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How long till 'clean'? (5, Interesting)

Great Big Bird (1751616) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105260)

Has there been any indication of how long Chernobyl will be uninhabitable by our species?

Re:How long till 'clean'? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105314)

The last line of TFA answers you pretty well

Professor Mousseau said: "If society is ever to learn more about the long term environmental consequences of large scale accidents - and Chernobyl is just one of several - it is important that we all take our responsibilities seriously."

In other words, we're not sure (yet).

Re:How long till 'clean'? (5, Interesting)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105510)

I spoke with a bio professor about this a few years ago before I went on a trip to the Ukraine to do the "canned" Prypiat/Chornobyl tour. The abundance of wildlife is misleading. Since there is no human competition, there is going to be a lot more wildlife. But much of it has a higher mortality rate and isn't without its share of defects.

He mentioned that for humans to live there, we're probably easily looking at 100-500 years before the radiation is at acceptable levels. Once the wildlife have fewer problems (e.g. thryroid disorders), it may be safer for humans to move in. A good experiment would be to take a sampling of various types of wildlife--perhaps the ones most sensitive to certain radiation effects--and record the data on a yearly basis. Once the animals stop succumbing to radiation effects, it might be safe to move in, but you're going to have to consider other problems such as plant sequestration of radioactive isotopes. That birch may burn really well in the wintertime, but how much I-131 has it taken in (just a hypothetical statement)?

Re:How long till 'clean'? (5, Interesting)

mlyle (148697) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105946)

Hotter radioisotopes have shorter half lives.

131I has a half life of 8 days. Basically all 131I released from something like Chernobyl is as a direct fission product of 235U.

Within a few months, substantially all the 131I is gone.

The "worst" things released for habitability, then, are the things with intermediate half-lives of a few years. The worst of these is the ~100 gigabecquerels of 125Sb released, and the 500-600 gigabecquerels of relatively short-lived isotopes of Cesium.

At this point, open-air dose rates and ground dose rates are about 1/100th of the first day dose; further gains are going to be slower because longer-lived isotopes dominate, but will be another factor of 20 in the next twenty years. Viewed another way, someone who spends their whole 75 year life in the present exclusion zone starting twenty years from now will receive a lower dose than someone who experienced the first ten days after the accident, and very few of those people died. (And there's considerable evidence that acute, high doses are much more dangerous than an equivalent dose delivered over a long time).

(According to UN reports, less than 50 deaths; most of which were emergency workers, but included 9 children who died from thyroid cancer from 131I).

Re:How long till 'clean'? (5, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106254)

Minor nit: you should probably write out Iodine the first time you use it instead of abbreviating it. The d**n sans-serif fonts used on many websites including this one makes a capital i indistinguishable from a lowercase L, so when I read your post, I was completely and utterly baffled for about two minutes before it hit me that it was a capital i. *smashes head into desk*.

On a lighter note, if I could go back in time and prevent one person from being born, it would be the inventor of the first sans serif typeface.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106372)

Okay thats the physicists point of view. But what about movement in the actual materials? Some will blow away, some will get incorporated into living things and move some distance away before they get excreted or the animal dies. Others will be covered up by the normal deposition of material from elsewhere.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (3, Informative)

mlyle (148697) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106664)

That's a very complicated story.

Movement thanks to ground transport, blowing away, etc, makes things better: in addition to the decay mentioned above, the isotopes tend to become less concentrated. Ditto for stuff being sufficiently covered up.

But bioaccumulation is factor, too: eating something that you hunted in that area could be rather hazardous because of concentrating effects of the food chain. The same is true to a lesser extent for things grown.

