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Wildlife Defies Chernobyl Radiation 612

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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  • No suprise (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @09:58PM (#15170083)
    I am sure there were horrible mutations at first, but mother nature has a strange ability to adapt rather well. I am sure their genetics are altered in strange ways, but I am sure they will live on.
  • Radio Acive Pollin (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Photar ( 5491 ) <photar&photar,net> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:09PM (#15170140) Homepage
    Could radio active pollin spread and cause problems?
  • Anti-human (Score:2, Interesting)

    by duncan bayne ( 544299 ) <dhgbayne@gmail.com> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:25PM (#15170224) Homepage
    > The article includes some controversial statements recommending disposal of
    > nuclear waste in tropical forests to keep forest land away from greedy
    > developers and farmers

    Well, that's not significantly more anti-human than passing laws preventing development of natural resources, is it? It's just more honest.
  • Controversial? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:25PM (#15170225)
    The article includes some controversial statements recommending disposal of nuclear waste in tropical forests to keep forest land away from greedy developers and farmers

    I'd say less controversial and more hysterical. Of course, were I one of the animals being exposed to that "developer repellent" I'd might feel a bit differently.

    Larry Niven [geocities.com] had some similar ideas, once upon a time.
  • by DeadCatX2 ( 950953 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:28PM (#15170238) Journal
    This is ENTIRELY hypothetical...

    But say we take, I dunno, the whole planet...and just douse it in some radiation. Just enough to cause a variety of small, minor mutations in a very large (or the entire) population.

    1) Any ones that result in sterility are gone, end of story...

    2) Lots of small minor mutations is more like tickling the DNA, whereas massive exposure and major mutations is more like kicking it. This results in a greater survival ratio.

    Transiently accelerate evolution, yanno? Maybe the dinosaurs didn't all die off, but collectively evolved one day when the magnetic poles flipped, dropping the protection from the Sun's radiation, and everyone was exposed to just a bit too much radiation. *shrugs*

    Regardless, I think it's almost dishonorable not to study the effect radiation had on nature. Those poor cells are suffering, aren't they? Don't make them suffer for nothing.
  • long-term effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gansch ( 939712 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:46PM (#15170310)
    I took classes from a professor studying worms and spiders in the Chernobyl area, and he found remarkable genetic mutations (e.g., changes in the number and size of chromosomes, large sections of additional DNA, etc.) and behavioral changes (e.g., worms switching to from asexual to sexual reproduction).

    Since these organisms have such short lifespans, there have been ample generations since the nuclear accident for the organisms to go locally extinct or mutate into different species. But, that has not been the case. These local populations have continued to survive without deleterious effects on the population level.

    Populations of organisms with longer lifespans may take longer to recover to pre-blast levels (although from the sound of the article and my previous knowledge the opposite has occurred) and may experience a genetic bottleneck effect (which may be countered by mutations), but genomes are resiliant and it is unlikely that the populations would never recover.
  • Re:No suprise (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aqua OS X ( 458522 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:50PM (#15170323)
    I highly doubt this has anything to do with mother nature adapting in a relatively short period of time. Stuff like that is for comic books. Radiation levels, while still incredibly unhealthy, have dropped considerably.

    I would imagine animals and plantlife are not thriving or living as well as they should be. Radiation levels in outlaying areas have probbaly dropped to levels that allow life to screw faster then it is consumed by disease and cancer.

    Heck people that lived in the chemical waste dump of Love Canal could still have kids... but in a toxic situation like that you're gon'a have a flipper baby or two, and life expectancy is going to be fairly bad.

    This woman motorcycled through Chernobyl not to recently. In many parts radiation levels were safe enough for her to travel around. As I recall she carried a geiger counter, but didn't wear a radiation suit. She didn't venture around the epicenter of disaster, but she took a lot of rad photos, and saw wild life.
    http://www.angelfire.com/extreme4/kiddofspeed/jour nal/articles.html [angelfire.com]

    But who knows, perhaps radiation has produced a race of super bears which are immune to nuclear weapons. If so, someone should notify Steven Colbert.
  • propaganda (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wall0159 ( 881759 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @10:50PM (#15170329)
    There's potentially huge amounts of money to be made if the world 'switches' to nuclear electricity generation. There are strong vested interests in promoting nuclear technology as the successor to coal and oil.

