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Earth Science

Chernobyl Area Survey Finds Lasting Problems For Wildlife 201

Posted by timothy
from the click-click-clickclickclickclick dept.
ninguna writes "The largest wildlife census of its kind conducted in Chernobyl has revealed that mammals are declining in the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant. While some stories seem to indicate nature is recovering, the actual picture isn't quite so great."
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Chernobyl Area Survey Finds Lasting Problems For Wildlife

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @07:08PM (#33105364) Journal
    Purely a question of risk tolerance. The "forcibly expelling your innards out of both ends of your digestive track within hours or days" levels of radiation were mostly confined to a fairly small area around the reactor(or especially unlucky downwind areas when it was on fire) and are largely gone. I still wouldn't set up camp inside the sarcophagus, next to the big pile of still-quite-zesty mixed fuel and melted containment; but the exclusion zone is a much larger area.

    There are already some inhabitants, mostly stubborn old people who didn't want to leave their villages and either didn't believe in the seriousness of the threat or considered their deaths from natural causes to be fairly close at hand anyway. They aren't growing third arms or anything.

    I suspect that any attempt to repopulate the area would generate upticks in unusual childhood cancers, birth defects, and chromosomal abnormalities that would make an epidemiologist cringe; but that a self-supporting human population would be totally doable. Consider, for example, how people lived before antibiotics. Mortality from bacterial disease on a scale that would horrify a modern first world observer; but, at a population level, people kept plugging right along. Living in the exclusion zone would probably be rather similar; but with cancer and such instead of infection. Rates that would be considered wildly unacceptable; but would fall well below those required to actually render the population nonviable....
  • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @07:30PM (#33105536) Homepage

    I am not too informed about the radiation levels and how they work, but I have some curiosity about how this compares to the spots where the A-bombs where dropped in Japan during WWII. Are those areas populated again? If so, how long did it take for them to be habitable again? Or is this a whole different level of radiation and thus incomparable?/

    The radiation levels here are much worse than Hiroshima or Nagasaki, partially due to the fact that those were comparatively small airborn detonations. That means that the radioactive byproducts were mainly spread by wind to a large area. My impression also is that meltdowns produce more dirty products than deliberate detonations, but I'm not sure. Whatever the reasons, Nagasaki was safe enough to have rebuilding begin shortly after the war, and the same was true of Hiroshima. Both are once again, large, functioning cities. Radiation levels remaining are almost statistically negligible.

  • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

    by Renraku (518261) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @07:31PM (#33105564) Homepage

    Chernobyl will be uninhabitable for longer than anywhere an A-bomb has hit. For starters, the goal of an A-bomb is to convert energetic radioisotopes into thermal energy. Unfortunately, a lot of radiation is given off as well, and the process isn't nearly 100% efficient. Some radioactive materials are left behind and some more are created by neutron activation.

    Chernobyl has a big pile of radioactive death sitting within the casket they built around it. Chernobyl was a 'dirty bomb' compared to the usual nuclear weapons. By 1950, people were rebuilding and living in the bombed out area, so I'd say radiation levels weren't much above background, if any. Most of the radiation threat passes after a few days. The only things you have to worry about are radioactive iodine and other fallout elements that might enter your body.

  • by Erikderzweite (1146485) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @07:54PM (#33105684)

    The exclusion zone has been evacuated, there are however large areas in Ukraine and even larger ones in Belarus that are not exclusion zones, but villages were evacuated too. However people who didn't want to leave stayed there (mostly old people). Eating food and living in such areas is considered harmful in long-term. Yet it is possible for humans to survive there at the cost of much higher cancer rate.

    >So what he's basically saying is that humans are more dangerous to animals than radiation. Make sense.

    That is the very thing disputed and criticized in TFA. It is clear, however, that no two-headed bramins are walking the grounds there.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:50PM (#33106052) Journal
    Because humans have annoyingly long generation times, and the technology for producing areas of high radiation is relatively new(never mind the ethics...) I don't think that we've had the chance to find out, nor are we likely to in under a few centuries. Humans just don't reproduce that fast.

    There are some species that(usually as a side effect of adaptations to resist either dessication or extreme heat) exhibit impressive radiation resistance and we have been able to study those.

    D. radiodurans will shrug off 1,000 times the lethal dose for a human without ill effects that it is incapable of repairing. Even 3,000 times the lethal human dose will leave ~1/3 of a colony alive.

    T. gammatolerans does pretty much what it says on the tin, in addition to growing at alarmingly high temperatures.

    Then you have radiotrophic fungi [plosone.org], which can do something analogous to photosynthesis; but with gamma radiation. Populations of the stuff have been seen sliming up the walls inside the ruins of reactor 4...

    None of this is immediately applicable to humans; but all these organisms depend on DNA, just like us, so observing their defense and repair mechanisms may tell us something.
  • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

    by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:56PM (#33106102)
    Chernobyl was pretty nasty; it released several hundred times as much radioactivity into the air as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions did. The reactor filled up with steam and went into a runaway power generation loop, which first caused a steam explosion, then a more powerful nuclear explosion.

    The nuclear explosion itself wasn't very impressive. It had as much power as about 10 tons of TNT, which was several orders of magnitude lower than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions. No one outside the USSR even knew about it until that incoming shift of Swedish nuclear plant workers kept setting off the radiation alarms.

