Naked Science Forum

General Science => Question of the Week => Topic started by: katieHaylor on 05/08/2019 14:11:51

Title: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: katieHaylor on 05/08/2019 14:11:51
Bill asks:

My question is about Chernobyl and why it is that wildlife seems to be thriving there and yet we understand that humans still can't survive there.

What do you think?
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: RD on 05/08/2019 16:07:24
Bill asks:

My question is about Chernobyl and why it is that wildlife seems to be thriving there and yet we understand that humans still can't survive there.

The absence of humans has given wildlife opportunities to expand but, percentage-wise,
the animals are not "thriving" compared with non-Ukrainian control populations,
e.g. see ... https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1994720/
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: alancalverd on 05/08/2019 23:31:38
There's a wide spectrum between "survive" and "thrive". Quite a few senior residents have refused to leave the area and will probably live to a ripe old age because radiogenic tumors take about 5 - 15 years to express as clinically significant, the natural incidence of fatal cancer is around 30% in the over-60's, and all the females concerned are postmenopausal. But that's quite different from survivable radiogenic mutation in ovo of annually reproductive species, which is what the cited paper was discussing.

Wildlife has certainly returned to what was previously farmland and suburbia, thanks to the absence of humans, and as all the wild species are still in an expansion phase with relatively little competition for their ecological niches, they could be said to be "thriving". In time it is likely that ecological pressure will weed out those with significant genetic defects and a partially "radiation hardened" ecosystem will evolve, but it probably won't include humans. 
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: evan_au on 06/08/2019 05:54:57
All this shows is that humans have a greater impact on animals and ecosystems as a nuclear meltdown (after the short lifetime radionuclides have decayed...).

Of course, the nuclear meltdown was caused by humans, too....
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: evan_au on 08/08/2019 05:16:21
I saw on the BBC news today that a company has started producing vodka from ingredients farmed around Chernobyl.

They claimed that it had no excessive radiation (but they didn't say how close it was to Chernobyl, or whether it was upwind or downwind...).
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: alancalverd on 08/08/2019 10:33:34
Entirely believable! Distilled water and alcohol are unlikely to be any more radioactive than the natural incidence of C-14 in air if the distillation has been well controlled, though I would be inclined to check for tritium as the constant-boiling point of T2O/C2T5OT is very close to that of regular spirits.
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: sc0tt on 08/08/2019 11:16:13
Firstly, I think wildlife could be much more resistant to radiation than previously thought. Another alternative possibility is that some organisms could be starting to show adaptive responses that would allow them to cope with radiation and live inside the exclusion zone without harm.
Also, the absence of humans inside the exclusion zone could be favouring many species big mammals in particular. The pressures generated by human activities would be more harmful to wildlife in the medium-term than a nuclear accident a quite revealing vision of the social impact on the natural environment. (I got this idea from a game on Apknite, not based on any scientific basis).
Thanks for reading!
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: abrooks051 on 14/08/2019 13:16:50
 evan_au:
Thankfully, I only drink Bourbon.
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: abrooks051 on 14/08/2019 13:22:00
I saw a show recently that showed that there are creatures living and thriving around Chernobyl. Now, take that a little further. Say there were genetic changes in the animal(s) and they migrate out of the area and reproduce. Could we, in 20 years, see Godzilla?   (Now don't go and get all scientific on me, it was just a wild thought by a crazy old fart)
Title: Re: QotW - 19.08.04 - Can wildlife thrive around Chernobyl?
Post by: nudephil on 22/08/2019 12:24:10
Thanks for all your responses. We answered this question as part of our most recent show, "Marvellous Materials in Medicine".

Interestingly, BBC correspondent Victoria Gill - who contributed to the piece - is the same person who reported the Chernobyl vodka story!