Controversial new nuclear plant ignites Belarus Thirty years after Chernobyl catastrophe, construction of new nuclear station on border with Lithuania stirs debate. Aljazeera by Jonathan Brown Minsk, Belarus , 19 Oct 16, – Thirty years after an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station devastated the countryside on the southern border of Belarus, leaving behind lasting consequences for millions of people, the construction of a new nuclear station is stirring discord between government officials, opposition politicians, the local populace and foreign diplomats.
On July 10 of this year, the 330-tonne reactor casing dropped from a height of between two and four metres in an incident that only came to the public’s attention two weeks later when a member of the Belarus United Civil Party, Mikalai Ulasevich, leaked the news to the local press.
The Ministry of Energy eventually released a statement acknowledging the incident, and Rosatom – the Russian state nuclear corporation and the primary contractor for the project, said that tests had revealed the dropped casing to be safe.
Concerns and opposition
However, with the memory of Chernobyl looming large, both the energy ministry and Rosatom, which agreed to replace the casing to “mitigate rumours and panic among the population” have so far failed to reassure all Belarusians of the station’s safety.
“They are building a crematorium,” Ulasevich says, driving through the rural village of Varniany where BelNPP’s stacks loom over the horizon.
“The only way to guarantee the safety of the plant is to cease its construction.”
Anti-BelNPP activists, including Ulasevich, are concerned by the government’s decision to build the plant in an ecologically pristine region of the country’s north, surrounded by agricultural land and lakes not affected by Chernobyl.
News of the spate of accidents has been met with concern in neighbouring Lithuania. The country’s interior ministry recently indicated that plans were being drafted, in the event of an accident at Astravets, for the evacuation of the capital, Vilnius, which is only 50km from the BelNPP construction site.
Meanwhile, Lithuania has called for Belarus to carry out IAEA stress tests at the site, during which experts both from the EU and Lithuania may be present.
A Lithuanian delegation for the plant said that until the tests are carried out, Belarus should halt the construction work. In August, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite described the project as an “existential” threat to European security……..
By June of this year, the Belarussian public was largely split on BelNPP. A poll conducted by the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies suggested that a slight majority – 35 percent or respondents – disapproved of the project.
Tatyana Korotkevich, who was an independent candidate in the country’s parliamentary elections in September, told Al Jazeera in her offices in central Minsk that Belarusians in her electorate feel their questions about the plant have not been sufficiently addressed by the government………
Who will profit?
Energy analysts and activists alike say that the government’s economic arguments for the station are outdated since the Belarusian economy entered into a decline that the World Bank forecasts will continue into 2017 [PDF].
They say there is little evidence to suggest that the country’s economy would benefit from or even require the energy surplus the $11bn BelNPP will produce.
Minsk, which in July owed Moscow almost $300m in energy debts, hopes its nuclear project will help to levy energy independence. But anti-nuclear activists and independent analysts note that Russia, the primary contractor, will be the sole supplier of fuel for the project once completed…..
Like thousands of Belarusians following Chernobyl, anti-nuclear activist Tanya Novikova was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She, like other anti-nuclear activists in Belarus, including Ulasevich, report having been detained and harassed in their opposition to the plant. But Novikova won’t be deterred, she told Al Jazeera.
“I personally know that the consequences of Chernobyl may be more scary, more dramatic than being arrested,” she said. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/09/controversial-nuclear-plant-ignites-belarus-160926094703537.html
Mysteries Of The First Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant, Belarus Digest Lizaveta Kasmach06 September 2016 On 26 August 2016, a 43-year old worker was injured and killed as a result of the explosion of an oxygen gas tank at the Astraviec nuclear power plant (NPP) construction site.
A series of unfortunate events
Reports of incidents at the Astraviec construction site have been piling up in 2016, bringing more and more attention to the first Belarusian nuclear project. For instance, in April 2016, Poland-based TV channel Belsat reported the collapse of a supporting structure in one of the maintenance buildings on the site.
This death was the latest in a series of accidents which have already started to raise nuclear safety concerns, both domestically and internationally.
In July 2016, the Belarusian media reported another dangerous incident which occurred during the installation of a reactor. It also turned out that the NPP’s management had been concealing this news for more than two weeks. This lack of transparency is reminiscent of the suppressed news of the Chernobyl catastrophe back in 1986.
As a result, NPP construction has come under closer scrutiny and even the state-run media picked up the topic of nuclear security. However, all these events have not led to massive anti-nuclear protests in Belarus.
Despite the fact that an employee tipped off journalists, the NPP management responded by denying that the accident had even taken place and referred to the news as “absolute nonsense.” Later, the Belarusian Ministry of Energy nevertheless confirmed the accident, trying to downplay its severity.
