Pope turns out to be Catholic

Chernobyl not a wildlife haven is one of the most bizarre headlines you could come across.

Were people really suggesting that massive irradiation was an ecological plus?

It does appear so. Apparently, a paper in American Scientist had suggested that

“the benefits for wildlife from the lack of human activity outweighed the risks of low-level radiation….. It can be said that the world’s worst nuclear power plant disaster is not as destructive to wildlife populations as are normal human activities.”

(Well, the BBC said this research was in American Scientist but I couldn’t find it, although the researcher, Robert Baker reports his findings on his website.)

Well, that suggests that nature can repair even the most extreme damage if we just butt out and leave it to it. (Although, sterilising large swathes of farmland may not be to everyone’s taste as sensible use of land.) Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case, according to the research by A.P. Møller and T.A. Mousseau.

In fact their study, published today in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters suggests that the reverse is the case and that the ecological effects are actually even more damaging than expected.

The paper’s abstract says

Recent conclusions from the UN Chernobyl forum and reports in the popular media concerning the effects of radiation from Chernobyl on animals have left the impression that the Chernobyl exclusion zone is a thriving ecosystem, filled with an increasing number of rare species…. We conducted standardized point counts of breeding birds at forest sites around Chernobyl differing in level of background radiation by over three orders of magnitude. Species richness, abundance and population density of breeding birds decreased with increasing level of radiation, even after controlling statistically for the effects of potentially confounding factors such as soil type, habitat and height of the vegetation. ……These results imply that the ecological effects of Chernobyl on animals are considerably greater than previously assumed.

Given that there is an increasing push to present nuclear power as the carbon-friendlier alternative to fossil fuels, it’s salutary to be reminded that nuclear radiation is not a healthy and natural boost to species diversity. The fallout (lame pun intended) from any accident will be poisoning the land for many generations.

This result was pretty predictable from what has long been known about radiation. So why is it a surprise? Will this research be as widely reported as the “good news”?