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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 Great Big Bird (1751616) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @07:55PM (#33105260)
    Has there been any indication of how long Chernobyl will be uninhabitable by our species?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The last line of TFA answers you pretty well

      Professor Mousseau said: "If society is ever to learn more about the long term environmental consequences of large scale accidents - and Chernobyl is just one of several - it is important that we all take our responsibilities seriously."

      In other words, we're not sure (yet).

      • by TrisexualPuppy (976893) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:26PM (#33105510)
        I spoke with a bio professor about this a few years ago before I went on a trip to the Ukraine to do the "canned" Prypiat/Chornobyl tour. The abundance of wildlife is misleading. Since there is no human competition, there is going to be a lot more wildlife. But much of it has a higher mortality rate and isn't without its share of defects.

        He mentioned that for humans to live there, we're probably easily looking at 100-500 years before the radiation is at acceptable levels. Once the wildlife have fewer problems (e.g. thryroid disorders), it may be safer for humans to move in. A good experiment would be to take a sampling of various types of wildlife--perhaps the ones most sensitive to certain radiation effects--and record the data on a yearly basis. Once the animals stop succumbing to radiation effects, it might be safe to move in, but you're going to have to consider other problems such as plant sequestration of radioactive isotopes. That birch may burn really well in the wintertime, but how much I-131 has it taken in (just a hypothetical statement)?
        • by mlyle (148697) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:30PM (#33105946)

          Hotter radioisotopes have shorter half lives.

          131I has a half life of 8 days. Basically all 131I released from something like Chernobyl is as a direct fission product of 235U.

          Within a few months, substantially all the 131I is gone.

          The "worst" things released for habitability, then, are the things with intermediate half-lives of a few years. The worst of these is the ~100 gigabecquerels of 125Sb released, and the 500-600 gigabecquerels of relatively short-lived isotopes of Cesium.

          At this point, open-air dose rates and ground dose rates are about 1/100th of the first day dose; further gains are going to be slower because longer-lived isotopes dominate, but will be another factor of 20 in the next twenty years. Viewed another way, someone who spends their whole 75 year life in the present exclusion zone starting twenty years from now will receive a lower dose than someone who experienced the first ten days after the accident, and very few of those people died. (And there's considerable evidence that acute, high doses are much more dangerous than an equivalent dose delivered over a long time).

          (According to UN reports, less than 50 deaths; most of which were emergency workers, but included 9 children who died from thyroid cancer from 131I).

          • by dgatwood (11270) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:22PM (#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 lgw (121541) on Monday August 02, 2010 @01:26AM (#33107214) Journal

              Hey now, there's no problem with sans serif fonts when used as "headers" and advertising text. It's using the blasted things for "body" text that's evil. I think we're stck with it for a while, thanks to all the amateur graphics designers that came of age during the time of really low DPI screens. One day maybe web "designers" will rediscover the difference between readability and mere legibility, and sans serif body fonts can rest next to Geocities in the graveyard of early computing history.

          • Okay thats the physicists point of view. But what about movement in the actual materials? Some will blow away, some will get incorporated into living things and move some distance away before they get excreted or the animal dies. Others will be covered up by the normal deposition of material from elsewhere.

            • by mlyle (148697) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @11:32PM (#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 Artifakt (700173) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:53PM (#33106452)

            It's an interesting comparison you offer, but I'm not sure what conclusion should be drawn as to safety. Half life for the Antimony (125Sb) would be 1008 days, so at 30 years out, we are looking at about 1/16th of the contribution you are projecting for 20 years. The numbers you use suggest human return certainly ought to be possible within 30 years, if not 20, even erring on the side of extreme caution.
                    But, I doubt there is a single mammalian species in the area that has half as long a typical time to reproductive maturity as humans. If a species such as deer or wild dogs is showing declining reproduction when they mature in as little as a single year, humans simply have to be more vulnerable to the same effects due to what's called reproductive differential. It's not really necessary to understand the effects that are causing the population decline in detail, or have a clear stepwise model of all the mechanisms involved, to predict this.* So, my estimate would be to wait until the fast reproducing species are all acting stable, and then wait another couple or three half lives of the Antimony, even if this takes more than 30 years total.