Less than two months ago, authorities tried to conceal another, more serious accident which interrupted the installation of the nuclear reactor. On 10 July 2016, the reactor casing, weighing over 330 tonnes, reportedly fell to the ground from a height of 2 to 4 metres.
However, the wider public became aware of this disaster only on 25 July. Local anti-nuclear activist and United Civil Party member Mikalai Ulasevich reported that more than ten anonymous insider sources could confirm that something went wrong during the test lifting procedure……..
Lithuania also expressed its concerns. On 23 August, president Dalia Grybauskaite referred to the Belarusian NPP as an instrument which could potentially be used in an unconventional manner against the Baltic states. In her opinion, the Belarusian NPP potentially represented “an energy, military, health, and territorial security problem, if used by a hostile country.”
What about Belarusian environmentalists? Belarusian environmentalists had already adopted a clear anti-nuclear position by 2005, when officials started mentioning plans for an NPP. In 2006, the Belarusian NGOEcodom, backed by the opposition parties, pioneered anorganised anti-nuclear movement. By 2008, major anti-nuclear initiatives united within the Belarusian Anti-Nuclear Campaign.
However, Belarusian authorities did everything possible to neutralise the dissenting green movement. For instance, during the so-called public debates on the NPP construction in October 2009, only a few anti-nuclear activists were allowed to attend. The event ended with the arrest of anti-nuclear expert Andrei Ozharovskii.
Moreover, the Institute of Sociology at the National Academy of Sciences produced surveys indicating a surprising turn in public opinion towards acceptance of nuclear energy. ……
Even though in 2016 the anti-nuclear movement has captured more attention, environmentalists fear that Belarusian society is dangerously naive when it comes to NPP construction. According to the coordinator of the Green Network association, Yaraslau Bekish, this explains why even serious accidents in Astraviec have not catalysed significant public protests.
So far, Belarusian authorities have succeeded in protecting their pet project in Astraviec. Neither Belarusian independent anti-nuclear activists nor the EU have the leverage to interfere in these plans. However, there is a chance that their voice could be heard if such emergencies and accidents continue in the future. Lizaveta Kasmach is a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta, Canada. http://belarusdigest.com/story/mysteries-first-belarusian-nuclear-power-plant-27097
Belarus under fire for ‘dangerous errors’ at nuclear plant
Neighbouring countries denounce ‘Soviet-style secrecy’ over accidents during energy site’s construction, RFE/RL reports, Guardian, Tony Wesolowsky ,9 Aug 16, Thirty years after world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Belarus, which saw a quarter of its territory contaminated in the disaster, is building its first energy plant powered by the atom.
However a series of mishaps at the site in Astravets are raising concerns over safety, particularly in Lithuania whose capital, Vilnius, lies less than 31 miles (50km) from the site.
In July it was reported by local news that a nuclear reactor shell had been dropped while being moved. Local resident Nikolai Ulasevich, who is a member of the opposition United Civic Party, claimed the 330-tonne shell had fallen from a height of 2-4m in preparation for installation.
Two weeks later the Belarusian Energy Ministry confirmed that an “emergency situation” had occurred at the construction site. It said that the incident took place at the warehouse facility, while the reactor was being moved.
The Russian state-owned company Rosatom, the nuclear plant’s main contractor, denied the reactor shell had been damaged, and should be installed as planned pending permission from supervisors.
Despite such assurances, the Belarusian deputy energy minister Mikhail Mikhadyuk has since reportedly said the installation of the reactor shell was being suspended pending further safety checks.
The Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius said the lack of transparency on the part of Belarusian officials was unacceptable. “These incidents, happening from time to time, lack of transparency, we’re learning about them from open sources, usually too late…. This is not how it should be in reality. This last incident when a nuclear reactor vessel was possibly damaged is very dangerous,” he said…….
It’s not the first mishap at the construction site, nor the first time Belarusian officials have resisted divulging any details.
The structural frame of the nuclear service building at the site collapsed in April, as first reported by the Belsat independent TV station. According to the report, supervisors, under pressure to meet a deadline, ordered workers to pour too much concrete causing the structure to collapse.