    But one thing to remember with nuclear explosions is that the explosion itself isn't everything. Since their instruments were all fucked up, they thought the reactor wasn't related to the loud explosions they were hearing. Meanwhile since their reactor core had partially blasted its way through the cheap-assed bitumen roof that the Soviets used as a reactor containment vessel, and since the graphite moderator was on fire, it lit the roof up in a bunch of places. In general graphite fires are quite rare, but bitumen is the least desirable material to have underneath smoldering red-hot radioactive graphite in the open air. The fires emitted foul black clouds of fission products across the countryside. Most of the fission products had actually been generated much prior, not during the brief explosion itself. The reactor had presumably consumed more fuel at that point than could ever be carried by a single bomber.
  • by dgatwood (11270) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:22PM (#33106254) Journal

    Minor nit: you should probably write out Iodine the first time you use it instead of abbreviating it. The d**n sans-serif fonts used on many websites including this one makes a capital i indistinguishable from a lowercase L, so when I read your post, I was completely and utterly baffled for about two minutes before it hit me that it was a capital i. *smashes head into desk*.

    On a lighter note, if I could go back in time and prevent one person from being born, it would be the inventor of the first sans serif typeface.

  • by stephanruby (542433) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:25PM (#33106276)

    The excellent photo-journal [kiddofspeed.com] of this girl who rides her motorcycle within the dead zone will answer all your questions, and then some.

    Basically, the official dead zone is a much larger area than you think, and even within the dead zone there are various degrees of risk/safety to consider. The old people that have come back are basically farmers, from the various pictures she took. And even then, if someone were to bring them food, the risk wouldn't be the same for someone who's only driving by and someone who's actually living there.

  • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:35PM (#33106344)

    I could definitely imagine those modular, compact sized nuclear reactors that are looking to be built in short order dropped off and wired up in that area. Not like anyone is going to bitch, and I doubt exterior radiation is going to matter much to an automated system (hardened if necessary, of course).

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:47PM (#33106414) Homepage Journal

    Its possible she faked it [snopes.com] but nobody really knows.

  • by mlyle (148697) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:32PM (#33106664)

    That's a very complicated story.

    Movement thanks to ground transport, blowing away, etc, makes things better: in addition to the decay mentioned above, the isotopes tend to become less concentrated. Ditto for stuff being sufficiently covered up.

    But bioaccumulation is factor, too: eating something that you hunted in that area could be rather hazardous because of concentrating effects of the food chain. The same is true to a lesser extent for things grown.

    Still, even if there's a 100x bioaccumulation factor of some isotope, that just means you need to wait 7 more half-lives before things are safe.

  • by mlyle (148697) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:43PM (#33106704)

    It's a good point you raise.

    My original simple model for the point of discussion left out the effects of birth defects, as well as things other than death that can cause human misery (e.g. cancers). Also, bioaccumulation was left out. It's purely a back of the envelope approximation.

    When you mention the Sb in particular, it is likely to do a bit better (locally) than the half life would indicate, because antimony oxides are fairly soluble and are likely to find transport in water.

    As others have mentioned, no doubt some of the effects on animal populations are because of the radioactivity itself, but others are probably due to humans leaving and no longer leaving so much yummy trash around (and other related effects as the area transitions and "goes wild").

    If I'm done breeding, and there was some good reason to, I'd be happy to live there in another 10 years. The risk over my remaining lifespan would be pretty small, I think.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:43PM (#33106706)

    The excellent photo-journal of this girl who rides her motorcycle within the dead zone will answer all your questions, and then some.

    Not a photo-journal.

    It's more of a photo-novel. She didn't "ride solo on her bike through the dead zone" as the site would suggest.
    See [google.com] for yourself.

    Or, in her own words: [archive.org]
    "I am being accused that it was more poetry in this story then reality. I partly accept this accusation, it still was more reality then poetry and it is why this site has millions of people visiting each month from the day when I put it online and I think I have right to say that people love it. "

  • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

    by khallow (566160) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @11:34PM (#33106944)

    The reactor filled up with steam and went into a runaway power generation loop, which first caused a steam explosion, then a more powerful nuclear explosion.

    There's no evidence that a nuclear explosion happened (and I strongly disagree that it'd only be 10 tons of TNT equivalent, if it did). I gather there was a hydrogen explosion which had prior been generated from the reaction of water with hot graphite and metals.

  • by Vectormatic (1759674) on Monday August 02, 2010 @02:15AM (#33107676)

    The photos are real, even if most of the story is bunk

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Monday August 02, 2010 @04:18AM (#33108130)
    Ever been to anywhere? Lots of deformed people there, if you are looking for them. *

    * Results may vary in Antarctica.
  • by jhol13 (1087781) on Monday August 02, 2010 @08:52AM (#33109492)

    AFAIK worst thing in Chernobyl is not any single element itself.
    Rather it is "hot particles", that is very small particles with high radiation output. A single particle (perhaps size of tens of micrometers) can cause radiation burns.

    My estimate is that nobody is going to live there for several hundred years, a storm might release those particles from ground.

  • Re:Question (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 02, 2010 @09:19AM (#33109838)

    Nearly 100% efficient?! You're discussing this from the entirely wrong end of the spectrum. 600mg of uranium converted to energy in Little Boy, out of 64 kg. It's not nearly 1% efficient!

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.

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