Still, even if there's a 100x bioaccumulation factor of some isotope, that just means you need to wait 7 more half-lives before things are safe.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (5, Interesting)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106452)

It's an interesting comparison you offer, but I'm not sure what conclusion should be drawn as to safety. Half life for the Antimony (125Sb) would be 1008 days, so at 30 years out, we are looking at about 1/16th of the contribution you are projecting for 20 years. The numbers you use suggest human return certainly ought to be possible within 30 years, if not 20, even erring on the side of extreme caution.
        But, I doubt there is a single mammalian species in the area that has half as long a typical time to reproductive maturity as humans. If a species such as deer or wild dogs is showing declining reproduction when they mature in as little as a single year, humans simply have to be more vulnerable to the same effects due to what's called reproductive differential. It's not really necessary to understand the effects that are causing the population decline in detail, or have a clear stepwise model of all the mechanisms involved, to predict this.* So, my estimate would be to wait until the fast reproducing species are all acting stable, and then wait another couple or three half lives of the Antimony, even if this takes more than 30 years total.

*assuming the species isn't declining because of being hunted to excess by humans or because we have screwed up the broader environment - rather that it's declining because of something originating with the Chernobyl event - we do still need to make sure of that!

Re:How long till 'clean'? (3, Informative)

mlyle (148697) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106704)

It's a good point you raise.

My original simple model for the point of discussion left out the effects of birth defects, as well as things other than death that can cause human misery (e.g. cancers). Also, bioaccumulation was left out. It's purely a back of the envelope approximation.

When you mention the Sb in particular, it is likely to do a bit better (locally) than the half life would indicate, because antimony oxides are fairly soluble and are likely to find transport in water.

As others have mentioned, no doubt some of the effects on animal populations are because of the radioactivity itself, but others are probably due to humans leaving and no longer leaving so much yummy trash around (and other related effects as the area transitions and "goes wild").

If I'm done breeding, and there was some good reason to, I'd be happy to live there in another 10 years. The risk over my remaining lifespan would be pretty small, I think.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106558)

What of the thousands of clean up workers who are now sick with some sort of radio-disease? the UN conveniently ignores those people, probably for political reasons. The IAEA does as well.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105322)

Your particular species is "homo stupidos" and I hope that they will never inhabit any part of the planet, sadly though, they inhabit most of it.

On the other hand, the homo sapient can even now inhabit Chernobyl, and some Russians (mostly the old who did not want to leave their home) stayed around and in the area, and are fine.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105346)

On the other hand, the homo sapient can even now inhabit Chernobyl, and some Russians (mostly the old who did not want to leave their home) stayed around and in the area, and are fine.

They are ukrainians, man, ukrainians.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1)

Hylandr (813770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105964)

They are ukrainians, man, ukrainians.

- Nuff Said.

- Dan.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105364)

Purely a question of risk tolerance. The "forcibly expelling your innards out of both ends of your digestive track within hours or days" levels of radiation were mostly confined to a fairly small area around the reactor(or especially unlucky downwind areas when it was on fire) and are largely gone. I still wouldn't set up camp inside the sarcophagus, next to the big pile of still-quite-zesty mixed fuel and melted containment; but the exclusion zone is a much larger area.

There are already some inhabitants, mostly stubborn old people who didn't want to leave their villages and either didn't believe in the seriousness of the threat or considered their deaths from natural causes to be fairly close at hand anyway. They aren't growing third arms or anything.

I suspect that any attempt to repopulate the area would generate upticks in unusual childhood cancers, birth defects, and chromosomal abnormalities that would make an epidemiologist cringe; but that a self-supporting human population would be totally doable. Consider, for example, how people lived before antibiotics. Mortality from bacterial disease on a scale that would horrify a modern first world observer; but, at a population level, people kept plugging right along. Living in the exclusion zone would probably be rather similar; but with cancer and such instead of infection. Rates that would be considered wildly unacceptable; but would fall well below those required to actually render the population nonviable....

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105532)

The Sci-Fi Channel sent several crew and cameras to Chernobyl, and I didn't see any people living inside the zone. It was still being protected by guards who only allowed people to enter with permission. And the SF crew carried radiation detectors that were "ticking" frequently enough to indicate the area is still filled with radiation. I can't imagine the dictatorial Soviet government allowing people to stay behind... and even after the Soviets fell, it appears the current government still keeps it off-limits.