No mention of the accident was made in the Belarusian state media or by officials, with the spokesman at the plant first denying anything had happened. In May, the Belarusian energy ministry, however, did confirm an “incident” had occurred during the pouring of concrete, but the “defect” had been dealt with………
Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite said in late July that Vilnius would work with the international community to block the plant coming online if Minsk failed to take steps to ensure international safety standards at the site…….https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/09/belarus-under-fire-for-dangerous-errors-at-nuclear-plant
Belarus plant work suspended after installation mishap, WNN, 02 August 2016
Russia’s Rosatom has offered to replace the reactor shell its workers dropped during installation work last month at Belorussia’s first nuclear power plant, in Ostrovets, in the Grodno region. Meanwhile Mikhail Mikhadyuk, deputy energy minister of Belarus, has said a decision would be taken on the use of the equipment only after a thorough investigation of the “abnormal situation”……http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Belarus-plant-suspended-after-installation-mishap-02081601.html
“…….Though Chernobyl is in Ukraine, it’s estimated that the prevailing winds resulted in up to 70 per cent of the radioactivity being deposited on Belarus, much of it in the southern region of the country, close to the Ukrainian border.
Undeterred by the legacy of Chernobyl – many here still suffer from cancers and other diseases as a result of what ranks as the world’s worst nuclear accident – Belarus is now building its own nuclear power plant……
The government – for more than 20 years under the firm grip of president Alexander Lukashenko – claims that more than 60 per cent of the country’s 9.5 million approve of the nuclear facility, though no nationwide poll has ever been taken…..
Government critics say no proper public hearings have been held about the plant, and that those who dare to raise objections have been harassed or arrested……..
Critics point out that Belarus will still be reliant on Russia. A Russian state nuclear company has designed and is responsible for much of the construction. Russia will also supply the plant’s nuclear fuel – and deal with the waste.
Neighbouring Lithuania, always suspicious of a government in Minsk it sees as a remnant of the old Soviet order, is deeply concerned about what’s going on. It points out that the plant at Ostrovets is only 20km from the Lithuanian border and only 50km from Vilnius, the capital.
Officials in Vilnius say Belarus has not answered questions about the safety of Ostrovets and is in contravention of international agreements on nuclear facilities. The government in Minsk firmly denies the accusations.
Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarus author and winner of the 2015 Nobel prize for literature for her work on interviewing Chernobyl victims and other writings, has described the nuclear fallout from Chernobyl as an unimaginable disaster for her country.
Back at the new nuclear plant, due to become operational in two years, we are being bombarded with data. So many thousands of tons of concrete, so many tons of steel are being used in its construction.
“What happens if a missile is fired at the plant?” asks one journalist.
“Then we are all in trouble,” comes the reply. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/minsk-letter-belarus-goes-ahead-with-nuclear-power-1.2658040
Some nuclear advocates suggest that wildlife thrives in the highly-radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, animals like it, and not only that, a little radiation for anybody and everybody is harmless and maybe good, not bad. This may seem like a senseless argument to tackle were it not for the persistence of positive-plus commentary by nuke lovers. The public domain deserves better, more studied, more crucial answers.
Fortunately, as well as unfortunately, the world has two major real life archetypes of radiation’s impact on the ecosystem: Chernobyl and Fukushima. Chernobyl is a sealed-off 30klm restricted zone for the past 30 years because of high radiation levels, whereas PM Abe’s government in Japan has already started returning people to formerly restricted zones surrounding the ongoing Fukushima nuclear melt-down.
The short answer to the supposition that a “little dab of radiation is A-Okay” may be suggested in the title of a Washington Blog d/d March 12, 2014 in an interview of Dr. Timothy Mousseau, the world-renowned expert on radiation effects on living organisms. The hard answer is included further on in this article.
Dr. Mousseau is former Program Director at the National Science Foundation in Population Biology, Panelist for the National Academy of Sciences’ Panels on Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities and GAO Panel on Health and Environmental Effects from Tritium Leaks at Nuclear Power Plants, and a biology professor – and former Dean of the Graduate School, and Chair of the Graduate Program in Ecology – at the University of South Carolina.
The title of the Washington Blog interview is:
“Chernobyl and Fukushima Studies Show that Radiation Reduces Animal and Plant Numbers, Fertility, Brain Size and Diversity… and Increases Deformities and Abnormalities”
Dr. Mousseau made many trips to Chernobyl and Fukushima, making 896 inventories at Chernobyl and 1,100 biotic inventories in Fukushima. His mission was to test the effects of radiation on plants and animals. The title of his interview (above) handily serves to answer the question of whether radiation is positive for animals and plants. Without itemizing reams and reams of study data, the short answer is: Absolutely not! It is not positive for animals and plants, period.
Moreover, low doses of radiation, aka “radiation hormesis”, is not good for humans, as advocated by certain energy-related outlets. Data supporting their theory is extremely shaky and more to the point, flaky.
Furthermore, according to the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s journal Biological Reviews, including reported results by wide-ranging analyses of 46 peer-reviewed studies published over 40 years, low-level natural background radiation was found to have small, but highly statistically significant, negative effects on DNA and several measures of good health.
