General Notes from the wilds of Chornobyl

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ecologists Timothy Mousseau and Anders Pape Moller have been studying long-term effects of radioactive contamination on nature since 1999 in the closed area surrounding Chornobyl, the site of world’s worst nuclear disaster on April 26, 1986.

Their work is taking place in the exclusion zone, a 30-kilometer radius around the nuclear power plant. It provides a perfect ground for the study of biodiversity and survival of animals living in the conditions of irradiated environment. The team has documented many consequences of radiation, including dramatically increased rates of genetic mutation, lower life spans and lower reproduction rates of some species.

The ecologists’ study has shown that some species are avoiding the Chornobyl exclusion zone, contrary to the more common view of the zone as a wildlife Eden. Although these studies have focused primarily on birds and insects, their results may have relevance for human populations living in these contaminated regions. Initially, all people were evacuated from the zone soon after the meltdown of the core of the fourth reactor. Some former residents have returned to their home villages, although their exact number is not known.

Mousseau, of America’s University of South Carolina, and Moller, of the University of Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, believe a new study is needed to assess risks for humans associated with prolonged exposure to low levels of radition. Their work is conducted in partnership with scientists from the Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv, The Chernobyl EcoCenter, The Ukrainian National Museum of Natural History, and scientists from Belarus. More information on their findings can be found at

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