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Earth Power Science Technology

Forests Around Chernobyl Aren't Decaying Properly 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the this-is-what-happens-when-forests-aren't-educated-properly dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Smithsonian Magazine has an article about one of the non-obvious effects of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown: dead organisms are not decomposing correctly. 'According to a new study (abstract) published in Oecologia, decomposers—organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay—have also suffered from the contamination. These creatures are responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem: recycling organic matter back into the soil. Issues with such a basic-level process, the authors of the study think, could have compounding effects for the entire ecosystem.' The scientists took bags of fallen leaves to various areas around Chernobyl and found that locations with more radiation caused the leaves to retain more than half of their original weight after almost a year. They're now beginning to worry that almost three decades of dead brush buildup is contributing to the area's fire risk, and a large fire could distribute radioactive material beyond Chernobyl's exclusion zone."
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Forests Around Chernobyl Aren't Decaying Properly

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  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @03:52PM (#46494267)
    SF authors were right!
  • Solution... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mark_osmd (812581) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @03:54PM (#46494271)
    Go to other areas of Europe and Russia that have normal forest breakdown, grab some soil and dead leaves and spread them in select locations around Chernobyl. If the fungi and mold was damaged back when the radiation was really high it can be reseeded now that it's lower
    • Re:Solution... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:02PM (#46494319)
      I would have thought that the fact that the experiments with leaves brought there from elsewhere decaying slower demonstrate that merely bringing foreign organisms (the collected leaves are not sterile, of course) is not going to help.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        They're not sterile but it's not merely one organism that attaches early to the leaf that is responsible for the decay. It's a collection of different organisms that each take their share of the organic matter for their own needs. Hence the note of various fungi and insects. Notably, a large part of plant root systems are often heavily intertwined with fungi which either directly or indirectly take part in the breakdown of organic matter around the plants. Hence, just dumping soil onto a new area might

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ToddInSF (765534)
          Lets say there is a fire, the radioactive, dead plants burn, some of the radiation is diluted from the area, over time wouldn't that process cause plant and microbial life to eventually replenish itself in the area ?

          Seems to me the natural process of living systems is to do exactly this, get the things that hamper living systems dilute enough to re-establish living systems...
      • Yea, the radiations slowing it down, sure. But literally crop dust the area with microbes once a year and I bet you'll see a hell of a difference.

      • by whit3 (318913)

        I would have thought that the fact that the experiments with leaves brought there from elsewhere decaying slower demonstrate that merely bringing foreign organisms (the collected leaves are not sterile, of course) is not going to help.

        It's a full set of organisms you need; if, for instance, the earthworms were missing, a few strips of sod (or waiting for 'foreign' worms to migrate in) would be effective, but a pile of leaves wouldn't.

      • by MatthiasF (1853064) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @05:19PM (#46494779)
        "The results were telling. In the areas with no radiation, 70 to 90 percent of the leaves were gone after a year. But in places where more radiation was present, the leaves retained around 60 percent of their original weight."

        Areas with no radiation presently showed decomposition (70-90% reduction in weight).

        Areas with radiation presently showed decomposition (40% reduction in weight).

        So, yes, it seems like it would help. A 40% reduction is better than 0%.
        • by pspahn (1175617)

          TFA calls it suffering. I'm not sure that's the word I'd use to describe microbes, fungi, and insects failing to decompose. I mean, who is the author to say with authority the desires and emotions of these little creatures?

          • suffer

            1. To undergo or feel pain or distress: The patient is still suffering.
            2. To sustain injury, disadvantage, or loss: One's health suffers from overwork. The business suffers from lack of capital. Pspahn's karma score has suffered since he became a pedantic arse.

      • by icebike (68054)

        I would have thought that the fact that the experiments with leaves brought there from elsewhere decaying slower demonstrate that merely bringing foreign organisms (the collected leaves are not sterile, of course) is not going to help.

        The collected leaves are not sterile, but that isn't where the bulk of the organizes live. They live in the soil.
        The best thing to do is leave it alone and let organisms that are tolerant of radiation evolve.

        Perhaps we have a solution to carbon sequestration!. (I kid of course).

