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Animals worse affected by Chernobyl radiation than though

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
LAKA Foundation

A French-American study proves that radiation from Chernobyl nuclear disaster has affected animals far more than previously thought. Three years of extensive research shows a significant correlation between increasing radioactivity and declining number of species of insects and other invertebrates in the vicinity of Chernobyl. The numbers of bumblebees, butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers and other invertebrates are lower in contaminated sites than other areas because of high levels of radiation left over from the blast more than 20 years ago.

The authors of the study note: “Pollination and predation are considered important ecosystem services, and disruption may affect the overall ecosystem functioning, suggesting that the Chernobyl region and its surroundings is a perturbed ecosystem.” Team leaders Anders Møller, a researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, and Timothy Mousseau, at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, report their findings in an article called “Reduced abundance of insects and spiders linked to radiation at Chernobyl 20 years after the accident.” in Biology Letters, a journal published by The Royal Society.

Møller and Mousseau say they are amazed to see that there had been no other studies on this subject. There had been published a few articles more than ten years ago on genetic damage caused by Chernobyl radiation, on mice and barn swallows, but not on abundance of animals in relation to the disaster. In an earlier publication (2006) the scientists said to be surprised that up to now only little research has been done on the biological and ecological consequences of Chernobyl in general. They stated: “This research is the consequence of investment by a few individuals, despite the fact that the effects of the disaster are continent-wide.” More than a year ago the researchers and two colleagues of them mopped the floor with most of the studies on the consequences of Chernobyl that had been done and had received wide attention by the international media. They state: “Although Chernobyl is perhaps the largest environmental disaster ever, there has been minimal monitoring of the status of free-living organisms or humans in stark contrast to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where careful monitoring has continued for over 60 years.” They asked themselves: “Why has there been no concerted effort to monitor the long-term effects of Chernobyl on free-living organisms and humans?” And further on: “The official reports by IAEA, WHO and UNDP were narrative renditions of parts of the literature [..]. Scientific enquiry depends on rigorous analysis of data rather than rendition of anecdotal evidence.”

The only comparable data for abundance and diversity of insects and other invertebrates at Chernobyl is a study on birds that show similar patterns. Almost two years ago Møller and Mousseau studied birds around Chernobyl. They examined 7700 barn swallows from Chernobyl and compared them with birds from elsewhere. They found that Chernobyl’s swallows were more likely to have tumors, misshapen toes and feather deformities than swallows from uncontaminated parts of Europe. Rather than the impact of relocation and stress and deteriorating living conditions, as suggested by the IAEA in 2006, they suggested that nuclear fallout might be responsible for human birth defects in the region. “We don’t fully understand the consequences of low doses of radiation,” said Mousseau. “We should be more concerned about the human population.”

Their latest findings challenge earlier research that suggested animal populations were rebounding around the site of the Chernobyl. These studies ignored the fact that animal populations had grown unimpeded in the absence of humans for many years after the blast, Møller said. The scientists claim they did the first study that was focusing the abundance of animal populations by comparing animal populations in radioactive areas with less contaminated plots. Some areas appeared to be nearly completed depleted of animal life.

Though not yet published, the researchers told Reuters they also found that animals living near the damaged reactor or sarcophagus had more deformities, including discoloration and stunted limbs, than normal. To a science reporter of BBC News Mousseau explained: “We want to expand the range of our coverage to include insects, mammals and plants. This study is the next in the series.”

Møller is suggesting not to restrict their activities to the direct vicinity of Chernobyl. He said that many researchers are erroneously focusing on the 30-kilometer radius around Chernobyl reactor, because the fallout from the explosion covered a vast swathe of Eastern Europe, including parts of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. He expects that their findings probably apply to those areas as well.

An extensive and detailed chronology on Chernobyl and its consequences can be found on the Laka website.

Sources: Reuters, 18 March 2009 / BBC, 18 March 2009 /Anders Pape Møller and Timothy A. Mousseau, “Reduced abundance of insects and spiders linked to radiation at Chernobyl 20 years after the accident.” Biology Letters, published online 18 March 2009  / Anders Pape Møller and Timothy A. Mousseau, “Biological consequences of Chernobyl: 20 years on.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution Vol.21 No.4 April 2006 / A.P Møller, T.A Mousseau, F de Lope and N Saino, “Anecdotes and empirical research in Chernobyl.” Biology Letters, 23 February 2008 vol. 4 no. 1 65-66 / WISE NC,  31 October 1997: “Chernobyl swallows suffer genetic damage”

Contact: Laka Foundation, Ketelhuisplein 43, 1054 RD Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 6168 294

Call to participate in international "Chernobyl Day" action
On Saturday, the 25th and Sunday, the 26th of April 2009, let's get involved against nuclear power! Let's rally to organize a local "Masks against Denial" action. The action of April, the 26th 2008 found broad echo in the press (179 actions worldwide). In 2009, let's act locally for an even stronger mobilisation.

The main action is easy to take even with few people and simply consists in wearing a mask while standing on a symbolic place. 3000 original masks branded with radioactivity signs, symbolising Chernobyl victims and people suffering because of civil and military uses of nuclear technology worldwide, have been designed for this very occasion. Our organisation, Réseau "Sortir du nucléaire", will see to a broad national communication campaign.


We can propose you an example for a press release, flyers for the public and a big poster recalling World Health Organisation's 50 years of submission to the International Atomic Energy Agency. All together, during this day, we will make a strong address to the global public opinion. Register your action and order material for your action at: