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Radioactivity is in the air for you and me
May 23, 2014 12:43 AM   Subscribe

What zombie trees tell us about the world's worst nuclear disaster: in the abandoned forests around Chernobyl the trees that died in the accident are still standing because all the bacteria and fungi died off and hasn't come back, according to research done by Timothy A. Mousseau.
posted by MartinWisse (47 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, hey, that's not at all terrifying.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:11 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


Clearly, it doesn't kill the bacteria and fungi if they are just driving through.
posted by markkraft at 1:46 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


So wait, i read the entire thing and i still don't get it.

There's birds there, there's other animals. There's obviously bugs and stuff.

How did all the non-microscopic life passing through, digging around, shitting, etc not just reintroduce the bacteria/microbes/fungi fairly quickly?
posted by emptythought at 1:50 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Might be that the larger organisms have defense mechanisms that allow them to cope with the exposure. Haven't read the actual paper yet, I wonder if it would be possible to identify the presence of bacteria and other critters in the wood or leaves.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:57 AM on May 23


Ah... here's the end of the Top Gear challenge, btw. Jeremy Clarkson supposedly had to walk out.
posted by markkraft at 2:03 AM on May 23


People live in Teremzy, in the exclusion zone. Even Vice has hung out there. Here's a page measuring radiation levels in all sorts of places within the exclusion zone now.
posted by dabitch at 2:11 AM on May 23


Heh, check out the acknowledgments in the paper:
We are grateful for logistic help during our visits to Ukraine from O. Bondarenko, I. Chizhevsky, A. Erhardt and A. Litvinchuk. We received funding from the University of South Carolina School of the Environment, Bill Murray and the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, NATO and the Fulbright Program to conduct our research.
posted by Dr Dracator at 2:14 AM on May 23 [5 favorites]


I thought this, from the end of the article, was interesting (and chilling):
When we first starting going to Chernobyl the prevailing dogma was, ‘This is a low-dose scenario and the plants and animals are thriving and really this wasn’t dangerous.’
“And then we started finding all these consequences for the birds. And then later, the same consequences in rodents — mice and voles. And we’re finding the same things we found in the birds — increased cataracts, smaller brains, genetic damage. So yes, we worry about it more now.”
So, this kind of empirical evidence is undercutting the "hey! there's trees there and butterflies and everything! Life is resilient! Nuclear accidents really aren't such a big deal after all!" nuclear-engineer boosterism that's been prevalent in the last decade or so. As DNA-based organisms, you'd really think we'd shy away from a mode of power production whose by-products are so perfectly tuned to disrupting the molecular processes on which life relies.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:27 AM on May 23 [8 favorites]


Yeah except, done right, nuclear energy would be one of the cleanest alternatives to fossil fuel, and produce much more power than the "green" alternatives.

a single nuclear power station provides as much as 3200 large wind turbines
posted by iotic at 2:38 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


If it's completely dead that's the opposite of a "zombie tree" though surely? A zombie tree would be if radiation-mutated fungus took control of the tree and made it attack other trees to consume their sweet, sweet sap.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:56 AM on May 23 [17 favorites]


Yeah except, done right, nuclear energy would be one of the cleanest alternatives to fossil fuel, and produce much more power than the "green" alternatives.

Done right. DONE RIGHT. That's the key. If a wind turbine explodes it doesn't contaminate half of Europe with unhealthy levels of wind. You don't have to safely store thousands of litres of dangerous water contaminated with wind, or stop people eating vegetables grown nearby because they might get wind poisoning.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:00 AM on May 23 [33 favorites]


"So, this kind of empirical evidence is undercutting the 'hey! there's trees there and butterflies and everything! Life is resilient! Nuclear accidents really aren't such a big deal after all!' nuclear-engineer boosterism that's been prevalent in the last decade or so."

I don't even know how to respond to your comment.

The reason anyone, ever, points to the exclusion zone in an optimistic context is precisely because both the current lay and past expert opinion expects some apocalyptic moon-like wasteland and, in that context, it's startling that life has done so well. Or, from another but more important perspective, the notable abundance in the exclusion zone demonstrates that daily human technological/industrial activities are far more damaging to the environment than a nuclear disaster.

But does anyone, ever, think that this means that Chernobyl wasn't "such a big deal after all"? No, that's stupid. It has profound and long-lasting environmental consequences. It's a very big deal.