    • by mikael (484)

      Some long-lasting foods are made through the use of various types of radiation; UV light and gamma rays. These break up the DNA of bacteria and fungii which don't have advanced self-repair mechanisms like mammals.

    • Maybe the Russian troops that are "passing through" can bring some of that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rtb61 (674572)

        Perhaps you should reference a map first. Chernobyl is one of the booby prizes the EU gets to keep, along with the Ukraine debt and the tens of thousands of neo-nazis. Of course as an 'applying' member of the EU Ukraine will no longer be able to do a middle man attack on the gas supplies between Russia and the EU when it comes to extorting reduced gas prices (that application might drag on quite a bit, seriously who Europe would want tens of thousands of neo-nazis, just the right mix to set of mass conflic

    • The obvious thing is obvious - however there is value in finding out what is going on here so we can be better prepared for other, possibly larger, radiation incidents or acts of war later.
    • by jafac (1449)

      Every time I come on to one of these threads about radiation, usually dozens of very knowledgable people come on and say that this kind of radiation is less than a bannana, and therefore, safe. I can't imagine what could possibly be causing such observations of slowing decay. Maybe those scientists are part of the world coal-burning conspiracy who are trying to raise the earth's climate to make it more habitable for the aliens, and are spreading false stories to discredit that clean, clean, safe and relia

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      Not only this, but different areas (including differing microclimates) compost at different rates. The claim is meaningless unless they knew what the local rate was before the incident, AND to what degree it was accelerated by human activity (frex, foot traffic pulverizes dead leaves so they decompose faster).

  • Controlled fires (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lisias (447563)

    Controlled, man initiated fires can be the solution.

    Problem is: who will do the task, and how to keep it controlled?

    And yet, the area to be safely burnt at one time can be so small that the time needed to carry on the task can be impracticable.

    • Re: Controlled fires (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:04PM (#46494341)

      I think they meant the smoke alone from the fire would cause radiation to spread.

      • by FatdogHaiku (978357) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:36PM (#46494517)

        I think they meant the smoke alone from the fire would cause radiation to spread.

        Oh come on, get a half-life already!

      • by Lisias (447563)

        The smoke spreading is not linear to the size of the fire - the more the heat, stronger and stronger hot air will go up.

        Hundreds of sequential (and mutually exclusive) small fireworks will spread smoke in a smaller area.

        Not a good solution, I know. But probably the lesser of two evils.

  • by The Grim Reefer (1162755) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:02PM (#46494317)
    Sounds like the perfect place to sell burial plots to the rich. Their corpses can remain intact for thousands of years. And the fear of radiation poisoning will keep grave robbers away. As a bonus, it will save more land from being developed into wasted space. And this land that can't be used by the living will become useful as well. Sounds like a win-win to me.
    • by mikeabbott420 (744514) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:06PM (#46494353) Journal
      It is a trade off, lead lined suits to visit the grave but the flowers you leave last so much longer!
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      Sounds like the perfect place to sell burial plots to the rich.

      Better yet, sell the rich bottled Chernobyl water.

      "Drink Chernobyl Water and you will never age! It will keep you young forever!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by relisher (2955441)
      Sure, let's put dead bodies into highly radioactive zones and not expect people to have a zombie scare.
    • by gtall (79522)

      Or....to Kremlin criminal bosses. The Ukraine ought to offer Tsar Putin a final resting place, cheap. And he'll remain there to inspire the faithful since he won't decay very well. Hell, they could even promise to put up one of those Lenin "I-Just-Cut-One-for-the-Proles" statues. Instead of striding forcefully into the future, they could give him a tail and tuck it between his legs in a galloping romp headed back towards Mother Russia. Who knew she was really a Mother-in-Law?

  • Fire = Good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:14PM (#46494393)

    The fire "risk" is natures form of healing. By re-distributing the radiation the area can heal.

    We humans take issue with the idea of the radiation spreading outside "the zone" but nature doesn't.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian (840721)

      Because nature has shit loads of fusion reactors all over the planet that go critical all the time.