Scientists in the Ukraine criticised the conclusions..... dismissed the team's previous findings on insects and birds. "Wildlife really thrives in Chernobyl area - due to the low level of [human] influence," Dr Gashchak told BBC News.

So what he's basically saying is that humans are more dangerous to animals than radiation. Make sense.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (5, Interesting)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105574)

And the SF crew carried radiation detectors that were "ticking" frequently enough to indicate the area is still filled with radiation.

Just fyi, you can adjust the settings on those things quite a lot, so that they tick with even tiny amounts of radiation. Or so that they don't tick very much with quite large amounts.

And the scifi channel has an interest in making it look hazardous, since the show is pretty pointless if everything is pristine....

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106422)

Watch much TV guys? Check out 'Chernobyl Heart'. It was a Documentary HBO did about the deformed children and the people living near there. Have a great day!

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106520)

you can adjust the settings on those things quite a lot

And as it so happens, being the Sci-fi channel, they were set to 'ghost'.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105630)

The IAEA says that some people returned [iaea.org] (though children were apparently forbidden to do so).

I can only assume that the PR/morale implications of driving away a few grandparently types, who are going to die soonish anyway, at bayonet point just wasn't worth it(and/or they had their hands full with more important things, like making sure that opportunistic looters weren't exporting cesium and strontium coated parts and food items to every grey and black market in the area...).

Re:How long till 'clean'? (5, Informative)

stephanruby (542433) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106276)

The excellent photo-journal [kiddofspeed.com] of this girl who rides her motorcycle within the dead zone will answer all your questions, and then some.

Basically, the official dead zone is a much larger area than you think, and even within the dead zone there are various degrees of risk/safety to consider. The old people that have come back are basically farmers, from the various pictures she took. And even then, if someone were to bring them food, the risk wouldn't be the same for someone who's only driving by and someone who's actually living there.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106634)

Oh come on, I can't believe there still exists someone who believes that this journal is real?

Re:How long till 'clean'? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106706)

The excellent photo-journal of this girl who rides her motorcycle within the dead zone will answer all your questions, and then some.

Not a photo-journal.

It's more of a photo-novel. She didn't "ride solo on her bike through the dead zone" as the site would suggest.
See [google.com] for yourself.

Or, in her own words: [archive.org]
"I am being accused that it was more poetry in this story then reality. I partly accept this accusation, it still was more reality then poetry and it is why this site has millions of people visiting each month from the day when I put it online and I think I have right to say that people love it. "

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105634)

The Sci-Fi Channel sent several crew and cameras to Chernobyl, and I didn't see any people living inside the zone.

The historical channel documentary DOES mention them though. Including a blurb that they have a lower cancer rate than similar elderly in close city/industrial town that had a lot of chemical pollution.

Of course the cancer rate is lower (2, Funny)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106188)

Its basically like free kemo treatments for life combined with free food irradiation. It's probably the healthiest place on the planet. :-)

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105654)

Of course the Sci-Fi channel didn't show people living in the zone....that would kind of ruin their show. However, there are certainly people that still live inside the exclusion zone.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (2, Informative)

Erikderzweite (1146485) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105684)

The exclusion zone has been evacuated, there are however large areas in Ukraine and even larger ones in Belarus that are not exclusion zones, but villages were evacuated too. However people who didn't want to leave stayed there (mostly old people). Eating food and living in such areas is considered harmful in long-term. Yet it is possible for humans to survive there at the cost of much higher cancer rate.

>So what he's basically saying is that humans are more dangerous to animals than radiation. Make sense.

That is the very thing disputed and criticized in TFA. It is clear, however, that no two-headed bramins are walking the grounds there.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105880)

More to the point, if people aren't allowed in the exclusion zone then explain how this girl [kiddofspeed.com] was able to ride around in there?

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106378)

She supposedly had strings pulled by her father, a government nuclear scientist.

