Thursday, April 28, 2016

What is True?

What is true about Chernobyl's legacy? I offer two competing accounts.

The first account describes Chernobyl as a "wildlife wonderland":

Karin Brulliard. April 26, 2016. 30 years after Chernobyl disaster, camera study captures a wildlife wonderland. The Washington Post
Anecdotal reports of wildlife doing well in the ruins of Chernobyl have been controversial. Some scientists argue that the disaster has taken a deleterious toll on fauna, causing genetic damage and population declines. A study published last fall, however, backed up the idea of the fallout zone-turned-enchanted forest with data from helicopter observation and animal tracks. They pointed to flourishing animal populations.
The big picture of these pictures? According to Beasley, it’s that radiation does not seem to have kept wildlife from self-sustaining and spreading out across the Belarus evacuation zone. He said he expects another camera trap study being carried out in the Ukraine half of the zone will find the same thing.

I wondered what study "published last fall" backed the idea that the “fallout zone-turned-enchanted forest” had a flourishing animal population. It was apparently Dr. James Beasley's (from the University of Georgia). He has quite a record of funding from the US Departments of Energy and Defense and is currently a consultant for the IAEA on Fukushima.  I recommend looking at his cv  There is no information available about his methodology in the publication, which is a "correspondence" here: http://dx.doi. org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.08.017.

In contrast to Dr. Beasley's glowing account of "fallout zone-turned-enchanted forest" there is Dr. Tim Mousseau's account of transgenerational effects that include reduced sperm count and smaller bird brains. 

I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Mousseau describe his research and his extensive field work capturing, sampling and releasing a range of animals in the Chernobyl and Fukushima zones. He is a very careful and methodical scientist who is not funded by US government agencies or the IAEA. He and his research partner have concluded that animals are not in fact adapting to radiation-contaminated zones ( see academic study here  ). Dr. Mousseau describes his findings here:

Timothy Mousseau. April 25, 2016. At Chernobyl and Fukushima, radioactivity has seriously harmed wildlife. The Conversation,

…in the past decade population biologists have made considerable progress in documenting how radioactivity affects plants, animals and microbes. My colleagues and I have analyzed these impacts at Chernobyl, Fukushima and naturally radioactive regions of the planet.

Our studies provide new fundamental insights about consequences of chronic, multigenerational exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation. Most importantly, we have found that individual organisms are injured by radiation in a variety of ways. The cumulative effects of these injuries result in lower population sizes and reduced biodiversity in high-radiation areas….

Radiation exposure has caused genetic damage and increased mutation rates in many organisms in the Chernobyl region. So far, we have found little convincing evidence that many organisms there are evolving to become more resistant to radiation.
You decide what is true.

1 comment:

  1. Funding has a forked tongue. Funding is in so many instances a socially acceptable bribe. Dr. James Beasley may also be the victim of pressure from the University of Georgia which is dependent on funding. So many strings to keep track of.