      • Re:Fire = Good (Score:5, Informative)

        by Ferrofluid (2979761) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:37PM (#46494527)

        Chernobyl was a fission plant. Mankind has yet to create a viable fusion power plant. And even if we were able to make a fusion plant, it would be impossible for a fusion reactor to "go critical" since "criticality" is not even a concept applicable to fusion reactions.

      • Re:Fire = Good (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jc42 (318812) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:57PM (#46494631) Homepage Journal

        Because nature has shit loads of fusion reactors all over the planet that go critical all the time.

        Actually, that's not all that far off from reality. Except that, in our solar system, nature has only one fusion reactor, which went critical roughly 4.5 billion years ago. Nature has been powered by the output of that one runaway fusion reactors ever since then. And life here has had to handle the fact that our power supply is available only about half of each day, so each species needs to develop ways of surviving a total failure of the power plant every day.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by macpacheco (1764378)

        Yeah go right ahead and conflate the most wildly unsafe nuclear power plant in the world with all of the others with a secondary containment building. With proper safe design.
        Go ahead and spread all of your anti nuclear paranoia non sense.
        While we are at it, why don't we push the disapearance of Air Malasia Flight 370 as an excuse to ground all airliners, eventually leading to shuting down the whole airline industry for good. It's the kind of wisdom the anti nuclear wise man are proposing.

        • Re:Fire = Good (Score:4, Insightful)

          by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Saturday March 15, 2014 @07:37PM (#46495449) Homepage

          Or how about we get some perspective. Chernobyl nearly bankrupted the USSR, and the cost of Fukushima is looking like it will be in the range of hundreds of billions of Euros/USD. The loss of one airliner doesn't really compare. In fact all their air accidents in the history of the world don't really compare.

          • How much 9/11 losses caused on the American economy ?
            Studies place the price tag at 2 trillion USD !
            Again, then why are we letting the airlines continue to operate ?
            Can we honestly guarantee a 9/11 style attack will never, ever happen again ?

            A Chernobyl style accident is essentially impossible to happen again. It wasn't the first stupid idea coming from Russia, the stupidity continues right now (in other areas). Nukes without secondary containment were a stupid idea only the Russians would be stupid enough

            • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

              How much 9/11 losses caused on the American economy ?
              Studies place the price tag at 2 trillion USD !

              Very little of that was directly due to the aircraft though, most of it was self-inflicted damage due to the way the US responded.

              Nukes without secondary containment were a stupid idea only the Russians would be stupid enough to pursue.

              Actually the root cause was exactly the same in the case of both Chernobyl and Fukushima, and most other commercial nuclear accidents. It's not stupidity per-se, it's that safety is expensive. The USSR was building reactors on the cheap, and TEPCO was running them on the cheap. It's not really stupidity, it's simply the reality of trying to run something that is expensive to make

              • Chenobyl would still be functioning just fine if their management hadn't have forced them to run "emergency drills" by actually causing real-life overloads and not informing workers what was going on...they basically blew themselves up. Japan's reactor would also still be fine if it hadn't been in the path of the tsunami. So the root cause isn't the same...one was from human stupidity, the other was from a natural disaster. I do root cause analysis at my job, be very careful of the built-in bias that eve
                • How is building a nuclear reactor in the path of a tsunami also not "human stupidity"?
                • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

                  Other plants were hit by the tsunami and didn't go into meltdown. TEPCO didn't spend money doing the necessary safety upgrades even when they were told to do so, and their staff were not trained well enough.

                  Nuclear could be perfectly safe in theory, but in reality human nature makes it dangerous.

              • Re:Fire = Good (Score:4, Interesting)

                by macpacheco (1764378) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @03:38PM (#46500181)

                I don't agree with your quoted cost for Fukushima cleanup.
                The pattern so far has been of wildly inflated and some fully made up numbers about Fukushima, so I don't agree with any predictions until they actually materialize.

                >Very little of that was directly due to the aircraft though, most of it was self-inflicted damage due to the way the US responded.
                The same argument can be made that the Fukushima exclusion zone is much larger than necessary and that nuclear power plant remediation procedures are far more costly than necessary. Should we accept that the LNT model is wrong, the real procedures that will have to be undertaken would be reduced by about 75%.