Your attitude is sort of the mirror image of the "perfect is the enemy of the good" attitude. Because you oppose nuclear power on the basis of its ecological dangers, anything less than something that is horrifying on its face and looks like a Hollywood depiction of a nuclear wasteland is, to you, just not good enough to discourage the use of nuclear power. But, as it happens, the truth is more than bad enough and the insistence upon presenting it as even worse than it actually is ends up just damaging your own credibility when people come along expecting a moonscape and see Bambi and flowers.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:10 AM on May 23 [14 favorites]


O hey are we doing renewables versus nuclear again? I bet there's a ton of new arguments since the last time we had a thread about Chernobyl, nuclear power, renewables or anything related to energy in general.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:19 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


O hey are we doing renewables versus nuclear again?

I don't know why, since the recalcitrance and corruption of governments means that in reality the conflict is largely nuclear versus coal, not renewables.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:28 AM on May 23 [11 favorites]


Renewables do come with a cost - they are expensive and don't produce much power, generally. And they do also have environmental impact - in producing the hardware, and on the areas they are installed.

There are reasons that coal and nuclear are the main options considered by governments, and it has a lot to do with the economics of creating large enough sources of energy to provide the sorts of levels that we have become accustomed to. It is not simply because of corruption - it really is hard to do that, and it's not clear at all that renewables are capable of rising to the challenge.

I think James Lovelock has been excellent on discussing these issues, and critiquing the "religiosity" of current green thinking.
posted by iotic at 4:22 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


  “… stop people eating vegetables grown nearby because they might get wind poisoning.

I dunno, it might explain radishes and cucumbers, tho'. BAAARP! … 'scuse me.

I was hoping for pictures of these undead trees.
posted by scruss at 4:50 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Chernobyl was bad. A bad design in a bad regime with bad maintenance leading to a bad time for all involved.

Done right is investing in fission power designs, that we know about already, that don't cause environmental catastrophe if they go wrong.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:09 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


I always find the nuclear Godwin strategy of always revisiting the ghosts of Chernobyl a little bit like looking at the safety of a Model T driven by a drunken deranged cowboy and then declaring that late-eighties Volvos driven by prudent drivers are just unacceptably and permanently dangerous.

Chernobyl was a horrible disaster, partly because the operators were drunken deranged cowboy idiots, and mostly because of the design spec of the RBMK reactor, but it's of limited utility in every other realm beyond documenting the bad decisions of the Soviets.

If you design a reactor not to be safe, but rather to be cheap to build, cheap to operate, cheap to fuel on unprocessed uranium, and then run it without any containment at all, you're setting the scene for disasters. That's why they only ever built them in the Soviet orbit, and that's why Admiral Rickover was prescient in steering the entire western world to Light Water Reactors instead of something designed solely to power a rolled-up empire as quickly as possible.

There are lots of lessons in Chernobyl and the sad saga of the atrocious RBMK, but they're really not instructive about nuclear energy on the whole, for the same reason Windscale or SL-1 speak to historical missteps, but don't really translate to the system we have today.
posted by sonascope at 5:13 AM on May 23 [13 favorites]


it has a lot to do with the economics of creating large enough sources of energy to provide the sorts of levels that we have become accustomed to.

To put it another way, coal, natural gas and nuclear plants are owned by a utility, and provide a steady source of revenue for the shareholders. Wind and solar are simply less amenable to that kind of centralized energy project, and ultimately not as profitable for a corporation.

But does anyone, ever, think that this means that Chernobyl wasn't "such a big deal after all?"

Sorry I don't have a link for right now, but I've seen that claim being made. It goes along with the rightwing trope that "Nature is resilient. All you greenies are claiming that Mother Nature can't recover from a bit of pollution, well you're wrong!"

The notable abundance in the exclusion zone demonstrates that daily human technological/industrial activities are far more damaging to the environment than a nuclear disaster.

See? Now you're doing it. (I don't think this claim is necessarily wrong, by the way.)
posted by sneebler at 5:17 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


But does anyone, ever, think that this means that Chernobyl wasn't "such a big deal after all?"

Sorry I don't have a link for right now, but I've seen that claim being made.


I think this may actually be down to Lovelock, also.

