Biological effects of Fukushima radiation on plants, insects, and animals
Following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, biological samples were obtained only after extensive delays, limiting the information that could be gained about the impacts of that historic disaster. Determined not to repeat the shortcomings of the Chernobyl studies, scientists began gathering biological information only a few months after the disastrous meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in 2011. Results of these studies are now beginning to reveal serious biological effects of the Fukushima radiation on non-human organisms ranging from plants to butterflies to birds.
A series of articles summarizing these studies has now been published in the Journal of Heredity. These describe widespread impacts, ranging from population declines to genetic damage to responses by the repair mechanisms that help organisms cope with radiation exposure.
“A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster,” stated Dr. Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, lead author of one of the studies.
Most importantly, these studies supply a baseline for future research on the effects of ionizing radiation exposure to the environment.
Common to all of the published studies is the hypothesis that chronic (low-dose) exposure to ionizing radiation results in genetic damage and increased mutation rates in reproductive and non-reproductive cells.
One of the studies (Hayashi et al. 2014) documented the effects of radiation on rice by exposing healthy seedlings to low-level gamma radiation at a contaminated site in Fukushima Prefecture. After three days, a number of effects were observed, including activation of genes involved in self-defense, ranging from DNA replication and repair to stress responses to cell death.
“The experimental design employed in this work will provide a new way to test how the entire rice plant genome responds to ionizing radiation under field conditions,” explained Dr. Randeep Rakwal of the University of Tsukuba in Japan, one of the authors of the study.
Another team of researchers (Taira et al. 2014) examined the response of the pale grass blue butterfly, one of the most common butterfly species in Japan, to radiation exposure at the Fukushima site. They found size reduction, slowed growth, high mortality and morphological abnormality both at the Fukushima site and among laboratory-bred butterflies with parents collected from the contaminated site.
Multiple sources of exposure were included in the butterfly study. “Non-contaminated larvae fed leaves from contaminated host plants collected near the reactor showed high rates of abnormality and mortality,” explained Dr. Joji Otaki of the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan. Some of their results suggested the possible evolution of radiation resistance in Fukushima butterflies as well.
A review of genetic and ecological studies for a range of other species at both Chernobyl and Fukushima (Mousseau 2014) revealed significant consequences of radiation. Population censuses of birds, butterflies, and cicadas at Fukushima showed major declines attributable to radiation exposure. Morphological effects, such as aberrant feathers on barn swallows, were also observed. The authors suggest that long-term studies at Chernobyl could predict likely effects in the future at the Fukushima site.
All of these studies highlight the need for early and ongoing monitoring at sites of accidental radiation release. “Detailed analyses of genetic impacts to natural populations could provide the information needed to predict recovery times for wild communities at Fukushima as well as any sites of future nuclear accidents,” Mousseau said. “There is an urgent need for greater investment in basic scientific research of the wild animals and plants of Fukushima.”
The health problems related to uranium mining are affecting the indigenous people disproportionately in and around the uranium mining operational area, with as many as 50,000 people at risk, the court wrote.
Children living near the mines, the court added, are born with swollen heads, blood disorders and skeletal distortions. Cancer as a cause of death is more common in villages surrounding uranium operations.
An Urgent Alert has been posted by NITYANAND JAYARAMAN in DiaNuke.org on an accident that occurred in Koodankulan sometime in the afternoon today.
Koodankulan protest, courtesy New Indian Express
After initially flashing news about the incident, the media is now reportedly playing NPCIL’s statements denying and downplaying the incident. If NPCIL’s past record is anything to go by, truth will be a while in coming. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was unavailable for comment.
Today’s accident comes less than a week after the Honourable Supreme Court ruled that it was satisfied with the safety features installed at the plant. Read the rest of the report here.
Koodankulan protest 2, image courtesy The Hindu
More than two and a half years have passed since the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, wrecking the Fukushima nuclear plant and claiming nearly 16,000 lives. When it became clear that nuclear contamination was widespread, the government evacuated about 160,000 people living near the plant and established a 20-km compulsory exclusion zone, which remains in place today. Today, Tokyo Electric Power Company is still struggling to contain contaminated water at the destroyed plant. Former residents are allowed to return up to once a month, but they\’re forbidden to stay overnight. Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj recently joined one of these trips, capturing images of a haunting landscape and lives torn apart by disaster
Radiation near a tank holding highly contaminated water at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has spiked 18-fold, the plant’s operator said on Sunday, highlighting the struggle to bring the crisis under control after more than two years.