    I live in South Australia, which has approximately 30% of the world's known uranium, and if we started selling it, we could (as a state) make a ton of money - probably more than the goldrush that helped some other Australian states.

    I've noticed a _lot_ of (what I would describe as) pro-nuclear articles recently, and I'd put this article in the same basket. I read this article as containing spin to make nuclear radiation/contamination sound less dangerous than it really is so that the public is less wary of adopting nuclear electricity generation, with the associated dumping of radioactive waste.

    I'm all for having informed debate regarding the use of nuclear power, and it's possible that in some cases nuclear power is the best option currently available - especially if augmented with wind/tidal/solar power. I don't think we'll see such debate though - there's simply too much money involved.
  • Diluting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zbyte64 ( 720193 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:01PM (#15170386) Homepage
    This isn't terribly suprising as the people exposed to this radiation and their offspring probably procreated with people who were not exposed. This would mean the introduced changes would be diluted every generation. I would not go and jump to the conclusion that our DNA have some undiscovered repairing abilities or some other "x-men" type ability...
  • Re:No suprise (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Fordiman ( 689627 ) * <fordiman AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:36PM (#15170535) Homepage Journal
    Query: How is parent retarded?

    Sure, sure, he didn't go into serious detail, but he did state that adaptation occurred.

    Most likely, those creatures that did not become sterile from the effect of radiation on their gonads had one or another sort of duplicated gene set (it happens a lot). Their children would then be less suceptible to radiation poisoning and their children less still. Eventually these animals would have a full or more duplicate of their entire DNA.

    Those who suffered ill effects from it (ie: the animal equivalent of downs syndrome) would be less likely to survive, and so the ones that didnt - those that have mutated enough genetic machinery to allow such a duplication to exist (probably a small percentage, but a seed nonetheless) - would be more likely to propagate.

    So yes, mother nature adapts. Mother nature is a generalized term for things on the cellular level that 'just happen'. It's not retarded, it's shorthand for those who don't feel like thinking too hard about a subject.

    I mean, unless you think it was the noodly appendage of Our Lord, the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
  • Re:But ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fordiman ( 689627 ) * <fordiman AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @11:50PM (#15170597) Homepage Journal
    Actually, that's how per-species adaptation works. Some survive a problem, others don't. The DNA pool has 'adapted' to the issue.
  • Re:propaganda (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:00AM (#15170653)
    Of course uranium is a natural source of energy. All sources of energy are natural. For that matter, so is petroleum, which also has to be refined in order to be useful. Or perhaps you meant "renewable", which for the most part is just enviro-speak for "solar energy". Besides, if we reinstitute the breeder-reactor program, nuclear power is also pretty damn renewable.

    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. Yes yes, there was a minor release of gas but the two events cannot be compared in terms of severity, no matter how much some people want to. Besides, the French seem to be doing a substantially better job with their nuclear program, which just goes to show that the bulk of the concerns about nuclear power (at least in the U.S.) are politico-economic more than technological.

    The problem is that society wants an absolute, iron-clad guarantee that a particular technology is safe ... and you can never have that, not when dealing with the energy levels a high-tech civilization requires. As an engineer I can tell you this much: everything is a trade-off. Everything is: it is the nature of our reality. A trade-off is a decision, a balancing act between the costs, risks and benefits of different approaches to solving a problem. In this case, by choosing to not develop nuclear power to any useful degree we are choosing to go down a different path, one which also has serious consequences. As fossil-fuels go, coal isn't exactly safe you know, and supplies of fuel oil and natural gas will continue to be uncertain for the foreseeable future. At some point in the not-too-distant future we will have to make a decision, whether we want to or not.

    You simply cannot have your cake and eat it too, at least not in the context of our current technology.

