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Science

Plants Near Chernobyl Adapt To Contaminated Soil 293

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-what-plants-crave dept.
lbalbalba writes "In April 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded and sent radioactive particles flying through the air, infiltrating the surrounding soil. Despite the colossal disaster, some plants in the area seem to have adapted well, flourishing in the contaminated soil."
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Plants Near Chernobyl Adapt To Contaminated Soil

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @08:45PM (#33670908)

    Depends on the type and strength of radiation present. If it's mostly alpha particles then it will be blocked by your skin, but they can still penetrate mucous membranes (like in the nose and around the eyes) or be inhaled and absorbed through the lungs.

    There is also the inverse square law, standing several feet away from a lightly radioactive source is going to be less hazardous than handling it with your bare hands. Hence the gloves.

  • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:02PM (#33671060)
    Troll Alert : It boggles my mind why people still don't accept evolution as being a close approximation of the truth. I say "close approximation" because even physics is an abstract collection of ideas meant to help our human minds approximate physical laws of our Universe. As a species have had numerous examples of evidence be observed or deduced which support evolution. There is observed evidence, as in this case of plants near Chernobyl as well as others like the peppered moth, and qualitative evidence paired with analysis such as in the case of the varied forms of archaeology. These plants represent a micro-evolutionary step, as some people refer to it. Macroevolution(tau) = Microevolution(100000*t) . Differentiation within a species given enough time diverges the species into parts. Simply put, give it enough time and micro-evolution becomes macro-evolution. If you have some math background you will also deduce my other point; no matter what you call it its evolution.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:06PM (#33671088)

    Under the right circumstances, evolution can be quite fast. The geological history of the earth shows many massive die-offs followed by a tremendous flowering of new life forms. If there is an ecological niche available, something will adapt/evolve to fill it.

    Naturally, simpler life forms evolve faster than complex ones. Germs evolve in months. Humans evolve in tens of millennia. Plants are somewhere between the two.

  • Re:BBC, wtf? (Score:3, Informative)

    by mejogid (1575619) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:20PM (#33671184)

    This is how the BBC reports online - single sentence 'paragraphs' under headings that are closer to where you'd really divide paragraphs. I'm not sure why you're so outraged, news reports in general use short paragraphs and fragments. The NY Times, for example, frequently uses single sentence paragraphs.

    It makes articles easier to skim and ensures a consistent style between journalists, I'm not sure what your issue with it is.

  • You are mistaken (Score:5, Informative)

    by pikine (771084) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:34PM (#33671250) Journal

    Read their method.

    They first observe that plants start to spontaneously grow again in contamination sites despite the high radioactivity. Then they brought in seeds from uncontaminated origin. One batch goes to the contamination site, and another batch (the controlled group) goes to a decontaminated area near the site. Seeds grow fine in both batches, showing that seeds from uncontaminated origin is able to survive the radioactivity in the very first generation. The study is about the mechanism how plants naturally resist radioactivity. No evolution is taking place here.

  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:36PM (#33671258) Journal
    There is such a thing as "long day creationism". God may have created the universe over billions of years. The same Hebrew word "day" in Genesis is used in other parts of scripture to mean "ages" or "indefinite amount of time". There is no where in the Bible that says the world is only 6000 years old. That number is simply assumptions some random priest made hundreds of years ago, there's no reason why he must be correct, and I believe he is wrong. I have an article with more detail here. [goodnewsjim.com]
  • by pookemon (909195) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:38PM (#33671270) Homepage
    Yeah - you should probably RTFA - that quote was from a caption of a picture showing the scientists wearing normal clothes, masks, goggles and gloves. None of which would do anything against radioactivity.
  • by jamesh (87723) on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @09:41PM (#33671294)

    Radiation isn't the only problem. Uranium is toxic even without its radioactivity. I suspect that there are a bunch of other byproducts of a reactor explosion that are just as bad.

  • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (kwelris)> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @10:03PM (#33671406)

    Actually, they would do something.

    Primarily they would prevent the accidental ingestion of alpha particle emitters. Shit like polonium like the Russians used on that reporter a few years ago. They're normally harmless, your dead skin cells will stop the alpha particles, but [deity] help you if you ingest them.