For a guy that has massively informed green thought through the Gaia hypothesis, detection of ozone layer depletion etc, he has some views that are pretty transgressive to current green thinking - to put it mildly. A very interesting independent scientist and thinker though, and his arguments are always worth considering.
posted by iotic at 5:28 AM on May 23


> Yeah except, done right, nuclear energy would be one of the cleanest alternatives to fossil fuel

The focus of my research is, if it's not done right, which is how it will be done, is it better that coal, worse than coal, or there's no appreciable difference?
posted by jfuller at 5:30 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


In what sense - environmentally?

Seems you're comparing apples and oranges, if so. How do you compare generations of birth defects against civilisational collapse through climate change?
posted by iotic at 5:34 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


To put it another way, coal, natural gas and nuclear plants are owned by a utility, and provide a steady source of revenue for the shareholders. Wind and solar are simply less amenable to that kind of centralized energy project, and ultimately not as profitable for a corporation.

Do you have any data to back this up? Who do you think owns wind farms and solar parks? Rooftop and small-scale PV is actually a thing, but I would expect the amount of wind power not installed by some form of corporate entity to be minuscule - particularly if you are looking at the huge generators and wind farms that actually stand a chance of putting a dent in the amount of energy produced by conventional sources.

Centralized management for wind and solar is actually a good idea - you can spread your wind farms and solar parks over a large geographic area, and average out the variations in the weather.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:37 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


iotic, I don't think it was Lovelock - likely an underinformed pundit on the news. Then there are the people who claim that radiation is good for you and by implication we need more of it! Look at how all those animals around Chernobyl are thriving!

One of the things that's not mentioned in the article is the danger of a forest fire, which would spread radiation over a large area, with potentially serious health effects depending on the wind directions.
posted by sneebler at 5:41 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Like ecology, diet and smart investing the domain of energy needs diversification. Total reliance on solar would require a battery infrastructure that would skew the environmental impact as significantly as other choices. A wide array of solar, wind, tidal with peak load backup from the traditional sources seems ideal, but makes for a very different and complex grid infrastructure.
posted by sammyo at 5:46 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


It seems like the Chernobyl area should be taken on by the world as a test case for restoration projects. Learning how to clean up and recover is expensive but really worth learning.
posted by sammyo at 5:48 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Who do you think owns wind farms and solar parks?

True enough - maybe I'm thinking about the situation 20-odd years ago. But the advance we've made in that time is that those kinds of installations have become more profitable for utilities, partly due the emergence of a belief that they can own and profit from a distributed system, and partly due to the decrease in the cost of pv panels. For example, our electricity provider offers rooftop pv installation now, because even if they can't guarantee a profit from the excess power I put back into the grid, they're still making 10% interest on my loan to install the system. (All of which I'm ok with, btw.)
posted by sneebler at 5:55 AM on May 23


Yeah except, done right, nuclear energy would be one of the cleanest alternatives to fossil fuel

there is no "done right". what do you do with the spent fuel, irradiated water, and other byproducts. "done right" my ass.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:58 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


I don't know why, since the recalcitrance and corruption of governments means that in reality the conflict is largely nuclear versus coal, not renewables.

You mean coal vs. coal. Nuclear is dead. We're probably dead right along with it, because Solar/Wind will never be cheap as Coal until it is far too late. But nuclear is dead. Don't worry, the evil radiation won't hurt you.

Not nearly as much as at the rising temps on Earth will.

If you design a reactor not to be safe, but rather to be cheap to build, cheap to operate, cheap to fuel on unprocessed uranium, and then run it without any containment at all, you're setting the scene for disasters.

You forgot the most important reason for a graphite reactor without a containment building -- it makes it easy to get weapons grade plutonium out.

This is why we built graphite moderated reactors without large containment buildings, mostly at the Hanford site. The problem with getting weapons grade plutonium is that if you leave it in the reactor too long, you get 240Pu mixed in with your 239Pu. You can't completely avoid this, which is why plutonium can't be used in a simple gun-type weapon and we had to the develop the much more complicated implosion technique. But to get useable weapons grade, you can't let it sit in the reactor, so you have to shuttle fuel in and out of the reactor. This makes containment buildings all but impossible.

We, however, didn't make 4GW thermal plutonium breeders and also use them as power plants. The Soviets did. We did, however, make a plutonium breeder that made power, the N reactor at Hanford. However, this was a graphite/water moderated reactor, with the key feature of a negative void coefficient.
posted by eriko at 6:01 AM on May 23 [7 favorites]


This is an update from something I posted in the last Mousseau thread but I think it is worth repeating/recapping with some updates.