                The reality is if the LNT model were right, there would have been about a hundred times more cancers from Chernobyl than actually happened.
                Remember the prediction of millions of cancer deaths from Chernobyl ?
                Countries no longer under the influence of Russia that were very close to Chernobyl report very little cancers compared to the dire predictions. So the massive cover up doesn't quite pan out.
                And there is people living back in the Chernobyl exclusion area, in defiance of the military blockade, people drinking radioactive water.
                If the LNT model were right, they would have cancers by the buckets, which isn't actually happening.
                The reality is the only real serious risk in both Chernobyl and Fukushima are Thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine, which has an 8 day half life, so 99.99% is gone in 80 days (10 half lives means 99.99% is gone).
                Our bodies deal with radiation all the time. We have radioactive Potassium-40 and Carbon-14 in our bodies decaying all the time. We breathe radioactive Radon all the time, cause it seeps from Thorium decay inside the earth.
                We can avoid fire in order not to get burned.
                We can't avoid radiation, it's everywhere.

                Nuclear is the safest energy source out there, and it doesn't have to be expensive, if we stop with the sensationalism and approach it with responsibility and sobriety.

                • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

                  I don't agree with your quoted cost for Fukushima cleanup.

                  The cost includes all the compensation and benefits that have to be paid. People who were made unemployed when their jobs disappeared had to go onto welfare. Just today TEPCO agreed to pay the full cost of a load more homes and all the possessions in them that were lost. Even if they could be decontaminated in a reasonable amount of time much of it has decayed over the years, the property and land is worthless and many people have already moved on and can't go back because of work.

                  The same argument can be made that the Fukushima exclusion zone is much larger than necessary and that nuclear power plant remediation procedures are far more costly than necessary. Should we accept that the LNT model is wrong, the real procedures that will have to be undertaken would be reduced by about 75%.

                  The problem is that we don

        • by dbIII (701233)
          That plant won a safety award the year before the accident so was not "the most wildly unsafe nuclear power plant in the world".
          Some of the "nuclear paranoia" had the positive effect of a large number of improvements to places that were potentially even worse. We didn't completely stop using nuclear reactors for civilian purposes in 1986 did we? I think you really are overstating the "nuclear paranoia" to a ridiculous point.
          • The nuclear paranoia of Fukushima led Germany to stop using nuclear power and switch to coal.
            The French government has announced highest levels of pollution this week all over France, guess what's the cause: German coal power plants.

            • That wasn't in 1986 was it?
              • No, Germany hurriedly shutdown its oldest nuclear reactors after Fukushima, under the fear of Bavarian Tsunamis and eventual low intensity earthquakes that are non events.
                Now not only their emissions are up, as well as Germany is even more dependent on Russia, which make them weak in dealing with Mr. Putin's plan to rebuild part of the USSR empire.

          • Re:Fire = Good (Score:4, Informative)

            by macpacheco (1764378) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @03:22PM (#46500073)

            Chernobyl had:
                No secondary containment structure
                A few serious safety risks, which combined with the lack of a secondary containment really made it an accident waiting to happen
            Both those bad features had been known for over a decade as a huge safety risk. Only the USSR would dare build a reactor without secondary containment. That is indisputable, and should Chernobyl had a secondary containment, it would have been an accident a little worse than Three Mile Island

            Fukushima was an old Gen II reactor. About as old as the oldest operating reactors in the world. That accident would have been impossible in a modern AP1000 since the reactor has passive cooling capabilities, able to go for days without any external power. Besides they had been warned both that its Tsunami defenses were inadequate and that they shouldn't put all diesel generators in the basement.

            In both cases it's like trying to use a safety problem of a first generation 737 as a reason not to fly 787's or using a safety problem on a A300 as a reason not to fly A380s.

            New nuclear isn't cheap but isn't expensive either. China, India and South Korea are building new reactors on a cost effective basis. There are cheaper solutions that are even safer, with the real problem being that vested nuclear suppliers don't want to invest on something that will give them less revenue.

