JUST LIKE CHERNOBYL, WILDLIFE IS THRIVING AT FUKUSHIMA ALMOST A DECADE AFTER NUCLEAR DISASTER
Jan. 7, 2020 12:45 PM EST
The post-disaster wildlife boom is reminiscent of Chernobyl, the site of another nuclear disaster that has since seen species such as wolves and other mammals flock to the area now largely deserted by humans.
“Although it may seem counterintuitive, research from our group and others suggests numerous species of large mammals actually increased in the landscape surrounding Chernobyl in the first several years after the accident, and that populations of many species are now abundant and widespread throughout the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,” Beasley told Newsweek.
“Given that the amount of radiation released from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant was substantially lower than releases at Chernobyl, it is not surprising that we are now seeing evidence of these same types of population-level responses in mammals at Fukushima.”
“However, what was unexpected is the rate and extent to which populations of wild boar and other species routinely in conflict with people have increased in number, despite extensive control efforts to reduce populations of these species in evacuated areas.”
Beasley was previously involved in another study (published in 2017) that found diverse and efficient scavenging communities in the area.
“The [Chernobyl Exclusion Zone] is increasingly being seen as having huge conservation value—it now represents one of the largest wildlife sanctuaries in Europe,” Jim Smith, a professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth in the UK who specializes in Chernobyl and Fukushima, told Newsweek. Adding helicopter surveys suggest large mammal populations at Chernobyl began to increase only about a year after the accident.
“I think that radioactivity levels in significant parts of the exclusion zone are now safe for humans, but I’d like to see the zone remain as a protected area for wildlife.”
However, while it may be an in both cases abundance is not necessarily indicative of animal health—a fact the researchers themselves are keen to point out. Indeed, research has suggested that long-term exposure to radiation could damage animal reproductivity, although its full effect on animal health is unknown.
“Based on these studies it is clear that if there are any health-related impacts from exposure, they are not manifesting in widespread impacts to populations of these species,” Beasley told Newsweek. “We know that radiation has the potential to cause mutations at the molecular level, impact reproduction, and cause other types of cellular damage.”
Thomas Hinton, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Radioactivity at Fukushima University, said: “This research makes an important contribution because it examines radiological impacts to populations of wildlife, whereas most previous studies have looked for effects to individual animals.”