    The background radiation levels are easily measurable and it's pretty easy to calculate how long someone should reasonable stay in an area unprotected. I would wager that these scientists actually know something about science, and were mainly concerned with ingesting alpha emitters, not absorbing gamma rays.

  • by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @11:07PM (#33671756) Homepage

    Better let the polar bears know, because it only took them 5-10k years to adapt. That's pretty quick in geologic time.

  • Re:You are mistaken (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 22, 2010 @11:30PM (#33671866)

    Also, how bad can the radioactivity be if they can be in there with home depot face masks and some thin gloves? Certainly not enough to do any immediate damage to plants...

  • by MrNemesis (587188) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @12:24AM (#33672164) Homepage Journal

    Not to mention a nifty "myth busted" moment for that old Hollywood trope of a post-nuclear wasteland.

    The explosion at Chernobyl wasn't a nuclear one, it was steam (due to a massive reactor power spike thanks to the skillful removal of pretty much all possible safety procedures in an already sub-optimal reactor design) that blew open the core and scattered radioactive material over the landscape and into the atmosphere thanks to the lack of a containment vessel. The Hollywood trope of the post-nuclear landscape typically involves the detonation of several hundred megatons of nuclear bombs and, as near as we can tell, is pretty accurate; Chernobyl isn't really comparable to a nuke in either the degree of the explosion or in the amount of radioactive fallout. /nitpick

  • by sirrunsalot (1575073) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @12:51AM (#33672284)

    Did all the plants die off after Chernobyl?

    In some areas, yes. See Red Forest [wikipedia.org]. But that doesn't stop plants and animals from making their way back in, however slowly. Sounds like an extreme environment ripe for adaptation/evolution.

  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:16AM (#33673148)

    Not really.
    The predictions used to involve everything bigger than rats keeling over and nothing but the most hardy stuff surviving in the contaminated areas.
    They've gradually changed to reflect reality and the nature of radioactive decay.
    Feel free to forget that though and pretend you always expected exactly what happened.

    As it turned out an area contaminated by radation appears to be far more hospitable to wildlife than an area heavily populated by humans.

    And humans do live in the exclusion zone.
    Not many but some do.

  • by Caption Wierd (1164059) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @09:02AM (#33674272)
    Oh please. I am a radiation expert in real life. I have been to Chernobyl. It is no more "eerily silent" there than it is in the non-contaminated areas. The surrounding area is mostly farmland and was cleared many years ago. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that the plants and animals are just not as sensitive to radiation as the movies and sci fi shows suggest. That plus the fact that most of the isotopes released (iodine-131 for example) have long decayed away. Humans are more sensitive to the effects of radiation than most other creatures. When we protect humans we end up protecting the environment. That said, even though I full expect the plants to grow healthy in the downwind zone, I would not eat them for fear of further concentrating any remaining contamination they contain and raising my risk of cancer. But I don't smoke, either, for similar reasons.
  • by Toze (1668155) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @11:04AM (#33675764)

    All nature sounds eerily silent to people accustomed to the noise of city living. There is no hum of engines or transformers, no sirens, no screeching tires, no TV or radio. It is shocking like plunging into cold water when you step out of your car and into an environment where noise is the exception rather than the rule. At first, it sounds dead. As you begin to grow accustomed to it, however, you start hearing wind in the trees or grass, birds, etc. It sounds "desolate" because the sounds are different in volume and frequency, not because everything is dead. Moles, deer, and wolves don't make a lot of noise. There's a reason people that go way out into the bush for a long time sometimes come back and don't talk much. Silence is natural.

    I'll grant you that the containment doesn't seem promising. Plants regularly grow in radiation zones, though, afaik; they're usually a lot more radiation-tolerant than we are. Gingko trees survived at Hiroshima (still growing today; http://www.xs4all.nl/~kwanten/hiroshima.htm [xs4all.nl] ), lichens are hard to affect with radiation, etc.

    Totally agreed on Thorium (liquid salt) reactors. I don't like having our nuclear power technology stuck in the 60's.

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