            *assuming the species isn't declining because of being hunted to excess by humans or because we have screwed up the broader environment - rather that it's declining because of something originating with the Chernobyl event - we do still need to make sure of that!

            • by mlyle (148697) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @11:43PM (#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 jhol13 (1087781) on Monday August 02, 2010 @09:52AM (#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.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 02, 2010 @12:30AM (#33106924)

            Am I the only person who read gigabecquerels and immediately thought of 60 foot tall mutant squirrels, with glowing red eyes rampaging around the place? If gigabecquerels is not the unit denoting number of mutant squirrels created by the radiation given off, I think it definitely should be.

            On a related note, what does it actually mean?

          • by necro81 (917438)
            Beyond the radioactive isotopes, I would worry about the release of so many heavier elements, nearly all of which are toxic in miniscule doses. In other words, while Chernobyl may no longer be all that hot, I'd think it's still on par with any other industrial disaster site in terms of conventional pollution.

            And let's hope that the containment sarcophagus doesn't suddenly collapse one day, or you'll end up with a toxic plume of concrete dust.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Eclipse-now (987359)
          You're recommending leaving animals much like us around Chernobyl? I agree, because I want a new button inserted on my workstation for self-defence purposes.

          "Death by radioactive monkeys!"

          One can never have enough monkey-defences.
        • A good experiment would be to take a sampling of various types of wildlife--perhaps the ones most sensitive to certain radiation effects--and record the data on a yearly basis. Once the animals stop succumbing to radiation effects, it might be safe to move in, but you're going to have to consider other problems such as plant sequestration of radioactive isotopes.

          Either it might be safe, or you might have created radiation resistant super creatures that will take over the world!!!!!!!!!!1111One

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:08PM (#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....
      • by martas (1439879) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:19PM (#33105456)
        all true, and besides, even today there are many populated areas in the world that are probably as, if not more, dangerous for humans as chernobyl - http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,1661031,00.html [time.com]
      • The Sci-Fi Channel sent several crew and cameras to Chernobyl, and I didn't see any people living inside the zone. It was still being protected by guards who only allowed people to enter with permission. And the SF crew carried radiation detectors that were "ticking" frequently enough to indicate the area is still filled with radiation. I can't imagine the dictatorial Soviet government allowing people to stay behind... and even after the Soviets fell, it appears the current government still keeps it of

        • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:34PM (#33105574)

          And the SF crew carried radiation detectors that were "ticking" frequently enough to indicate the area is still filled with radiation.

          Just fyi, you can adjust the settings on those things quite a lot, so that they tick with even tiny amounts of radiation. Or so that they don't tick very much with quite large amounts.

          And the scifi channel has an interest in making it look hazardous, since the show is pretty pointless if everything is pristine....

        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:44PM (#33105630) Journal
          The IAEA says that some people returned [iaea.org](though children were apparently forbidden to do so).

          I can only assume that the PR/morale implications of driving away a few grandparently types, who are going to die soonish anyway, at bayonet point just wasn't worth it(and/or they had their hands full with more important things, like making sure that opportunistic looters weren't exporting cesium and strontium coated parts and food items to every grey and black market in the area...).
          • by stephanruby (542433) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:25PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 01, 2010 @11:43PM (#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. "

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          The Sci-Fi Channel sent several crew and cameras to Chernobyl, and I didn't see any people living inside the zone.

          The historical channel documentary DOES mention them though. Including a blurb that they have a lower cancer rate than similar elderly in close city/industrial town that had a lot of chemical pollution.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          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 sens

        • And the SF crew carried radiation detectors that were "ticking" frequently enough to indicate...

          Background levels of radiation have a radiation detector "ticking" frequently, just a little under once a second. In a concrete building it can be higher. A high altitude city it can be 2-3 times again. In an airliner at 40000 feet its even higher still.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dwywit (1109409)
        It would be interesting to do followup studies of these people, especially to establish their natural resistance/tolerance to those radiation levels. Imagine the long-term prospects of a group of highly-tolerant individuals - do they have highly-effective repair mechanisms, highly-effective elimination systems, or what else?
        • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:50PM (#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.
      • 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.