I'm a radioecologist. Well, I was a radioecologist when I posted on this topic in the last thread, I transferred to homeland security/defense work because that is the way to gainful employment in government and funding in academia...To get radioecology work funded these days you need to justify it in terms of defense work (i.e. We should understand how radionuclides move in the biosphere so we can surreptitiously sample plants near a suspicious facility and detect reprocessing).

Mousseau has become sort of the "what's going on at Chernobyl guy." Which is unfortunate because he has a pretty mixed reputation.

Mousseau and his most frequent collaborator Moller have published a lot of papers, mostly from a couple short trips to Chernobyl in the late 2000s. They turned these two trips into an huge collection of papers that purport to show ecosystem level effects based on levels of radiation where no deterministic effects would be expected.

I do not trust their data. In one representative figure, not in this paper, they display dose vs. butterfly populations at several locations near Chernobyl. More radiation= less butterflies. Don't quote me on this part but I think it looked linear on a log-log plot. Some unit conversion and background reading reveals some interesting things. Their relationship between dose and butterfly population shows dramatic decreases in butterfly populations at levels of radiation which are below the natural background in many parts of the world. The dose limit for radiation workers in the USA is 5 rem, at this level, extrapolating from Moller and Moussea's work, you would not expect any living butterflies.

Weird stuff in this particular paper, mean radiation level is this paper was ~20 uSv/h, this is a bit above the mean bkg in the US, but not really elevated. Even the max they found 240 uSv/h is natural bkg level at some places in the world. And in general fungi and bacteria are really radioresistant, so something seems off here. They have major ecosystem level effects in areas of very, very low radiation.

I can imagine several explanations for these results, the main ones are these:
1. M&M are right about everything. The fundamental scientific basis used for radiation protection around the world is fundamentally flawed.
2. M&M are seeing real effects, but their dosimetry or methodology is very poor. E.g. their Chernobyl data is all from a geiger counter, which is going to miss alpha emitters entirely. It also neglects ingested or inhaled radionuclides which could plausibly be the dominant source of dose. It may be they are seeing a real effect, but their dosimetry data is not trustworthy. Neither of them have a background in radiation and this is clear from their papers. They have not been publishing in journals specializing in radiation effects, radiobiology, or radioecology. This alone is something that is a little sketchy, places like the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity could probably provide better peer review.
3. M&M aren't seeing real effects. Their results haven't been replicated and the apparent effects are the result of poor sample design, small sample sizes, human error, or human malfeasance. (See the controversy links below, they have received criticism from both standard ecologists and people with radiation effects backgrounds). Scuttlebutt is they haven't been willing to let other people look at their data.

My impression is the answer is a mixture of 2 and 3. A prominent group of European scientists have a paper where they synthesized a bunch of data and were looking at the difference between radiosensitivity in the laboratory and in the field. They include, about two orders of magnitude below the rest of their data, some data points labeled "Outliers from Moller and Mousseau (2009)." Though interestingly the data from this paper also implies population level effects from doses at allowable radiation worker levels, which is surprising and will likely be the source of much further work. Moller and Mousseau are so far away from the consensus that is it hard to take their results at face value. They may be on to something, the work of Garnier-Laplace et al. indicates population effects at levels a fair bit lower than we expect.

I'm attaching a few links with some background on controveries with Moller and Mousseau, there are more out there:

An ecologist at U Alberta who questions the trustworthiness of Moller's data. Mousseau writes in with comments. (There is also a link to a report from Moller's former employer stating that after an investigation: "there is not sufficient proof to charge Anders Paper Moller with scientific fraud"

Letter to the Royal Society of Biology Letters criticizing Moller and Mousseau's methodology. Moller responds
Excerpt: "The study on the detrimental effects of Chernobyl on insects by Moller and Mousseau represents a very interesting and unexpected conclusion, which conflicts with the vast knowledge regarding ionizing radiation effects and the principles of dose-response in the field of toxicology and radiation biology. In addition, the experimental design does not appear to hold to contemporary, rigorous standards. "

Science for: Fuck you. This is a great letter, and worth reading, there are other good bits.
posted by pseudonick at 6:13 AM on May 23 [52 favorites]


a single nuclear power station provides as much as 3200 large wind turbines

And it has the system levelized cost of 3,800 large wind turbines.
posted by Foosnark at 6:14 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


In this paper figure 2 is essentially the meat. Proportion decomposed after nine months vs. background radiation.

