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.