Some people say it's (mostly) a hoax and that she just brought along a photo-op helmet on the standard tour for state officials: http://www.uer.ca/forum_showthread_archive.asp?threadid=8951 [www.uer.ca] . The denials of this claim are so weak and evasive that I tend to believe it is a hoax.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (2, Informative)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106414)

Its possible she faked it [snopes.com] but nobody really knows.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (2, Interesting)

dwywit (1109409) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105752)

It would be interesting to do followup studies of these people, especially to establish their natural resistance/tolerance to those radiation levels. Imagine the long-term prospects of a group of highly-tolerant individuals - do they have highly-effective repair mechanisms, highly-effective elimination systems, or what else?

Re:How long till 'clean'? (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106052)

Because humans have annoyingly long generation times, and the technology for producing areas of high radiation is relatively new(never mind the ethics...) I don't think that we've had the chance to find out, nor are we likely to in under a few centuries. Humans just don't reproduce that fast.

There are some species that(usually as a side effect of adaptations to resist either dessication or extreme heat) exhibit impressive radiation resistance and we have been able to study those.

D. radiodurans will shrug off 1,000 times the lethal dose for a human without ill effects that it is incapable of repairing. Even 3,000 times the lethal human dose will leave ~1/3 of a colony alive.

T. gammatolerans does pretty much what it says on the tin, in addition to growing at alarmingly high temperatures.

Then you have radiotrophic fungi [plosone.org] , which can do something analogous to photosynthesis; but with gamma radiation. Populations of the stuff have been seen sliming up the walls inside the ruins of reactor 4...

None of this is immediately applicable to humans; but all these organisms depend on DNA, just like us, so observing their defense and repair mechanisms may tell us something.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (2, Interesting)

RabbitWho (1805112) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105424)

I read an article in the Times about elderly people who are living there now. They say the whole thing has been exaggerated by the media and it's perfectly safe. Of course there's some places where they can't go... I don't really understand how they get their food delivered.. anybody got a link to the people I'm talking about? They were definitely inside the Chernobyl dead zone, but whether they were in the town itself or another nearby town which had been evacuated I can't remember.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105636)

I read an article in the Times about elderly people who are living there now. They say the whole thing has been exaggerated by the media and it's perfectly safe. Of course there's some places where they can't go... I don't really understand how they get their food delivered.. anybody got a link to the people I'm talking about?.

Yep, here [mediawhack.com] you go.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (5, Interesting)

Deathlizard (115856) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105648)

I've seen estimates from 200-10000 years depending on how close you are from the reactor.

What I don't understand, is why isn't this area used to build more nuclear reactors? It's not like there's anyone there to scream NIMBY, or that it'll be a bigger disaster if another reactor goes boom, which shouldn't happen if they use a modern reactor design. The only issue I see is employee safety, and that could be virtually eliminated given a reactor that is designed to shield the workers from the outside excess radiation.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

martas (1439879) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105766)

yeah, you try being the politician who proposes or endorses a plan to build a nuclear reactor at the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history. I'm sure you'll get shitloads of votes come election day...

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105974)

People hold a supernatural fear of the area plagued by a man-made disaster? Isn't superstition meant for the things that are unexplainable? Suddenly, modern religion practitioners make sense to me.

the "chernobyl as permanent earth anus" proposal (4, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105872)

interesting idea

you could extend this to all sorts of research/ energy generation/ disposal issues that would normally send NIMBYs into hyperdrive

anthrax research? sure, no problem

radioactive medical waste? bring it on down!

write a business proposal dude

Re:the "chernobyl as permanent earth anus" proposa (3, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106432)

Yeah it would be a great place to set a Low Budget HDV Filipino Horror Movie....

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106048)

only two of the four reactors where damaged. At least for a couple of decades there were workers there working on the other reactors which continued to deliver power to the Ukraine.

The big problem would be the construction workers who have to build the shielding. that takes the longest time with the most # of people involved.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (2, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106344)

I could definitely imagine those modular, compact sized nuclear reactors that are looking to be built in short order dropped off and wired up in that area. Not like anyone is going to bitch, and I doubt exterior radiation is going to matter much to an automated system (hardened if necessary, of course).

