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Earth Power Science Technology

Forests Around Chernobyl Aren't Decaying Properly 167

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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  • 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.

  • 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:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 15, 2014 @05:33PM (#46494849)

    Actually, yes. We know of 16 natural fission reactors on Earth, that mother nature ran for hundreds of thousands of years.

  • 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 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.
  • 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.

Mr. Cole's Axiom: The sum of the intelligence on the planet is a constant; the population is growing.