April 26, 1986 was a fateful day in Ukraine as the nuclear power plant, Chernobyl, discharged an enormous amount of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. This catastrophe, which is considered one of the worst nuclear power plant accidents in history, contaminated a large amount of land stretching over Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and other parts of Europe. The health implications of the Chernobyl accident were immense, as well the detrimental influence it had on the many ecosystems of the area. At the time of the accident, scientists questioned the environment’s ability to rebuild itself. However, according to research done by Professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth, and other researchers from the University of the West of England, wildlife, in particular bird species, is thriving in areas where radiation struck the hardest.
The research is published in the Royal Society journal Biological Letters. It is likely that this research which is specific to the Chernobyl accident will apply to the Fukushima accident in Japan that occurred in 2011. It is important to note that this research will help identify the “biological effects of radiation” on the environment.
Although there has been a great deal of speculation about the harmful radiation effects that a nuclear accident, like Chernobyl, has on ecology, Professor Smith does not seem extremely startled by the findings. For instance, there has been many findings about some of the damage done at the radiation site, however, crucial details on the damage has not been presented. Smith comments on this by saying, “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.” Smith notes that one of the important reasons why wildlife is thriving in those areas is because of the absence of people and their abusive behaviors on the environment.
More specifically, this research shows that the obvious destruction in bird species is not caused solely by radiation exposure, but also by “habitat, diet or ecosystem structure.” Today, radiation levels are greatly lowered. Researchers note that damage of some species today is no different than the damage found in those same species during the time directly following the Chernobyl accident. It is hopeful after examining this research that wildlife of that area will be able to restore the biodiversity that was once so prevalent. The removal of humans in the area is greatly responsible for much of the reconstruction of the wildlife that appears today.
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 cells. Biology Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0150
University of Portsmouth (2012, April 11). Wildlife thriving after nuclear disaster? Radiation from Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents not as harmful to wildlife as feared. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/04/120411084107.htm