Re:How long till 'clean'? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105664)

There is not a lot of research on the effect of radiation on humans. Currently the standard is that all radiation, no matter how small the amount, is harmful. On a more practical level, in the US the EPA has set a standard of 1 Rem lifetime total dose and 5 Rem lifetime to the thyroid to be the level requiring evacuation following a nuclear accident. Radiation workers in the US are allowed up to 5 Rem/yr, though most places have the guideline that the amount of dose measured in Rem shouldn't exceed your age in years (i.e. a 40 year old shouldn't have more than 40 Rem accumulated up to that point in his life). Pregnant women have smaller limits of 0.5 Rem during the pregnancy, and non radiation workers are limited to 0.1 Rem/yr. Additionally, it is required that radiation exposures be the minimum required to do the job (as low as reasonably achievable--ALARA).

What does this all mean? There are a lot of numbers to pick from, but there is no real research that says any value is safe. These numbers were simply selected since they are reasonable and pretty low values.

I should note that the average background radiation is about 0.3 Rem/yr (mostly radon, but also from cosmic radiation). But there is a lot of variation and there are places on Earth where people live with 10 times or 100 times this level of background radiation. With this in mind (and noting that even background radiation is still considered harmful), it is probably possible to determine some level where habitability is allowed. I think a dose of about 1 Rem/yr would be a fair place to start.

Shocking! (1)

toastar (573882) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105730)

Breaking-News: radiation kills stuff.

Re:Shocking! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106582)

I clicked on a Slashdot headline for Chernobyl. I skipped the article, I skipped the summary, I came here looking for the sarcastic "Breaking News!" post, so I could make this post in reply.

My post would be modded down, except now I've said this sentence, I've invoked Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle upon my post. It will be modded either -1 or +5, and I will not know until I observe it's status tomorrow.

Re:How long till 'clean'? (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106236)

There are still people [wikipedia.org] living in the exclusion zone.

So (to some extent) it must be habitable, although one certainly can't say it's healthy, and some places may be more dangerous than others (in terms of containing larger amounts of radioactive soil, contaminated water, vegetation, etc).

Re:How long till 'clean'? (2, Insightful)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106304)

    It's inhabitable now. Is it safe? Not really. You won't turn green and melt into a puddle of goo, nor grow extra limb, but there will likely be side effects.

    I don't quite agree with the method of "count how many animals there are". That is fine if the effect happens rapidly. If a mating pair of animals are able to grow to maturity and reproduce at least twice, the population will remain constant. If they produce 3 or more, the population will grow. It doesn't necessarily account for animals coming into the area from other areas. Since there are no humans there to disturb them and/or limit the population (hunting, vehicular accidents, and pruning of the population), the population should reach it's natural density based on the available resources (food and water), and be limited by natural predators. At natural densities, the populations will fluctuate. They also cannot observe the entire area. I'm not surprised the numbers would drop. Wild animals tend to not like humans and will stay away.

    Through similar observations, I could come to some wild conclusions. I live in Florida. We have a decent alligator population here. I haven't seen one in the wild in over 20 years. We also have wild coyotes that have been spotted since the 1970's. I've never seen one, but I've heard them howling, and could hear up to three distinct animals at the same time. So I could report that the alligator population has disappeared, and the coyote population is approximately 3. That would be completely wrong though.

    Humans (homo sapiens) are easier to account for. They tend to follow common trails for hunting, gathering, and other social interactions. These trails are very obvious in comparison to any other animal. Humans have many pack tendencies. They tend to live with moderate to large numbers in common shelters, natural or otherwise. They tend to leave quite a bit of evidence of where they've been, more so than other animals, as they do not seem to concern themselves with predators. Be concerned if you approach a human or group of humans. They can become very aggressive towards unfamiliar animals, even if they are of the same species. There have been many noted examples where humans of different coloration or decoration can be attacked with little or no provocation.

    Through my recent observations, I can number the human population to be not more than a few thousand.

