Another dent in anti-nuclear paranoia as wildlife thrives after Chernobyl

Even with the advent of shale gas, the capital cost of nuclear power plants means that they remain the most economic, viable and safe option for large-scale, base-load power generation for the foreseeable future. And part of the unnecessary time (and cost) associated with building nuclear power plants is primarily due to the obstructionist and delaying tactics of the alarmist lobbies.

A new research paper finds that some of the alarmist scenarios after the Chernobyl accident have been grossly exaggerated. In all likelihood the same strident alarmism evident after Fukushima is also highly exaggerated.

J. T. Smith, N. J. Willey, J. T. Hancock. Low dose ionizing radiation produces too few reactive oxygen species to directly affect antioxidant concentrations in cellsBiology Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0150

Abstract: It has been hypothesized that radiation-induced oxidative stress is the mechanism for a wide range of negative impacts on biota living in radioactively contaminated areas around Chernobyl. The present study tests this hypothesis mechanistically, for the first time, by modelling the impacts of radiolysis products within the cell resulting from radiations (low linear energy transfer β and γ), and dose rates appropriate to current contamination types and densities in the Chernobyl exclusion zone and at Fukushima. At 417 µGy h−1 (illustrative of the most contaminated areas at Chernobyl), generation of radiolysis products did not significantly impact cellular concentrations of reactive oxygen species, or cellular redox potential. This study does not support the hypothesis that direct oxidizing stress is a mechanism for damage to organisms exposed to chronic radiation at dose rates typical of contaminated environments.

Science Daily writes:

Radiation from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents may not have been as harmful to wildlife as previously thought. 

New research by Professor Jim Smith, of the University of Portsmouth, and colleagues from the University of the West of England has cast doubt on earlier studies on the impact on birds of the catastrophic nuclear accident at Chernobyl in April 1986.

Their findings, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, are likely to also apply to wildlife at Fukushima in Japan following its nuclear disaster in 2011 and represent an important step forward in clarifying the debate on the biological effects of radiation.

Professor Smith, an environmental physicist at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said: “I wasn’t really surprised by these findings — there have been many high profile findings on the radiation damage to wildlife at Chernobyl but it’s very difficult to see significant damage and we are not convinced by some of the claims.

“We can’t rule out some effect on wildlife of the radiation, but wildlife populations in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl have recovered and are actually doing well and even better than before because the human population has been removed.” …….  Professor Smith said: “We showed that changes in anti-oxidant levels in birds in Chernobyl could not be explained by direct radiation damage. We would expect other wildlife to be similarly resistant to oxidative stress from radiation at these levels. Similarly, radiation levels at Fukushima would not be expected to cause oxidative stress to wildlife. We believe that it is likely that apparent damage to bird populations at Chernobyl is caused by differences in habitat, diet or ecosystem structure rather than radiation”.  …..

Professor Smith has studied contamination at Chernobyl for more than 20 years and regularly visited the exclusion zone for his research. He is author of a major book about the incident, Chernobyl: Catastrophe and Consequences, and is a former member of the International Atomic Energy Agency Chernobyl forum.


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