Dr Timothy Mousseau, professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina and researcher for the Chernobyl and Fukushima Research Initiative, presented new findings to the International Ornithological Congress in Tokyo last week that suggest radiation contamination around Fukushima Daiichi, even at low levels, is negatively impacting biodiversity and wildlife populations.
Mousseau and his collaborators have been monitoring radiation levels at 1,500 sites and bird populations at 400 points across Fukushima over the last 3 years. The lay of the land and dispersal patterns of radioactive matter have created a very heterogenous situation in the Fukushima exclusion zone, meaning areas of high radiation lie right alongside areas of low radiation. By controlling for other environmental factors, the scientists can apply a rigorous statistical analysis to predict what the population in a particular area should be.
Using this method, Mousseau et al have found both the number of birds and the variety of species drop off as radiation levels rise, and more importantly, that there is no threshold under which the effect isn’t seen.
This is counter to what both the Japanese government and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation have said regarding low-level radiation. In a report on the situation in Fukushima released in April, UNSCEAR said, “Exposures of both marine and terrestrial non-human biota following the accident were, in general, too low for acute effects to be observed,” although the report goes on to hedge that “changes in biomarkers cannot be ruled out.” Indeed, Mousseau and the Wild Bird Society of Japan report seeing partial albinism in Fukushima birds, a condition rarely seen outside of Chernobyl (see photo below).
Citing years of research in Chernobyl and meta-analysis of studies on areas with naturally occurring radiation, Mouseau says, “Contrary to government reports, there is now an abundance of information demonstrating consequences, in other words, injury, to individuals, populations, species, and ecosystem function stemming from low-dose radiation.”
What we need now, he continues, is more funding for research into what this means in the long term, for the flora and fauna of Fukushima, as well as for the people who live alongside them.
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