Just off the top of my head, "background" radiation is likely to be higher in places there is less weathering due to rain, wind, etc, since the weathering would serve to remove contamination. Weathering would also contribute to litter decomposition.

They look at radiation vs. thickness of forest floor, but if the litter is contaminated, more litter might be causing the higher background, the causality might be running the other way.

Ugh. These have the potential to be really interesting results. Actually go in and look for the fungi and bacteria. The claims coming out of Mousseau's work aren't reasonable from the nature of the experiments. This data should prompt them to go and do more, and more rigorous work before coming out with claims like this. Quoting the RSBL letter I linked above:

"For clearer answers to emerge from research conducted at Chernobyl, rigorous experimental design and standards must be adhered to. In addition, apparent biological effects attributed solely to radioactive contamination must have a logical, mechanistic explanation derived to some extent from existing knowledge to support those conclusions. "
posted by pseudonick at 6:32 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


the Chernobyl area should be taken on by the world as a test case for restoration projects. Learning how to clean up and recover is expensive but really worth learning.

It seems we have a number of sites like that. I'm thinking specifically about Hanford, where the immense cost and lack of political will have stalled cleanup efforts for 30-odd years. Plus I'm not clear what "clean up" means. Is "dig up and move all of the radioactive material to some kind of permanent storage site to be managed for the next x thousand years" the same as "clean up and restoration"?

In some ways a nuclear plant is a bit like a spherical cow - there are a lot of "ifs" involved. I'm pretty much for nuclear power, if a reactor's technical achievements are in Safety Engineering, if political and profit-making influences can be removed from the equation, and if there's an ongoing safety program to rectify previous design mistakes (like situating an emergency generator in a ditch subject to flooding at Fukushima) and addressing the real human safety issues, like ensuring that employees aren't smoking dope on the job. Sort of a dramatic example, but it's emblematic of a whole bunch of really serious HR issues that have to be dealt with for the life of the nuclear plant.
posted by sneebler at 6:32 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


The Red Forest - the first of the four zones, how they buried the dead trees and the groundwater contamination that resulted from it, and the mutating effects to saplings planted after.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 7:24 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


and the mutating effects to saplings planted after.

Mutated saplings > zombie trees.

I betcha they whisper to each other when no one is around. I betcha.
posted by valkane at 7:51 AM on May 23


Renewables do come with a cost - they are expensive and don't produce much power, generally.

Yeah it's funny how a century of government subsidies and tax breaks make your industry more profitable.

And they do also have environmental impact - in producing the hardware, and on the areas they are installed.

Everything we do has an environmental impact.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:23 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


I don't know why, since the recalcitrance and corruption of governments means that in reality the conflict is largely nuclear versus coal, not renewables.

Most of the coal powerplants hereabouts are either shut down or shutting down in the next few years. They're being replaced by smaller, decentralized oil and natural gas plants, which while not good, are a whole lot better. Big Energy seems to think the fracking gravy train will keep rolling along for at least a half-century, and have put their money on it. In terms of renewables, Quebec is bringing some immense scale hydro power projects online and offshore windfarms are making slow but steady headway against NIMBYism.

Large scale nuclear power requires too much regulatory oversight and decommissioning costs to be very profitable. Sorry, kids, just the way it is. Better luck with the fusion reactors, should they ever arrive.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:30 AM on May 23


Spaced Based Solar/Beamed Microwave trumps everything else, people. All we need is heavy lift to GEO, and we send union construction workers, raw materials, booze, dope and whores and there isn't a country on this planet that can out compete us with our energy costs so low once they come online.
posted by mikelieman at 9:52 AM on May 23


Nuclear power is much like air travel--generally extremely safe, but when accidents occur they are much more dramatic and destructive than the alternative technologies.

From a health and safety perspective, I personally would much rather live close to a nuclear power plant than a coal fired plant. Millions die prematurely worldwide from coal pollution, and plenty die in mining and operation of these plants. From an environmental perspective also I would prefer nuclear to coal, oil, or natural gas, even though the problems of radioactive waste have not been solved.

