaster and involve much freaking out. Sure, we might recover, but no individual would consider those kinds of odds even close to reasonable.

    Plus, even if we could be philosophical about humanity bouncing somewhat back in just ten generations and fully in 20-50, from a 95-99% die off, that's still 200 years for a partial return and 400-1,000 years for a full return, given 20 year human generations.

    So, in the scale of things, sure, humanity (albeit in some slightly changed form as different "fitter" ones survived) would likely survive a nuclear holocaust and the animals would too (assuming no climate change etc.). However, given humanities tendency to see ourselves as individuals and only care about our own specific lifetimes, I doubt a 1-5% chance of survival and an ultimate bounceback in 1,000 years is anything any modern human would consider acceptable.

    And, of course, there's also civilization to consider. Animals simply need to recover numbers and are considered bounced back. 1-5% of humanity surviving would likely lead to a massive dark age. Even if we could recover our numbers in 1,000 years (ignoring that modern numbers are sustained soley by technology), we'd likely need several times that before our technologies recovered to the point where we had a good enough understanding of physics to be able to nuke ourselves all over again.

    So... For animals, it sucks for a generation or ten but they do bounce back.

    Bouncing back still isn't something modern man would consider a reasonable option.
  • Re:No suprise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot DOT kadin AT xoxy DOT net> on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:31AM (#15170977) Homepage Journal
    That's good to know, but regardless of whether she's 26 or 30, or whether she rode a motorbike or a Jeep, the real question is whether or not the photos in the photo-essay are authentic. I've been reading through it and by and large I think the text is far less interesting and compelling than the photos.

    Anybody have any clue as to the authenticity of the photos?

    (Particularly, since we're talking about the wildlife in this thread, the ones of the mutant animals [angelfire.com]? Which she admits are not hers.)
  • But, in any case, dumping all our radioactive waste in the sun would be a horribly short sighted squandering of a potentially precious resource for the future. Heavy metals don't exactly grow on trees you know.

    An excellent point, one that I think can't be said enough. While we're burying all this nuclear waste, or tossing it down into the Marianas Trench, or whatever, I think it's important to consider that while the storage method should be able to last as long as the longest-lived dangerous isotopes in the waste (in case we just want to leave it there) it should also have as a design criteria the ability for us to recover it.

    I could easily envision a time in the future, a lot sooner than 10,000 years or even a few hundred, when we might want to get at some of that "waste" in order to reprocess it in ways that are not economically viable, or perhaps technologically feasible, right now.

    This is hugely the case with the type of nuclear energy we use in the United States, where the majority of the fuel rods are comprised of U-238 and only a small percentage of it is U-235, the latter is the fissionable fuel, the former isn't (although it can be bred into Plutonium) and currently we really just use it as a sort of contaminant in order to make weaponization of the fuel difficult. A change in attitudes regarding breeder reactors would instantly make U-238, particularly the stuff that comes out of reactors (which has greater-than-trace amounts of plutonium in it already) a hot commodity. (No pun intended.)

    Frankly given our energy requirements, I think the need to reprocess nuclear fuel waste may occur sooner rather than later, perhaps within a few centuries or even decades, depending on technological developments of other energy sources and the geopolitics of Uranium mining, and thus the solutions for waste storage that are recoverable while also being secure are the best ones.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:03AM (#15171077)
    there MUST be harm becase you KNOW that radiation causes it?

    Perhaps we'll have to agree to disagree, but I would posit that being radioactive and having large portions of your DNA damaged could be classified by reasonable people as "harm". Just because you don't understand the way in which every piece of DNA functions does not mean that everything is fine.

    It's a good thing there are so many people who disagree though. I think they should be allowed to move in to the restricted zone. I have no objection to your becoming radioactive, nor do I object to the wholesale modification of your DNA.
  • by roseblood (631824) on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:59AM (#15171224)
    quote:
    It would work if it wasn't $20,000/lb or whatever. I don't think radioactive waste will affect us from 93 million miles away.

    /quote

    reply:
    Uhm, the Earth is nice and habitable and well lit (for about half the day at most latitudes) because of waste products from a nuclear event. That event happens in a place about 93 million miles away. If the earth lacked it's electromagnetic field and ozone layer we'd be toast right quick double-time like. The sun puts out a boatload of hazardous emissions, and more than a lethal dosage reaches the earth.

    Now, a few thousand (or even million) tons of radioactive waste added to the sun's output wouldn't likely to be noticed due to the overwheleming output of the sun (like lighting a candle outdoors at noon on a cloudless day on top of a snow covered mountain.)

  • by roseblood (631824) on Friday April 21, 2006 @03:02AM (#15171235)
    quote:
    You're calling building a space elevator trivial? Damn, what do you consider hard?

    /quote

    reply:

    FTL travel.
    Time travel.
    Raising of the dead.
    Understanding women.

  • Re:But ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by neoform (551705) <djneoform@gmail.com> on Friday April 21, 2006 @03:05AM (#15171238) Homepage
    "The DNA pool has 'adapted' to the issue."

    So.. the grandkids are now immune to nuclear bombs?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @03:06AM (#15171240)
    I think your argument would be better if you could cite some of your sources (the parent post had couple of links to support his/her point). I guess I could just google it but how do I know I'm looking at the same sources that you used to make your argument?

    Also, pictures of deformed babies don't really support your argument either way except to include emotional aspect to this argument. Deformed babies are born everyday. What I think would be important is the number of deformed babies and type of deformalities compared to "normal" population.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday April 21, 2006 @05:09AM (#15171508)
    To give a reliable overview, you'd have to track ALL the animals there and observe the population. Here is what you would find:

    Some die instantly at the blast.
    Some die within the next hours.
    Some die within the next days/weeks/months.
    Fertility goes DOWN, but those THAT have offspring will have a higher chance to raise them to maturity (less competition).
    Again, of those some will die due to mutation.
    Some will have a shorter life expectance. As long as they mature and can raise at least one generation of offspring, it's not so important.
    Also keep in mind that quite a few animals CAN only raise one generation of offspring, they die after giving birth/laying eggs.

    Bottom line, of course animals will survive, as a group. Humans would too, the body count would be incredibly high and the chance that YOU, as an individual, survive, is incredibly small. But as a species, you can fairly reliably survive a nuking.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @05:22AM (#15171542)
    Could it be? Could there be natural selection at work? Could evolution actually be right? God's gonna be very angry when he hears about this!
  • (Can anyone guess the Movie or Book title?)

    Uninformed and Inaccurate Alarmism, by Michael Crichton?

  • by Dread_ed (260158) on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:23PM (#15175601) Homepage
    It used to be that people would use "suspension of disbelief" to immerse themselves into a story.

    Now it seems like everyone is in need of "suspension of suspension of disbelief." Since when did it become fashonable to read fiction and believe all the hype therein?

    If you read Dan Brown and take him as an authority on biblical history and truth and you read Crichton and ridicule him for bending the truth to support his FICTION you might need to take a step back from the novel you are reading and have a healthy dose of reality. Suspension of disbelief should end when the covers are closed.

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