Dr. Mousseau, with co-author Anders Møller of the University of Paris-Sud, examined more that 5,000 papers involving background radiation in order to narrow their findings to 46 peer-reviewed studies. These studies examined plants and animals with a large preponderance of human subjects.
The scientists reported significant negative effects in a range of categories, including immunology, physiology, mutation and disease occurrence. The frequency of negative effects was beyond that of random chance.
There is no threshold below which there are no effects of radiation.
With the levels of contamination that we have seen as a result of nuclear power plants, especially in the past, and even as a result of Chernobyl and Fukushima and related accidents, there’s an attempt in the industry to downplay the doses that the populations are getting, because maybe it’s only one or two times beyond what is thought to be the natural background level…. But they’re assuming the natural background levels are fine. And the truth is, if we see effects at these low levels, then we have to be thinking differently about how we develop regulations for exposures, and especially intentional exposures to populations, like the emissions from nuclear power plants….
Results of Major Landmark Study on Low Dose Radiation (July 2015)
A consortium of researchers coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, examined causes of death in a study of more than 300,000 nuclear-industry workers in France, the United States and the United Kingdom, all of whom wore dosimeter badges.1
The workers received on average just 1.1 millisieverts (mSv) per year above background radiation, which itself is about 2–3 mSv per year from sources such as cosmic rays and radon. The study confirmed that the risk of leukemia does rise proportionately with higher doses, but also showed that this linear relationship is present at extremely low levels of radiation.
The study effectively “scuppers the popular idea that there might be a threshold dose below which radiation is harmless.”
Even so, the significant issue regarding radiation exposure for humans is that it is a “silent destroyer” that takes years and only manifests once damage has occurred; for example, 200 American sailors of the USS Reagan have filed a lawsuit against TEPCO et al because of radiation-related illnesses, like leukemia, only four years after radiation exposure from Fukushima.
Japan Moving People Back to Fukushima Restricted Zones
Japan’s Abe government has started moving people back into former restricted zones surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station even though it is an on-going major nuclear meltdown that is totally out of control.
Accordingly, Greenpeace Japan conducted a radiation survey and sampling program in Iitate, a village in Fukushima Prefecture. Even after decontamination, radiation dose rates measured ten times (10xs) the maximum allowed to the general public.
According to Greenpeace Japan:
The Japanese government plans to lift restrictions in all of Area 2 , including Iitate, where people could receive radiation doses of up to 20mSV each year and in subsequent years. International radiation protection standards recommend public exposure should be 1mSv/year or less in non-post accident situations. The radiation limit that excluded people from living in the 30km zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant exclusion zone was set at 5mSV/year, five years after the nuclear accident. Over 100,000 people were evacuated from within the zone and will never return.2
- “Researchers Pin Down Risks of Low-Dose Radiation”, Nature, July 8, 2015.
- Greenpeace Press Release, July 21, 2015
Source: The Dissident
No, Fukushima Is Not a Wildlife Haven—and Neither Is Chernobyl http://www.citylab.com/tech/2014/08/no-fukushima-is-no-eden-for-animalsand-neither-is-chernobyl/376046/ A slew of new research reveals the deleterious effects of radiation on Fukushima’s ecology. LAURA BLISS @mslaurabliss Aug 14, 2014
So what of Fukushima Daiichi, Japan’s nuclear collapse of 2011—might we expect a happy menagerie there, too? Not so much, according to a slew of new papers out in the Journal of Heredity. And you may want to rethink Chernobyl-as-Eden, too.
The findings of the new studies tell of significant population decline across many different species of animals and plants, as well as a range of expressions of genetic damage and cell mutation.
One paper reports that the pale grass blue butterfly, one of Japan’s most common butterfly species, has suffered from significant size reduction, slowed growth, high mortality and abnormal wing patterns both within the Fukushima exclusion zone and among lab-raised offspring of parents collected at the site. Which is to say, radiation-caused genetic mutations were passed down.
Timothy Mousseau, a prominent biologist and lead author of that population study, has also conducted significant research into radiation’s impacts at Chernobyl. He roundly rejects the claim that the area has become an animal haven, arguing that notion was based on anecdotal evidence rather than scientific data. Mousseau’s own work demonstrates radiation has had similar effects on Chernobyl’s ecology as on Fukushima’s.
Further inquiry into all manner of species living at the Chernobyl site could help scientists better predict Fukushima’s biological trajectory, he says. “There is an urgent need for greater investment in basic scientific research of the wild animals and plants of Fukushima,” Mousseau told the Journal of Heredity.
