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Nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl: How it affects wildlife via MySocialSketch

Dear EarthTalk: How has wildlife been affected around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Russia three decades ago?                                                                – Walter Scinto, Hartford, CT

The Chernobyl disaster confirmed everyone’s worst nightmares about the awesome power of nuclear reactions. When the Ukrainian reactor collapsed, the radioactive fallout profoundly contaminated the surrounding environment, affecting any living beings located within the so-called “Exclusion Zone” of 30 kilometers around the reactor’s shell. Acute radiation poisoning annihilated a large pine stand, since renamed “the Red Forest,” while many animals suffered significant physical or mental abnormalities.

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The question remains of how these animals are able to sustain such high levels of radiation without succumbing to its deadly effects. Recent studies of the Chernobyl region by wildlife biologists Anders Pape Møller and Timothy Mousseau have identified serious consequences of radiation, even within thriving populations. Mutations among affected Exclusion Zone species include higher rates of cataracts, partial albinism, and physical variation. However, it appears the deadly mutations took their toll on populations immediately. Subsequent surviving generations have shown amazing adaptability.

Møller and Mousseau conclude that while radiation is inarguably bad for the environment, its impact on wildlife is far overshadowed by the effects of typical human development. While no one would have wished for the Chernobyl meltdown, environmentalists point out the silver lining of being able to monitor wildlife population in the absence of human populations and activities.

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