            Nuclear upfront investment is expensive, but nuclear reactors are far cheaper to operate after built even than coal, like 1/3rd the cost.

            Even natural gas exploration and distribution kills people every year. Hundreds worldwide. It's just that those deaths are one or two here, one or two there, plus there's no sensationalism about industrial accidents that kill a few people.

            Over the last 10 years there was a single nuclear related death in the USA, a uranium mining accident. And if you go back 50 years, there are very few deaths related to nuclear stuff.

            France actually produces less total electricity from nuclear than the USA, but its over 75% of their total electricity, also with just a handful of deaths over a long period.

            Should just the diesel generators for Fukushima been fine after the Tsunami, it would have been an example of how resilient nuclear can be in the face of extreme accidents.

            • by dbIII (701233)

              That is indisputable, and should Chernobyl had a secondary containment, it would have been an accident a little worse than Three Mile Island

              Oh yes it most certainly is disputable - the steam explosion was huge and it's almost certain that a containment vessel similar to the one at TMI would have been destroyed.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Actually, yes. We know of 16 natural fission reactors on Earth, that mother nature ran for hundreds of thousands of years.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_nuclear_fission_reactor

      • Your sarcasm is ironically correct. Only nature has fusion reactors, mankind is still trying to figure out how to build one.

    • Generally, yes, but in the fear expressed at Chernobyl is apparently that it will render airborne radioactive particles that are currently sequestered in vegetation, which apparently the natural organic decay process would retain.

    • by quantaman (517394) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @07:33PM (#46495433)

      The fire "risk" is natures form of healing. By re-distributing the radiation the area can heal.

      We humans take issue with the idea of the radiation spreading outside "the zone" but nature doesn't.

      But in what patterns does it get redistributed? Does it get diluted down to homeopathic levels thus curing everyone in the Ukraine of cancer, or does it get redistributed in concentrated form, creating pockets of high radiation outside the exclusion zone causing Ukrainians to get superpowers and kick the Russians out of Crimea.

      • sounds like a great science fair experiment from the Venture School for Gifted Geniuses lol...only one way to find out, let's go start some fires!
      • Does it get diluted down to homeopathic levels thus curing everyone in the Ukraine of cancer,

        This is ironic, because there is actually a serious scientific hypothesis that small doses of radioactivity are good for you. (In contrast to all other "homeopathic" ideas which are idiocy and/or fraud)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]

      • by mpe (36238)
        But in what patterns does it get redistributed? Does it get diluted down to homeopathic levels thus curing everyone in the Ukraine of cancer, or does it get redistributed in concentrated form, creating pockets of high radiation outside the exclusion zone causing Ukrainians to get superpowers and kick the Russians out of Crimea.

        If the latter will they stop with the Russian Federation or will they decide to invade Eastern Europe?
    • The fire "risk" is natures form of healing. By re-distributing the radiation the area can heal. We humans take issue with the idea of the radiation spreading outside "the zone" but nature doesn't.

      We humans also like attributing "intent" to natural systems - like "balance" and "healing" - but nature doesn't.

      Nature doesn't "heal", in the same way that it doesn't "hurt". Organisms just do what they do. Their interaction and interrelation - the patterns our human brains identify are just temporary states. Thing are always changing, but they usually change so slowly (ie. we live so briefly), we think we perceive a "system" and call it "nature" and think it somehow cares what happens.

      There is no intent in

  • ...as I'm worrying right now about Fukushima. At least in Ukraine they aren't pumping sea water to cool it, which afterwards gets dumped in the ocean for further spread via currents - http://borderlessnewsandviews.... [borderless...dviews.com]
    • Actually that is safer.

      At bikini atoll were the USA tested nuclear weapons on ships. The sunken ships pose no radiation hazard. You can swim through them safely.

      The island itself is just as bad as chernybol still. As sea water is the natural moderator. The radiation particles get pushed around by the currents. Ideally if we could but a giant glacier over cherynbol by the time it melted most of the radiation would be gone as well.