    Sure, you can promote tidal power, wind power, solar power or {insert favorite alternative energy source here}. If such a source is going to generate enough power to significantly offset our use of fossil fuuels it will have economic and environmental impact, probably serious ones. Worse yet, none of them are really energy-dense enough to handle our power needs. Take a typical 2400 megawatt nuclear plant for example. Yes, they are very expensive, but so would be the physical plant required to generate and store enough solar power to provide the same level of service. Regardless, we (for a variety of reasons) may choose to make that investment. But we'd best do it with our eyes open and be willing to accept the downsides of whatever road (or roads) we decide to travel.
  • by Mistshadow2k4 ( 748958 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:32AM (#15170774) Journal
    It has been postulated that life wouldn't exist the closer one gets to the center of the galaxy because of the ambient radiation, and, in fact, a system with life would need to be positioned the same as our solar system is to avoid the radiation. But if life on Earth can adapt to high radiation so quickly, how much that does that improve the chances of life near the rim of the galaxy where the ambient radiation is higher but not so incredibly high?
  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:34AM (#15170785) Homepage
    I'd imagine that pollen is accounted for just as dust, and outside of a specific radius the concentration is likely to be safe. Even if an irradiated pollen yielded a plant far from Chernobyl, the concentration of radiation would still be very low throughout the plant as a whole.
  • Animal Mortality (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @12:53AM (#15170861) Homepage
    Think about the natural causes of mortality for wild animals, are radiation effects going to have a substantial impact on populations? Cancer is largely a disease of the old.

    • Infant Mortality
    • Starvation
    • Predation
    • Accidental Injury
    • Disease
    • Genetic Damage and Cancer
  • Re:propaganda (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:23AM (#15170953)
    That is a very good point! It really depends on whose estimates you use. The EPA is currently demanding the industry can guarantee safe housing for unprocessed spent fuel for 1 million years, which is absurd as the waste would pose little risk in this amount of time. Not only that but the guarantee would be beyond our engineering capabilities.

    We certainly could not financially support the EPA directive with the flat tax imposed now. The money we have saved is tagged to be used for the construction and operating cost of the Yucca Mountain facility. The original intention was for this to be a permanent home for spent fuel but as time progresses it is being seen more as a temporary resting place before the fuel is used again.

    While there is certainly no right answer, I personally think that the true cost to society of storing the reprocessed waste for ~300 years would still be lower than the cost (considering externalities) of using coal to generate the same amount of energy. I contend that I would rather have a vitrified block of nuclear waste than an atmosphere full of fossil fuel waste, but it is hard to say in the long run which poses a larger threat.

    There are still more exotic means of disposal on the horizon such as using the earths subduction zones to get rid of the waste. The argument that leaving the waste behind for future generations is irresponsible is certainly valid but it is just as irresponsible as what we are doing now with fossil fuels.

  • by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:41AM (#15171003) Journal
    The article pointed out that the radiation has kept humans out, and allowed wildlife to thrive.

    ...He went on: "I have wondered if the small volumes of nuclear waste from power production should be stored in tropical forests and other habitats in need of a reliable guardian against their destruction by greedy developers".

    Let me assure you, this is no protection against greedy developers. In our own city (Chesapeake), there is a section called Deep Creek that had a dump. Said greedy developers wanted to develop said dump; local residents fought it on the basis of contamination and danger to homeowners. Said developer waited twenty years until said homeowners no longer had the strength or will to say said statements before the zoning board. Then the City Council quietly gave permission, after which a housing development was built upon said dump, and after that homeowners discovered trash and contamination under their houses. Said houses had to be destroyed, said developer profited and moved on, said city council bided their time, and in the end only the purchasers were hurt, as far as I know. Said greedy developers will not be stopped by so minor a thing as radiation in the way of their profit.

    Enough said.

  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @01:42AM (#15171004) Homepage
    Gather around. Come one, come all. Time for the great DigiShaman to make a prediction... Ahem

    Let see now. According to the extreme environmentalists, it's human activities that are causing the greatest harm to the planet. We also know that while radiation is bad for humans, it's not bad for natural life. Ergo, radioactive material is *good* for the planet.

    Soon, I expect environmentalists (the extreme wacko kind, not all mind you) to endorse nuclear technology. Not just any technology, but the kind designed with shoddy engineering. You see, they need a "Trojan Horse" inside human civilization to lower our population count. Nuclear disasters are the way to accomplish this goal.
  • Re:No suprise (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @02:09AM (#15171092)
    This woman motorcycled through Chernobyl not to recently. In many parts radiation levels were safe enough for her to travel around. As I recall she carried a geiger counter, but didn't wear a radiation suit. She didn't venture around the epicenter of disaster, but she took a lot of rad photos, and saw wild life.