        Gee, when you put it like that, it's hard to imagine why anyone would be concerned about nuclear power in their neighborhood :-P

      • by vlm (69642)

        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.

        What do the old people eat? Oh, wait, let me freaking guess. The local large mammal population, you know, the one thats mysteriously not recovering, according to the fine article.

        It makes sense. Put yourself in place of a starving 80 year old dude. Hmm. I could starve to death tomorrow, seeing as I can't drive my Buick to the local Dennys, because the city is abandoned. Or, I could poach yonder slightly radioactive deer and die of cancer in 50 years. So, uh, 80+50= ... hmm ... anyone wanna share some

      • by Muad'Dave (255648)

        ...digestive track...

        Unless you're built rather differently than everyone else, your digestive system is a tract, not a track. I sincerely hope your output does not loop back around to your input.

      • A friend of mine is a scientist who was in the zone a month ago. He told me that while the roads are mostly safe, even a couple of meters outside the roads the radiation quickly rises to levels that will be pretty much deadly for prolonged exposure.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by RabbitWho (1805112)
      I read an article in the Times about elderly people who are living there now. They say the whole thing has been exaggerated by the media and it's perfectly safe. Of course there's some places where they can't go... I don't really understand how they get their food delivered.. anybody got a link to the people I'm talking about? They were definitely inside the Chernobyl dead zone, but whether they were in the town itself or another nearby town which had been evacuated I can't remember.
      • I read an article in the Times about elderly people who are living there now. They say the whole thing has been exaggerated by the media and it's perfectly safe. Of course there's some places where they can't go... I don't really understand how they get their food delivered.. anybody got a link to the people I'm talking about?.

        Yep, here [mediawhack.com] you go.

      • by vlm (69642)

        I don't really understand how they get their food delivered

        Its called poaching. Then the dudes in the white coats get mystified and write papers and slashdot articles asking why the local large mammal population isn't recovering as quickly "as its supposed to".

        If I were 80 and literally starving to death, and there was a slightly radioactive deer in my yard that would kill me of cancer 50 years from now if I eat it, then I guess I'm having venison tonight.

    • by Deathlizard (115856) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:46PM (#33105648) Homepage Journal

      I've seen estimates from 200-10000 years depending on how close you are from the reactor.

      What I don't understand, is why isn't this area used to build more nuclear reactors? It's not like there's anyone there to scream NIMBY, or that it'll be a bigger disaster if another reactor goes boom, which shouldn't happen if they use a modern reactor design. The only issue I see is employee safety, and that could be virtually eliminated given a reactor that is designed to shield the workers from the outside excess radiation.

    • Breaking-News: radiation kills stuff.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I clicked on a Slashdot headline for Chernobyl. I skipped the article, I skipped the summary, I came here looking for the sarcastic "Breaking News!" post, so I could make this post in reply.

        My post would be modded down, except now I've said this sentence, I've invoked Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle upon my post. It will be modded either -1 or +5, and I will not know until I observe it's status tomorrow.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JWSmythe (446288)

      It's inhabitable now. Is it safe? Not really. You won't turn green and melt into a puddle of goo, nor grow extra limb, but there will likely be side effects.

      I don't quite agree with the method of "count how many animals there are". That is fine if the effect happens rapidly. If a mating pair of animals are able to grow to maturity and reproduce at least twice, the population will remain constant. If they produce 3 or more, the population will grow. It doesn't necessaril

      • by Sesticulus (544932) on Monday August 02, 2010 @07:42AM (#33108602)

        I live in Florida. We have a decent alligator population here. I haven't seen one in the wild in over 20 years.

        Having moved from FL just a few years back I have a hard time believing this unless you were living entirely in your parent's basement. This is slashdot so that is certainly a possibility, but hardly anyone has a basement in FL so I'm just confused.

  • by feedayeen (1322473) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:00PM (#33105304)
    On the bright side, giant insects are expected to make a HUGE comeback.
  • But how does Chernobyl's effect on wild life compare to the effect of a reservoir created by a Hydroelectric Dam?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by belthize (990217)

      At hydroelectric dams all the birds and mammals rapidly evolve webbed feet and an astonishing ability to hold their breath.