The biggest problem with nuclear power plants is their expense, both cost per kilowatt and cost for the first megawatt. Solar power and wind power are modular: it is possible to erect one panel (thousands of dollars) or one turbine (up to a few million dollars) at a time. Likewise, small gas plants are easy to construct. Nuclear power requires the whole multi-billion dollar plant to be complete before delivering a single watt to the grid.

Even when renewables become the dominant source of electric power, which seems likely over next few decades, some fossil fuel and/or nuclear plants will still be used for load balancing.
posted by haiku warrior at 10:03 AM on May 23


Isn't one reason bacteria and fungi are (apparently) not thriving in the exclusion zone because larger organisms can tolerate higher levels of radioactivity - they are bigger and can absorb more in their tissues.

Another reason may be because the bacteria and fungi are feeding on material that "fixes" longer-living radioactive isotopes such as cesium. So they're going to encounter higher concentrations of these isotopes and will presumably die more quickly.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:16 AM on May 23


It's only been 28 years, though, which is such a small time scale to measure the impact of radiation on life. That there are deformities, and damaged DNA, in the short-term is well within expectations, yes? If anything has been surprising, it's how quickly animals have adjusted.

Where I get frustrated are all the horror stories about deformed children and illnesses being linked to Chernobyl, when there are so many more logical explanations. I know that it's emotionally and probably financially expedient for the various hospitals and care centers to yell "Chernobyl!" to get help, but birth defects and cancer rates have complicated causes.
posted by gsh at 10:35 AM on May 23


Isn't one reason bacteria and fungi are (apparently) not thriving in the exclusion zone because larger organisms can tolerate higher levels of radioactivity - they are bigger and can absorb more in their tissues.

In general larger organisms are much worse at tolerating high levels of radioactivity. Radiosensitivity correlates reasonably well with body mass. Bigger -> takes a small radiation dose to kill.

This paper has a nice table illustrating bacteria at ~ 100 times less sensitive to radiation than mammals.

Another reason may be because the bacteria and fungi are feeding on material that "fixes" longer-living radioactive isotopes such as cesium. So they're going to encounter higher concentrations of these isotopes and will presumably die more quickly.

Generally speaking the bacteria and fungi are what does the fixing. E.g. Wild boar in germany are sometimes still too radioactive to eat because the love the fungi that concentrate some Chernobyl radioisotopes still present in the forest. So the fungi concentrate and the boars might further concentrate. But even these concentrations are vastly lower than what would be needed to kill them. Based on current knowledge, the more contaminated boar would be ever so slightly more likely to get cancer in their old age, but really, cancer is not a major issue for most wildlife.
posted by pseudonick at 10:36 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


How do you compare generations of birth defects against civilisational collapse through climate change?

Potential birth defects vs. certain climate change.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:06 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


Thank you. So what the hell is inhibiting growth of bacteria and fungi?

I'm also confused about the consensus on the effects of radiation on wildlife in the exclusion zone. I seem to recall the scientist who published the studies on bird brain size etc was discredited. Either someone was overstating the numbers of wildlife in the exclusion zone, or understating the numbers of wildlife...
posted by KokuRyu at 11:06 AM on May 23


world's worst nuclear disaster? fukushima hasn't been tallied yet. they're still moving spent fuel assemblies out of the buildings.
posted by bruce at 4:16 PM on May 23


No, Chernobyl is much worse than Fukushima. I can't think of any measurement except one by which Chernobyl was at least several times worse and many orders of magnitude. The exception would be the raw number of people directly affected by it, regardless of severity.

And I'm struck by your point about the presence of the spent fuel assemblies at Fukushima. You do know about the current state of reactor 4 at Chernobyl, right? That was 27 years ago and it's still an active containment problem.

In terms of radiation release, it looks to me like Chernobyl was between four and five times worse than Fukushima. Fukushima released more cesium, true. Chernobyl directly killed 15x more people. Fukushima caused the evacuation of about 3x more people. Of course, imagine if the prevailing winds for Chernobyl had been toward the southeast instead of the northwest. All those people we've been seeing in the news in Kiev? That's only 60 miles from Chernobyl.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:47 PM on May 23


This is not a new discovery at all. I recall seeing early post-WWII era photos of radiation tests with a high energy source placed in a forest, for long term measurements of long term effects. They had decades of data and analysis before Chernobyl. Of course this area is a larger data source.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:20 PM on May 23


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