The Crushing Effects Of Radiation From The Fukushima Disaster On The Ecosystem Are Being Slowly Revealed http://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-serious-biological-effects-of-fukushima-radiation-on-plants-insects-and-animals-is-slowly-being-revealed-2014-8 CHRIS PASH A range of scientific studies at Fukushima have begun to reveal the impact on the natural world from the radiation leaks at the power station in Japan caused by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Biological samples were obtained only after extensive delays following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, limiting the information which could be gained about the impact of that disaster.
Scientists, determined not to repeat the shortcomings of the Chernobyl studies, began gathering biological information only a few months after the meltdown of the Daiichi power plant 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 summarising 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,” says Dr Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, lead author of one of the studies. Continue reading
Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for ‘another Chernobyl’ on her doorstep Nabeelah Shabbir theguardian.com, Friday 25 July 2014 Tatyana Novikova says new Russian-funded nuclear power plant bypassed official planning regulations and violates international conventions
In 2009, Tatyana Novikova bought a wooden house near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. She chose the area carefully, she says. It’s next to a lake, untouched by industry and – crucially for the mathematician who worked on contamination models in the aftermath of Chernobyl – unaffected by the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.
But six months after she bought her dream home, Belarus announced that a new nuclear power station, financed by Russia, would be built nearby in Ostrovets.
“I’m completely devastated,” says Novikova, who says the government bypassed official planning regulations, ignored safety concerns and failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment for the plant.
Her experience with Chernobyl, when radioactive contamination forced around 350,000 people to leave their homes and led to an unknown number of deaths, have left her cautious about nuclear power and distrustful of government safety promises.
“Another Chernobyl cannot happen,” she says.
Novikova has appealed to international environmental authorities to try to stop the NPP project, without any success. In the meantime authorities have already started work on construction.
“The problem is that [Belarusian president Alexander] Lukashenko does not give his citizens a voice,” she says.
In a country which does not tolerate activism or public protest – the annual Chernobyl anniversary marches she organises often end in arrests – Novikova has taken her opposition abroad.
She is in London to raise awareness about the issue and hopes to spur the EU to put pressure on Belarus, as the plant would be 60km from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
A group of Belarusian activists, including the theatre company Belarus Free Theatre, have launched a petition against the power station – and have won support from some high-profile figures:
Another Chernobyl?! No thanks! Join me – sign petition to block dodgy new nuclear plant in Belarus http://chn.ge/1pNrmGO
The petition cites several problems with the plant:
- Construction was started before design plans were in place, and before a license had been issued
- The design is experimental and has not been properly tested
- An assessment by more that 50 independent experts found gaping holes in the government’s environmental impact assessment
Novikova says the plans flaunt international regulations; Belarus is a signatory of the Espoo and Aarhus conventions, which specify environmental protections and monitor requirements such as public consultations over construction projects.
She approached the Aarhus committee in Maastricht in June, asking them to prevent the power plant because Belarus had violated the convention by not obtaining official planning permission. The committee came back to her with bad news; they would only issue what she calls a “caution of a caution” to Belarus, believing the government wouldn’t listen anyway. …….http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/25/belarus-anti-nuclear-chernobyl-on-her-doorstep
Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for ‘another Chernobyl’ on her doorstepNabeelah Shabbir theguardian.com, Friday 25 July 2014 “…………The proposed new plant in Belarus will be funded by Russia. Belarus’s official cost estimate is 9.4 billion US dollars, with one third of this to be spent by 2015. Its reactors would be constructed by the Russian company AtomEnergoMash.
Novikova is critical of the EU for not clamping down on nuclear power in the wake of the Fukishima nuclear disaster of 2011, and points out that some countries are steering away from nuclear energy. “Germany is phasing out of nuclear power; it produced 50% of all electricity generation from more renewable sources last year. The Italians said no in their nuclear referendum.”
Like many Belarusian activists, Novikova has faced severe harassment. She was detained in her own home in Minsk during anti-nuclear protests. Her elderly mother has received prank calls which the police confirmed came from the KGB. In Russia, she was arrested and jailed for five days for trying to hand in an environmental petition to the Russian embassy.
She was also was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011, and can’t tell if she was contaminated from radiation exposure from Chernobyl. The WHO says the disaster will cause 50,000 new cases of the cancer among young people living in the worst-affected region. Increased rates ofthyroid cancer are also being reported in Japan, post-Fukushima.
But she refuses to dwell on her own problems: “I’m still alive. Mine is not the worst case of persecution of people.”