      • by gardyloo (512791)

        And the fish which had previously been quadrupeds and air-breathers can sigh in relief. It's good for everyone!

  • motorcycles (Score:2, Funny)

    by ifeelswine (1546221)
    i hear wildlife keeps getting runover by a motorcycle driven by a hawt chick
  • Humans & Mammals (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EEPROMS (889169) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:12PM (#33105408)
    I cant help but think maybe the decline in some mammals could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by interiot (50685)
      This isn't a chicken-and-egg problem. Scavengers existed before humans evolved.
      • by khallow (566160) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:02PM (#33106142)

        This isn't a chicken-and-egg problem. Scavengers existed before humans evolved.

        Given that it is wholly irrelevant to the original post, I wonder why you brought it up. Let's read the original post again:

        I cant help but think maybe the decline in some mammals could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.

        Is EEPROMS claiming that Chernobyl or prior human habitation responsible for evolving foxes, badgers, etc? No. What he is noting is that humans generate a lot of waste that opportunist scavengers (I use the term loosely since most such animals have several niches that they can inhabit), or sometimes their prey, eat. It is implied here that there is less food available for these mammals now that humans aren't around. That's a reasonable assertion to make since farmland in particular generates a lot more edible waste than wilderness (after all, you're deliberately growing food while you aren't in the latter case).

        It's reasonable to me that it'd take a few decades for farmland to revert to mostly non-food producing vegetation (especially given that early colonizing plants like grasses, berry plants, etc tend to be good for herbivores and omnivores to eat as well as the residual farm crops). So we could see (IMHO would likely see) a decline in mammals just due to the reforestation of farmland.

    • by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:00PM (#33106126) Homepage Journal

      could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.

      and lawyers, politicians, and cable companies.

    • by hey! (33014)

      Well, some species like rats are so dependent on humans that your hypothesis is almost certain to be right. But if species that are less dependent or even don't tolerate human presence well are also declining, then it seems almost certain its radioactivity. Not all mammals are so dependent on people, just (not surprisingly) the ones you're most likely to come in contact with.

      Mammals are a lot more susceptible to radiation than, say, insects are. Don't know about reptiles, fish, birds etc.

  • Question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Windwraith (932426) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:17PM (#33105440)

    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?

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:30PM (#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 @08:31PM (#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.

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Waffle Iron (339739) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:42PM (#33106006)

      Or is this a whole different level of radiation and thus incomparable?

      WWII A-bombs released a few kg of fission products at high altitude. Chernobyl had tons of the stuff at ground level. A more direct comparison would be the ground level thermonuclear tests the US did on Pacific Ocean atolls. These also released fission products measurable in tons. (Most fusion bombs use the fusion mainly as a neutron generator and actually get the majority of their yield from fission of cheap U238.) Parts of those atolls are still uninhabitable.

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:56PM (#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.
      • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

        by khallow (566160) on Monday August 02, 2010 @12:34AM (#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.

        • Yes properly said it would be a nuclear excursion rather than an explosion.

          Another theory is that the C + H2O -> CO + H2 reaction alone could have explained the second explosion, with the hydrogen having a path outside that had been blasted open by steam in the first explosion. It isn't clear exactly how much of a chemical explosion it was.

          Whatever it was that made half the reactor core blow through the ceiling, the big problem was the filthy reactor guts being outside in the open and on fire after h
    • You can live in Hiroshima [wikipedia.org]. There is a memorial building that was at about ground zero that survived (atomic bomb dome). It was also one of the few concrete structures in the city. Consider that it was about a 40kT bomb. We don't have much nukes that small anymore.
  • That darn radiation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alcoholist (160427) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:23PM (#33105492) Homepage

    Not wanting to be captain obvious here, but there is a mostly covered pile of radioactive crap at the centre of it all. Humans don't live there, maybe the animals figured that out too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Interesting question whether or not animals are capable of detecting high radiation levels.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by EmagGeek (574360)

        They're certainly capable of detecting the sudden lack of garbage laying around to live off of...

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @08:31PM (#33105556) Journal
    There is a difference between the study in this story, and the previously reported (this is my understanding). The previous stories seem to count the number of wildlife now and compare them to what was there before the accident. It is not surprising that without people, the number of animals and creatures will increase.

    This study compares the number of animals to the number that would be present in a similarly uninhabited, uncontaminated zone. It appears that there are fewer than would be expected in a non-contaminated zone. There are accounts of pigeons with tumors and such.

    These findings are not surprising, but it's good to know what's going on.
    • So basically they are estimating if not guessing what would it be without radiation. As for migrating birds -- you also have to look at where they migrate to/from. It is possible that bad things happen on the other side of the migration (although it is clear that Chernobyl is more likely to be the case).

    • by tomhath (637240) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @09:08PM (#33105788)

      This study compares the number of animals to the number that would be present in a similarly uninhabited, uncontaminated zone.

      Actually, this study counts the number of species, not the number of animals; in their words the exclusion zone shows a "reduced biodiversity". So what the study really shows is that some species are holding up better in this environment than other species. Darwin would approve.

  • Sure, mammals, are declining, but how are the invertebrate overlords faring?
  • that the science behind the godzilla creation myth is not plausible?

    don't mess with my religion man

  • I noticed that this article contains many single-sentence paragraphs.

    My instructors back in school frowned upon this practice.

    Did the editor not catch this?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      I noticed that this comment contains many single-sentence paragraphs.

      My instructors back in school smiled upon irony.

      Did the mderators not catch this?

      +1, funny!

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday August 01, 2010 @10:59PM (#33106494) Homepage

    The article leaves me feeling not very enlightened.

    When the Chernobyl disaster happened, two changes were made simultaneously to the local ecosystem: (1) There was radioactive crud spread around. (2) Humans left the area.

    It's fairly obvious that #2 should have a huge positive effect on many species. Having humans turn habitat into a city, and then drive around it incessantly in cars, is the worst thing that can possibly happen to any plant or animal's habitat. (Of course there might be a few exceptions, like mice and cockroaches, or plants that benefit from artificial irrigation, or certain plant species that tend to thrive in disturbed areas like road cuts.)

    Effect #1, radiation, could be either positive or negative. A wide variety of data shows that low levels of radiation are beneficial to almost all living things, until you get to a certain dose at which the net effect starts to become negative. This is called radiation hormesis. Surprisingly, there is even a radiation hormesis effect on reproduction. That is, organisms like mice and fish actually produce more, healthier offspring when they're exposed to small doses of radiation. Radiation doses at Chernobyl are not uniform. You can look at contour maps that show how much radiation there is in different places. The dose is much, much higher when you're closer to the ruined plant. So roughly speaking, I'd imagine that some organisms a little farther out from the site would benefit from hormesis, while others closer in would be harmed. In any case, I would expect #1, radiation, to be a much, much weaker effect than #2, removing people.

    The article makes it sound like they just tried to do surveys and evaluate biodiversity, and different people are getting different answers about whether biodiversity is up or down. Seems to me that this tells us absolutely nothing. If biodiversity has increased, it could be because effect #2 is extremely powerful, outweighing significant harm from #1. Or it could be that both #1 and #2 are positive (you get a net hormesis effect). If biodiversity is down, I'm still not sure it tells me anything. Maybe it just means that #2 is negative, for some counterintuitive reason. After all, you kick an ecosystem like crazy (by evacuating all the people), and it's not necessarily easy to tell what will happen. Maybe eliminating humans made it a better environment for predators, which made it a worse environment for prey animals. Maybe eliminating humans allowed a small number of weed species to take over instead of a larger number of ornamental and cultivated plants.

    • by hyades1 (1149581)

      House sparrows, crows, raccoons, squirrels, robins, rabbits, rats, mice, feral cats, coyotes, garlic...the list goes on (and on, and on). All of these undomesticated species do much better with humans around than without. You seem to know what radiation does, but have little idea of what it's operating on.

  • I have a stupid question because I don't know anything about radioactivity. How does the inhabitable duration and dosage of Chernobyl compare to Hiroshima?

A LISP programmer knows the value of everything, but the cost of nothing. -- Alan Perlis

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