      • by cosmin_c (3381765) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @04:52PM (#46494613)
        You can't wish radioactive particles to "be gone". They do have a half-life, but for example the Ce-137 that's depicted in my link has a half-life of ~30 years. And it's spewed continuously into the ocean and spread around the world. The Bikini Atoll experiments resulted in sea-life in general being hundreds of times more radioactive than the norm because those elements, and guess where that radioactivity ended up - on people's tables. Saying it's safe to swim around the sunken ships is interesting to say the least. My point is that radioactive particles don't just "go away" and their generation can overwhelm the moderating capabilities (i.e. dilution) of the sea water. And it isn't reasonable to think that having radioactive material being spewed into the ocean like that is all-right.
        • And it isn't reasonable to think that having radioactive material being spewed into the ocean like that is all-right.

          Nobody said it was "all-right" or "safe", the OP said it was "safer" and AFAIK common-sense plus all the evidence from the various Pacific nuke tests supports that claim. Survival is about risk minimization, no activity is totally safe, there is no efficient way to safely dispose of nuclear waste, especially when it has already escaped into the environment, better to help wash it into the ocean than try to keep it on the beach.

      • by dbIII (701233)
        It's safe to swim around sunken fuel rods - you've written it yourself "sea water is the natural moderator".
        However the bits that come off and could end up in the food chain are a greater worry. Hence encapsulation or incorporation (eg. synroc) of high grade nuclear waste.
  • I won't believe a word about this, unless the full study is available for checking and has been independently reproduced. And when I write "available" I don't mean "you can purchase this paper for the wee lil' sum of 40 Euros".

    Sorry, but just about any time I actually read the papers that articles on slashdot or anywhere else are about, the result is typically quite different in the actual paper or the methods employed have obvious holes like insufficient data. The more politically relevant the topic, the w

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2014 @05:56PM (#46494941)

      Look, I don't want to ruin your cynical train, but the study looks plausible, as in "common sense" plausible. Even if it, of course, needs to be double-checked, there is no reason to "disbelieve" it without giving it the attention it deserves.

      What is triggering your "disbelief" alert here? Radioactive material enter the ecosystem via the trees. Trees die, their leaves fall every autumn. Radioactive material goes back to the ground, causes problem with fauna and fungi. Living organisms are known to be able to cope with radioactivity, but at the price of some energy expense to fight mutations (in higher organisms, tumors), which mean they can't spend as much energy as usual to do what they usually do, that is decompose organic matter and generate nutrients back into the cycle of life.

      And of course, if a fire starts, all the radioactive material contained into flammable materials (leaves and tree remnants) will soar into the sky, since the decay of the said flammable materials take longer than usual... This again seems plausible.

    • by Tailhook (98486) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @06:16PM (#46495055)

      When the Soviets contaminated over 800 square kilometers [wikipedia.org] with high levels of Strontium 90 in their first big nuclear disaster, post Lysenko geneticists and biologists studied the effects of this radiation on the entire biocoenosis. Z. A. Medvedev wrote about the results of this work in his book, Nuclear Disaster in the Urals (ch.8):

      The given contamination levels (1.8-3.4 millicuries per square meter) were highly destructive for soil animals. Predatory beetles suffered least; their numbers in the contaminated area were reduced to only 66 percent of the figure in the control area. Non-predatory beetles, beetle larvae, and other insects that feed on plants (phytophaga) suffered the most; their numbers fell to 56 percent of those in the control area. Soil animals that feed on organic products in the soil (where the highest level of strontium concentration was found)—the saprophages—died out almost completely; their numbers fell to 1 percent of the control group. Taxonomically, the groups studied were Aranea, Mollusca, Lithoblidae, Geophilidae, Lumbricidae, and Diplopoda.

      So small critters in the soil that eat leaves are highly sensitive to radioactive contamination. This has been known for a long time now; at least 40 years. Your skepticism is misplaced; that Chernobyl should have caused a big die-out among the creatures the decompose detritus is entirely predictable. Wait a few years and you'll get to read about the same thing around Fukushima, only there we'll learn about the effects on marine life as well.