“What should I do? Stop my fight? I lost my health, now I have lost my house,” she says. “Why should I run from this problem? I could go to the US or Europe, but it won’t change if I run – maybe I will, if my life will be in danger. Nobody knows. Right now, I have an opportunity to do something.”http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/25/belarus-anti-nuclear-chernobyl-on-her-doorstep
After many generations of radiation-caused deaths and deformities, some Chernobyl birds have adapted
Some birds adapt to Chernobyl’s radiation, Sarah Zielinski, 2 May 14, https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/wild-things/some-birds-adapt-chernobyl%E2%80%99s-radiation On April 26, 1986, the world saw the worst civilian nuclear disaster in history when Unit 4 of the nuclear power station in Chernobyl, Ukraine, was destroyed. The explosion and subsequent fire released radioactive material into the environment that lingers today. The Soviet government closed off a 30-kilometer area around the plant, and hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated, never to return home. Workers are still trying to cap the site with a giant arch that would entomb the remains of the nuclear reactor.
The effects on local plants and wildlife have been varied. Pine trees close to the disaster died in the days soon after. Other plants thrived in the spaces abandoned by humans. Wildlife, too, seemed to be doing well. Rare birds were spotted. A herd of Przewalski’s horses, escaped from captivity, grew. Wolves and boar were seen on the streets of one town.But all was not good. Radiation, after all, is not healthy for living things. And so studies have documented negative effects of Chernobyl’s radiation on the region’s plants and animals, including changes in abundance, distribution, life history and mutation rates. Scientists have found that birds living in the area have eye cataractsor smaller brains. And insects, microbes and other decomposers aren’t behaving normally.
A new study, however, finds that some birds may be adapting to the low levels of radiation that persist around Chernobyl. Thestudy was published April 24 in Functional Ecology.
Ismael Galván of Paris-Sud University and colleagues captured 152 birds representing 16 species from sites within and near the Chernobyl exclusion zone. They took blood samples and analyzed the birds’ levels of antioxidants, how much their DNA had been damaged and their body condition. They also measured the levels of the pigment pheomelanin in the birds’ feathers.
When the researchers compared birds captured in higher radiation areas with those in lower radiation spots, they found something surprising: The birds from the higher radiation zones were generally in better condition, and they had higher levels of antioxidants. These molecules can help cells by stopping the reaction through which ionizing radiation damages DNA.
“To our knowledge, this represents the first evidence of adaptation to ionizing radiation in wild populations of animals,” the researchers write.
Two species, great tits (Parus major) and barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) didn’t follow the pattern and were doing worse in the high radiation locations. These birds had higher levels of pheomelanin in their feathers. Antioxidants are consumed in the production of pheomelanin, so to produce higher levels, the birds would have used up more antioxidants. Perhaps, the researchers write, these birds aren’t left with enough antioxidants to effectively deal with the DNA damage caused by radiation.
However, anyone thinking that this is good news for Chernobyl’s wildlife should think again. “The effects of radiation at Chernobyl on populations of organisms, and for birds in particular,” the researchers write, “have been negative overall.”
Chernobyl’s Steel Radiation Shield Is the Biggest Moving Structure Ever, Gizmodo Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan 29 April 14 (Terrific photos) In the normal world, it’s what you’d call a bad investment: Spending $2 billion to build the largest moveable structure ever—and knowing that it won’t work for longer than 100 years. But in Chernobyl, it’s the best available option for protecting a whole continent from the worst nuclear disaster in history.
Today is the 28th anniversary of the disaster, which killed 31 and subjects hundreds of others to extreme suffering, and left 200 tons of radioactive corium and 16 tons of uranium and plutonium exposed inside the smoking remains of Reactor 4. At the time, heroic workers quickly constructed an ad hoc shelter over the reactor to stop the spew of radioactive material across Ukraine and Western Europe, using 7,000 metric tons of metal and many more tons of concrete. But that shelter—known as the Sarcophagus—was never meant to last. And now, it’s in danger of collapsing.
Enter New Safe Confinement, a project that’s nearly as old as the meltdown it’s designed to contain. It’s a two-pronged plan: First, thousands of workers are constructing a 300-foot-tall steel arch that weighs more than 32,000-tons. Though it’s being built a few hundred meters away from Reactor 4, it’s eventually going to cover it, creating a thick steel cage around the reactor in case it collapses.
But because the area near it is too radioactive for workers to stay there for longer than a few minutes, this huge structure is being built next door—then, very very slowly, it will be slid on teflon-coated tracks to cover the
A number of studies apply that basic method – based on collective radiation doses and risk estimates – and come up with estimates of the Chernobyl cancer death toll varying from 9,000 (in the most contaminated parts of the former Soviet Union) to 93,000 deaths (across Europe).
unqualified claims that the death toll was just 50, should be rejected as dishonest or uninformed spin from the nuclear industry and some of its scientifically-illiterate (in this field if not in others) supporters.