    Those pictures turned out to be a hoax. The story was covered here.

    My wife and I recently went on a tour of the Nevada Test Site [google.com] when we were in Las Vegas several weeks ago. These tours are arranged by the Department of Energy which outsources them to a private firm. Essentially you ride around on a bus in the Nevada Test Site all day and get a really cool tour of the blast sites, the craters, the house, the rails, etc. Unfortunately the tour does not allow cameras. As for us, we figured we have no plans to ever have any kids anyway and so we signed up for the waiting list. We got in on a cancellation and ended up on a bus full of senior citizens with our tour guide, Ernie, with decades of experience in the atomic testing program. Ernie tended to downplay the safety implications of the testing done on the site. Well, he did mention the leaks and accidents but his voice dropped really low whenever he talked about them... he used the phrase "well, I make no bones about it". Whenever Ernie's voice dropped, you could look out the window and the bus would be passing a fenced area along the side of the road with big scary RADIOACTIVE signs at regular intervals fighting to stay visible above the grass. Ernie was a trip. If you are interested in a tour of the Nevada Test Site go soon while Ernie is still alive to be your tour guide.
  • Re:But ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Friday April 21, 2006 @03:15AM (#15171256) Homepage Journal
    Acto one study I read about, about 75% of all human fetuses are spontaneously aborted in the first three weeks, due to lethal mutations.

    Since the average human carries 25 to 75 lethal genes (depending on which study you believe), a high level of spontaenous "natural selection at work" should be no surprise.

  • Re:No suprise (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Friday April 21, 2006 @03:31AM (#15171298) Homepage Journal
    As I recall, some of the photos were determined to be setups. Regardless, http://www.kiddofspeed.com/ [kiddofspeed.com] is a marvelously effective photo essay, so frankly I don't *care* if some parts are less than authentic.

    As to the deformed calf, it's possible within the species; genes for similar deformities already exist. Could be whatever was a weak point in the genome that gave rise to similar mutations, is also a weak point that can be assaulted by radiation. (A theory I made up this very instant, but even so seems quite logical.)

    Or it could be a matter of radiation exposure at a certain stage of development; frex, if you expose canine fetuses to high radiation during the first trimester, they can be born hairless and with stunted limbs.

    I live in an area with relatively high levels of natural radiation due to uranium deposits. We see a lot of deformed carrion beetles (big black desert "stink beetles"), which I've never observed anywhere else. Some of the deformed beetles behave normally, others seem sluggish and confused; some have very thin shells, or are oddly shaped (some seem to get along all right, others aren't really viable), or are oversized. As I've not observed oddities in other insects, it's hard to pin this on the background radiation, but a person sure has to wonder.

  • Re:But ... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 21, 2006 @06:21AM (#15171658)
    That would be a casual statement,

    if not that adaption (in eukaryotes) has
    never been seen so quickly, and radition actually interferes with adaption so profoundly, and evolution is assumed to be mostly neutral.

    One would have assumed that radiotion increases the mutation rate to levels that kill the population entirely; but it seems that the fact that we do reproduce sexually saves us from this happening (a theoretical phenomenon called Muller's Ratchett in asexual species).

    So yet -- it is something curious indeed.
  • Wrong Conclusion (Score:2, Interesting)

    by berbo ( 671598 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @10:51AM (#15173366)
    The implication of the article (and some of the posters in this discussion) is that "Radioactivity isn't so bad". I have to disagree.

    The chronic effects of the lingering radioactivity may not show for a long time.

    I think the evidence presented (if true) says more about the general influence of people than it does about the health effects of radioactivity. Human occupation is seriously disruptive to the biodiversity of an ecosytem.

  • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Friday April 21, 2006 @11:54AM (#15174080) Journal
    Though it had limited use.
    The one place it worked well was on the user home dirs. Quickly got to see who's accounts were bloated well above the average. Seing it as a bunch of 3D objects allows your brain to use the visual centers to perform averaging functions and such, much like the current GPGPU effort now that I think about it ....

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI