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Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Excellent Article/Interview : "Top Expert Debunks Radiation Myths"

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George Washington's picture


 
Many have claimed that wildlife is thriving in the highly-radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Some claim that a little radiation is harmless … or even good for you.
One of the main advisors to the Japanese government on Fukushima announced:
If you smile, the radiation will not affect you.   If you do not smile, the radiation will affect you.

This theory has been proven by  experiments on animals.
Are these claims true?

We Ask an Expert

To find out, Washington's Blog spoke with one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of radiation on living organisms: Dr. Timothy Mousseau.
Dr. Mousseau is former Program Director at the National Science Foundation (in Population Biology), Panelist for the National Academy of Sciences’ panels on Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities and GAO Panel on Health and Environmental Effects from Tritium Leaks at Nuclear Power Plants, and a biology professor – and former Dean of the Graduate School, and Chair of the Graduate Program in Ecology – at the University of South Carolina.
For the past 15 years, Mousseau and  another leading biologist – Anders Pape Møller – have studied the effects of radiation on birds and other organisms.
Mousseau has made numerous trips to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Fukushima – making 896 inventories at Chernobyl and 1,100 biotic inventories in Fukushima as of July 2013 – to test the effect of radiation on plants and animals.
On the third anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, we spoke with Dr. Mousseau about what he discovered regarding the effects of radiation on plants, animals … and people.
[Question] How did you get into this field? Is it because you are an anti-nuclear activist?
[Mousseau]  No.
I’m an activist, but not an anti-nuclear scientist. I’m an activist for evidence-based science policy.
I got into this out of an interest in discovery of new forms of adaption to changing environments. I’m an evolutionary biologist by training. And – about a decade and a half ago – I met up with Anders Pape Møller, one of the world’s leading ornithologists.
We decided to go to Chernobyl and see if the females, the mothers, are doing anything to enhance their offspring’s fitness in response to this novel stressor of radioactive contaminants.
And then in 2005, when the international Atomic Energy Agency commissioned this report by a panel – the Chernobyl Forum – and the Chernobyl Forum put out their first release in 2005, followed by their main publication in 2006, we realized they didn’t cite anybody’s work that went against their dogma that contamination levels at Chernobyl were just too low to be of any profound significance for biological communities.
In fact, they have a statement in the Chernobyl Forum report where they suggest that the plants and animals are thriving because there are no people there.  And – by implication – the suggestion is that the radiation isn’t a problem.
[Q] What did you actually find in the field?
[Mousseau] What we observed was that in the more contaminated parts of the Chernobyl zone, there were many fewer critters, fewer birds singing, and we noticed there were no spider webs getting in our face.
We set up a quantitative design to measure the critters not only in the most contaminated areas, but also in the clean areas.  In the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,  you have everything from pristine, completely uncontaminated areas to really highly-contaminated areas.  It’s kind of a quiltwork … a mosaic.
So this provides the ability to do rigorous comparative analyses of critters that are in the same environment, except for the radiation.
[Q] So you utilized good controls in terms of ruling out other health-damaging and mortality factors, because in this “quiltwork” ecology you had higher or lower levels of radiation … but otherwise the conditions were similar?
[Mousseau] Exactly, combined with the fact that – everywhere we went – we also measured all of the other environmental factors that would likely play some role in the abundance and distribution of organisms … such as the type of soil, whether it was forest or grass, the water, as well as the ambient conditions at the time we collected the data.
And we did a control for human habitation sites as well, in Belarus.
[Q] What kinds of effects did you test for?
[Mousseau] We’ve tested for mutation rates, estimates of genetic damage, estimates of sperm damage, sperm swimming [i.e. how mobile the sperm are], fertility rates in both females and males, longevity, age distribution of the birds in these different areas, species diversity, etc.
[Q] And what did you find?
[Mousseau] The diversity of birds is about half of what it should be in the most contaminated areas.  The total numbers of birds is only about a third of what it should be in the most contaminated areas.
In 2006, I decided to collect fruit flies across the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and I couldn’t find very many.
And then I realized, there wasn’t any rotting fruit on the ground.  And considering that every farmer, every landowner would put up fruit trees in that part of the world, you look at the fruit trees and realize there’s hardly any fruit on them.
And of course, that’s why there weren’t many fruit flies.
And then it dawned on us, where are the pollinators? And that point, we realized there aren’t many bees and butterflies.
So we started counting the bees, the butterflies, the dragonflies, the spiders, and the grasshoppers.
And that’s when we realized that all of the groups we looked at showed significantly lower numbers in the most-contaminated areas.
It look us a little longer to figure out a way to study mammals. We decided we can count many of the mammals by looking at footprints in the snow. The ecologists in Canada and Northern Europe have been doing this for centuries. There’s even a book published [a field guide] for identifying animals by their footprints in the snow.
We found – for most of the mammals – significant declines in numbers in the most contaminated areas. The one exception were the wolves, which showed no difference, probably because they have huge ranges which span across the high and low areas of contamination.
[We'll cut away from the interview to explain what Mousseau found, using information and slides from his published studies. The copyright to all images are owned by Dr. Mousseau.]
Indeed, Mousseau found – in studies of plants, insects and mammals – that:
  • Most organisms studied show significantly increased rates of genetic damage in direct proportion to the level of exposure to radioactive contaminants
  • Many organisms show increased rates of deformities and developmental abnormalities in direct proportion to contamination levels
  • Many organisms show reduced fertility rates
  • Many organisms show reduced life spans
  • Many organisms show reduced population sizes
  • Biodiversity is significantly decreased many species locally extinct
  • Mutations are passed from one generation to the next, and show signs of accumulating over time
  • Mutations are migrating out of affected areas into populations that are not exposed (i.e. population bystander effects)
[end snip]

FULL Article and Presentation Slides and Graphs here:

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