And sadly, that has to include every last one of the self-proclaimed ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ – among them James Hansen, Patrick Moore, Mark Lynas, George Monbiot, Stephen Tindale and James Lovelock.
Chernobyl – how many died?, The Ecologist, Jim Green – Nuclear Monitor 26th April 2014“………Fifty immediate deaths
About 50 people died in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl accident. Beyond that, studies generally don’t indicate a significant increase in cancer incidence in populations exposed to Chernobyl fallout.
Nor would anyone expect them to because of the data gaps and methodological problems mentioned above, and because the main part of the problem concerns the exposure of millions of people to low doses of radiation from Chernobyl fallout.
For a few fringe scientists and nuclear industry insiders and apologists, that’s the end of the matter – the statistical evidence is lacking and thus the death toll from Chernobyl was just 50.
If they were being honest, they would note an additional, unknown death toll from cancer and from other radiation-linked diseases including cardiovascular disease. Continue reading
Tourism, Construction and an Ongoing Nuclear Crisis at Chernobyl NewsWeek, By Alexander Nazaryan / April 17, 2014 “……..For the most part, the defunct station of reactors (the first went live in 1977; the last, the one that blew, in 1983) looks like a tidy industrial park in central Ohio: shorn green lawns, a smattering of abstract art, half-empty parking lots, a canal rife with fish. Nothing indicates that this is the site of the worst nuclear disaster in human history.
Yet as tourists Instagram away at Pripyat’s ruins, Chernobyl is undergoing one of the most challenging engineering feats in the world, as a French consortium called Novarka tries to replace the aging sarcophagus that contains the reactor, a concrete shell hastily and heroically built in the direct aftermath of the meltdown. The place remains a half-opened tinderbox of potential nuclear horrors, and just because much of the world has forgotten about Chernobyl doesn’t mean catastrophe won’t visit here again……..
“It wouldn’t take much of a seismic event to knock it down,” a civil engineer recently explained to Scientific American. The Federation of American Scientists says, “If the sarcophagus were to collapse due to decay or geologic disturbance, the resulting radioactive dust storm would cause an international catastrophe on par with or worse than the 1986 accident……
Nor is the land surrounding the reactor quite the pristine preserve that some have celebrated in nature-has-triumphed-over-our-thoughtlessness-and-incompetence fashion. Earlier this year, a study by University of South Carolina biologist Timothy Mousseau and others indicated that fallen trees weren’t decomposing because, in Mousseau’s words, “the radiation inhibited microbial decomposition of the leaf litter on the top layer of the soil,” turning the ground into a vast firetrap at whose center sits the aged sarcophagus.
So, at best, Chernobyl is merely dormant. To extend that dormancy for a lot longer, Novarka was contracted in 2007 to build the New Safe Confinement. Though sometimes described as a gigantic hangar, having seen the NSC, I see it as something more elegant, its hopeful parabolic curves recalling the smooth grace of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. In cross section, it is two layers of steel with a 39-foot layer of latticework in between. Its combined shapes and angles are so fluid and simple, you want to put them on a ninth grade geometry quiz.
Currently being built in two pieces, it will rise 30 stories and weigh 30,000 tons-and cost perhaps as much as $2 billion. When completed, the steel contraption will slide along Teflon rails on top of Reactor No. 4 (a process that will take several days). It is believed to be the largest movable structure on Earth. The NSC will be so enormous that, according to the British technology journal The Engineer, it “is one of a handful of buildings that will enclose a volume of air large enough to create its own weather.”……http://www.newsweek.com/2014/04/25/tourism-construction-and-ongoing-nuclear-crisis-chernobyl-248163.htmlNewsWeek,
Decay takes a holiday: the wickedness beneath the “Chernobyl wild paradise” myth and the rotten implications for ecosystems and radiation science http://www.beyondnuclear.org/russia-ussr/2014/4/18/decay-takes-a-holiday-the-wickedness-beneath-the-chernobyl-w.html 21 April 14
April 26, 2014 will mark 28 years since the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded causing an unprecedented nuclear catastrophe. In a creepy revelation, the forests around Chernobyl are having difficulty decomposing. A recently published study indicates that forest matter in the contaminated areas around Chernobyl is taking years or even decades longer to decay than it should. In the areas with low radiation, 70 to 90 percent of the leaves were gone after a year. Where radiation levels were higher, “leaves retained around 60 percent of their original weight…”(Smithsonian.com) This indicates a fundamental disruption to the natural cycle of death feeding life, and calls into question the forest’s longer-term viability. Creatures responsible for decay such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects, are essential components of any ecosystem because they recycle organic material back into the soil. Unfortunately, they do not function properly in the areas around Chernobyl, leaving a forest full of “petrified-looking pine trees that no longer seem capable of rotting.” GIZMODO
Radiation’s effect on decay processes should be expected, considering how it impacts microbes in food; or considering the results of a bizarre, cavalier and extremely ill-advised series of experiments performed using a “naked reactor” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. These experiments intentionally irradiated a number of varying materials and forest land 40 miles north of Atlanta, GA. Wood subjected to this radiation was produced in small-scale and called “Lockwood”, for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation who operated the Georgia Nuclear Laboratory. The building and land is still contaminated with radionuclides.
The lack of decomposer activity has researchers worried that nutrients which trees require for grow are not being recycled, causing trees in the area to grow more slowly. Improper plant decay has potential implications for animal decay as well, although there do not appear to be any Chernobyl studies investigating this yet.
Actual in-the-field examinations of regions contaminated by radioactivity from Chernobyl also reveal evidence for increased mutation rates, abnormal sperm with reduced swimming ability, developmental abnormalities, cataracts, tumors, smaller brains in both birds and mammals, and decreased tree growth rates, a finding of fundamental importance for ecosystem functioning that likely relates to effects on the microbial community. Fewer spiders and insects including bees, butterflies and grasshoppers—live there. Animals and plants show other impacts of radiation after the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in the US and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Timothy Mousseau, a biologist at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, who collaborated on many of these studies, contends that, fundamentally, this evidence indicates low-dose rate exposures cause significant measurable impacts for the biota inhabiting contaminated regions of Chernobyl. Further, this evidence supports a hypothesis that suggests effects down to very low levels. Further implications for Fukushima should not be ignored.
Humans and animals alike: healthy looking on the outside, disintegrating on the inside
Referencing studies summarized in his book, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, Alexey Yablokov states:
“Wildlife in the heavily contaminated Chernobyl zone sometimes appears to flourish, but the appearance is deceptive,” says Yablokov. “Levels of incorporated radionuclides remain dangerously high for mammals, birds, amphibians, and fish. Long-term observations of both wild and experimental animal populations in the heavily contaminated areas show significant increases in morbidity and mortality that bear a striking resemblance to changes in the health of humans – increased occurrence of tumours and immunodeficiencies, decreased life expectancy, early aging, changes in blood and the circulatory system, malformations, and other factors that compromise health.
“All of the populations of plants, fishes, amphibians and mammals studied there are in poor condition,” he continues. “This zone is analogous to a ‘black hole’, in which there is accelerated genetic degeneration of large animals – some species may only persist there via immigration from uncontaminated areas. The Chernobyl zone is a micro-evolutionary ‘boiler’, where gene pools of living creatures are actively transforming, with unpredictable consequences. We ignore these findings at our peril.”
Dr. Yablokov’s statement deftly presents the dichotomy between what is observed by a dilettante’s eye – such as lots of members in a wild animal population — versus what is actually happening to these members over time. What is happening to this wildlife has parallel implications for human health.
So where did this “paradise for wildlife” and “biodiversity sanctuary” myth come from? In 2006 the International Atomic Energy Agency, a nuclear power promoter and a member body of the United Nations, released a report entitled Environmental Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident and their Remediation: Twenty Years of Experience. This report references the creation of a nature preserve within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and remarks “Without a permanent residence of humans for 20 years, the ecosystems around the Chernobyl site are now flourishing. The CEZ has become a wildlife sanctuary…, and it looks like the nature park it has become.” From another report: “Indeed, the Exclusion Zone has paradoxically become a unique sanctuary for biodiversity.”
The Chernobyl Forum coalition makes this statement in support of “unique biodiversity” in spite of their recognition that “Genetic effects of radiation, in both somatic and germ cells, have been observed in plants and animals of the Exclusion Zone during the first few years after the Chernobyl accident. Both in the Exclusion Zone, and beyond, different cytogenetic anomalies attributable to radiation continue to be reported from experimental studies performed on plants and animals.” They conclude, however, “[w]hether the observed cytogenetic anomalies in somatic cells have any detrimental biological significance is not known.” In order to know this, one has to actually look.
The study summaries compiled by Alexey Yablokov, et al. (studies which had been mostly unavailable in the west until 2009) and the published examinations of researchers Mousseau, et al., indicate rather strongly that there is significant biological detriment to wildlife in the contaminated areas surrounding Chernobyl. And unlike these studies, the Chernobyl Forum documents provide very few references (under ten total) for any claims they make regarding the flourishing of wildlife.
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