Radiation of 1,800 millisieverts per hour – enough to kill an exposed person in four hours – was detected near the bottom of one storage tank on Saturday, Tokyo Electric Power Co , also known as Tepco, said.
An Aug. 22 readings measured radiation of 100 millisieverts per hour at the same tank. Japanese law has set an annual radiation exposure safety threshold of 50 millisieverts for nuclear plant workers during normal hours.
Last month, Tepco revealed that water from the tank was leaking. Japan’s nuclear regulator later raised the severity of the leak from a level 1 “anomaly” to a level 3 “serious incident” on an international scale for radiation releases.
Apparently, it seems the earlier the device that was used had upper limit of 100 millisieverts, which incidentally was reported. This is a clever way to control contamination. So you set your goal and make a device which an only show up to that range, and that is it. No matter how many times you take the readings it is going to be the same. Perhaps in future we would also like to ask what devices were used to detect radiation.
Nuclear Monsters Illustration by Karen Haydock
What is the cost of a nuclear power plant? Seen as a “peaceful” use of nuclear energy, many people give different answers, depending on the frame of mind that they have? Some people will answer only in terms of the money involved. This project will need so many hundred crores, they will tell you (or is it thousands of crores, millions of dollars?). But then what is the rationale to spend the obscene amounts on this?
Other, more enlightened souls, will perhaps tell us that having a nuclear power plant in your backyard is a sure-shot sign of and development” (whatever those two terms mean). And India is a progressive country, if not a developed one (still developing?). So India must aspire to build nuclear power plants. It is to show the world that our childhood has ended, and we are here to make a mark on the internationatal scene. They tell you that this is the best. It is so because it is “Green, Clean and Safe.”
They give you arguments about how it is all three bundled into one. It is one offer that anyone in their sane minds cannot reject! They give reasoned arguments about how each of these term applies to the nuclear power plants. And mind you, this is strictly “peaceful”, the bomb is not mentioned anywhere.
Green: They say that since the nuclear power plant do not produce any green house gases, hence they are green.
Clean: They do not produce any residue like ash, or gases or cause regular pollution.
Safe: The technology that is used in India they say is fool proof. It is the safest that you can possibly get.
There is a huge propaganda machine which churns out these and similar assertions about the nuclear power.
Also, then there is yet another set of people who say that to stay in the arms race, we must develop nuclear technology. These people openly talk about nuclear bombs and claim that it is essential for the survival of India. They sincerely believe in the MAD theory. They say if having the bombs has served the super-powers well, it must serve well to India as well. This will form a nuclear deterrence and our enemies will think million times before attacking us. For an attack would mean their annihilation. Elaborate war games with parameters optimized to maximum are played out with number of dead millions (that my dear friend is also a parameter!). But let us leave this part, the non-peaceful part out of our analysis for the present purpose.
They teach and preach that if India is to be self-reliant in energy, nuclear energy is the only option that we have got. There are no other options.They will tell you in numbered arguments (somehow it seems to some people giving numbers in the text they write makes it more meaningful and “scientific”) how other options are not good. They will also compare nuclear accidents with those of thermal power plants and say, accidents are always contingent with technology and anyway we need not worry about this as the technology that we are using is fool proof.
So any cost is acceptable to them. After all the electricity is required to run any decent place to live. Electricity is required to air condition those offices where we work in large cities. Electricity is required by all the companies, many of which produce things we never use, but they want us to use. Electricity is required to light up all the day-night IPL matches, which would otherwise be played in the daylight. Electricity is required to aic condition all the malls in the cities to provide a rich and comfortable shopping experience to all of us. Electricity is used to light up all the hotels and billboards for the industry and the country to look prosperous. They also throw in a bit of villagers distress to make it look like a holistic problem. A problem which affects every one of us, not only urban and industrialized people. What kind of people are against such uses which literally shows India shining?
All of these arguments that makes a case for nuclear energy can be torn apart. But alas, people who sincerely believe these do not see the point beyond.
But what is the human cost of nuclear power plants? What happens to the thousands of working people who are exposed to radiation? The advocates of nuclear energy usually do not consider these as serious issues. But if it is not for well being of people, then why are we doing this? And if making a choice will also affect all our future generations, then a lot of caution must be used. A nuclear disaster is not a reversible process. A nuclear disaster is forever. No amount of cleaning will leave the place as it was. No matter how it happens. Whether intentional or accidental, once done, it is here to stay. Perhaps people with myopic vision in this regard cannot understand this. And is this sustainable? Decentralizable? Where are we going to all the nuclear ashes?
If at all they have answers to these questions, why they do not publish transparently the radiation levels near all power plants? Why they do not make public all the audits they have performed in this regard?