      • by tp1024 (2409684)

        No, you won't read the same thing around Fukushima, even if the paper is correct, because there has been no release of Strontium-90 to begin with. Mind you, there is some in the cooling water, but not in the fallout. One of the advantages to have an intact, though leaking, containment is that only volatile components can escape from it. Strontium is not among the volatile components, only noble gasses, Iodine and Caesium. You can keep most of the Caesium inside the containment, if you either have a containm

      • by pipingguy (566974)
        Please explain more about this Lysenko fellow. Was he some kind of amazing Russian scientist or something?
  • Isn't decomposition a relatively recent phenomenon in geologic time? Coal deposits wouldn't exist if all those ancient forests just decomposed...

    • by LF11 (18760) on Saturday March 15, 2014 @06:58PM (#46495267) Homepage
      Incorrect. Microbes came (long!) before plants, include microbes capable of breaking down each other.

      As I understand it, coal essentially came from peat bogs, where decomposition is largely halted. Outside of those peat bogs, decomposition would have run apace.
    • I think so. I remember reading in a museum somewhere about a hypothesis that ancient trees didn't decompose... they just kept piling up.

      Based on a genetic analysis of mushroom fungi, David Hibbett and colleagues proposed that large quantities of wood were buried during this period because animals and decomposing bacteria had not yet evolved that could effectively digest the tough lignin.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

  • "The scientists took bags of fallen leaves to various areas around Chernobyl and found that locations with more radiation caused the leaves to retain more than half of their original weight after almost a year." I'd certainly be toting my "bag of fallen leaves" if I were in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Of course, I would not be telling people about the where the bag lost some of its original weight. But to be honest, In places with more radiation I would think it would loose more weight. Or am I missin

  • There have been early reports that certain fungi can concentrate cesium. Let's find out if this is happening at Chernobyl, so we can start using the stuff to pull Cs137 from the environment.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      Let's find out if this is happening at Chernobyl, so we can start using the stuff to pull Cs137 from the environment.

      Research probably not likely to get funding by the USG, since there is no military application for that kind of nuclear research. On the other hand. bioconcentrators of certain uranium isotopes for purpose of bioenrichment, may be of interest to the gov.....

  • The place is isolated.... what is the ignition source; if there is no heat produced by decay of materials?

    • by Strider- (39683)

      The place is isolated.... what is the ignition source; if there is no heat produced by decay of materials?

      Every so often, especially in certain times of a year, you get these massive natural electrical discharges called "lightning" that does quite a good job of starting forest fires.

  • Seems like there's some skepticism over the nature of the study. Somewhat reasonable, but it still seems to add to evidence about the long term effects of the disaster on the ecosystem around Chernobyl. Some comments seem to express skepticism about the importance of decomposition. Perhaps a biologist could go into greater detail on its benefit to life on earth. The suggestion about controlled fires makes me wonder if you read the article.
  • The problem here is that microbes are among the most resistant things on Earth to radiation damage. And even larger organisms like earthworms or nematodes tend to be pretty resistant as well (though the study alleged to control for that). That's because they are small and have short life-cycles.

    What I think is more likely here is that there is a common environmental condition that both inhibits decay and doesn't move radiation away as readily. For example, if the soil is dry, then that will inhibit decay
  • by MrKaos (858439) on Sunday March 16, 2014 @03:31AM (#46497073) Journal
    This is what Human hubris looks like.
  • How the universe acts is always correct and proper. If you disagree with the universe, TOO BAD.

  • A similar observation was made at the Palmerton, PA superfund site. The nearby Blue Mountain was the recipient of toxic fumes spewed from a nearby tin processing plant for almost a century. The resultant depositions killed almost all the vegetation on the mountainside, which furthermore, did not decay because of the dearth of micro organism capable of living there.

    "...concentrations of cadmium, lead, and zinc in the soil were so high as to prevent regeneration. In fact, metals levels stopped all microbial

  • Food irradiation, which was foisted on the American public by Bush 1's VP Dan Quayle, with no food labeling required sounds similar. A dose of radiation on our food, prevents it from decaying as quickly.

    I had a friend in a startup back in the day who would keep an orange in his desk as a joke, saying that he would know if the produce from store X was nuked or not depending on how rotten that orange would get.

"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." -- George Bernard Shaw

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