Ha Ha! I am posting FIRST on slashdot! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105264)

Ha Ha!

Re:Ha Ha! I am posting FIRST on slashdot! (0, Troll)

Sene (1794986) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105340)

Ha ha, you dumb fucking monkey, you weren't first!

Re:Ha Ha! I am posting FIRST on slashdot! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105688)

You know, I prefer his post to yours.

Mystery Solved: (1)

RabbitWho (1805112) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105298)

Swallows in Chernobyl (Image: Tim Mousseau) Migrating birds may be more sensitive to the effects of radiation
The research team compared the abundance of species in the exclusion zone with similar types of habitats in the area, which were not contaminated.

That's where they went then. There isn't a decline because they died, there's twice as many in the nearby unaffected areas because they moved there.

Re:Mystery Solved: (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105416)

It seems that for a general census, they shouldn't use a variety of wildlife that's particularly sensitive to the radiation as a yardstick.

Mammals down, giant insects up (5, Funny)

feedayeen (1322473) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105304)

On the bright side, giant insects are expected to make a HUGE comeback.

Re:Mammals down, giant insects up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106714)

we wont get giant insects due to the relatively low concentrations of o2 compared to the carboniferous era. now, if global warming goes the right way, we could hit the jackpot. i for one welcome our insect overlords. no, really, i do.

How does it compare to a Hydro plant though? (1)

fredmosby (545378) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105312)

But how does Chernobyl's effect on wild life compare to the effect of a reservoir created by a Hydroelectric Dam?

Re:How does it compare to a Hydro plant though? (2, Funny)

belthize (990217) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105344)

At hydroelectric dams all the birds and mammals rapidly evolve webbed feet and an astonishing ability to hold their breath.

Re:How does it compare to a Hydro plant though? (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105550)

And the fish which had previously been quadrupeds and air-breathers can sigh in relief. It's good for everyone!

It is our nature... (1)

metiscus (1270822) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105326)

I was always leery of trusting the glowing reviews of nature's come back in that area. It seems I was right.

Re:It is our nature... (2, Insightful)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105464)

It seems I was right.

Maybe. Or, perhaps an article was published that is closer to your preconceived notions, and so you're giving it more weight.

At this point, doubting both claims is probably the smart thing to do.

Re:It is our nature... (1)

hotfireball (948064) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105544)

Yes. Chernobyl haven't exploded in that meaning. It sort of "puffed", where all the radioactive stuff from the reactor has been molten and stays till now in the basement (well, not only there). So the mechanical ruins are minimal, however radiation is way stronger than it could be if just like a "regular" nuke exploded and will persists for more good 20 years.

Re:It is our nature... (1)

ohtani (154270) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105884)

No no, you had it all wrong! It was reviews that the nature that came back was glowing!

motorcycles (2, Funny)

ifeelswine (1546221) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105366)

i hear wildlife keeps getting runover by a motorcycle driven by a hawt chick

Re:motorcycles (1)

e9th (652576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105434)

I'd almost managed to forget about Chernobyl Girl. [kiddofspeed.com] Thanks a lot for reminding me.

Re:motorcycles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105672)

You know she did very little riding around the area and mostly went on guided tours.

Re:motorcycles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106288)

I wouldn't mind getting run over by Chernobyl Girl.

Humans & Mammals (4, Insightful)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105408)

I cant help but think maybe the decline in some mammals could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.

Re:Humans & Mammals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105650)

I cant help but think maybe the decline in some mammals could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.

They also thrive without humans. High levels of radiation have an affect. People can argue about the small leaks around some plants having an effect on health but we are talking about a massive release of radioactive materials. Humans in the area had severe health problems due to the radioactivity. Why would other mammals not have side effects? I've got a friend that grew up just east of what is considered the danger area. She's got family members with cronic health problems traceable to the release. If a few too many X-rays can give you cancer why wouldn't constant exposure? Lower animals have far more resistance with some insects having a high resistance but mammals are very sensitive to radiation. The shocking thing would be no effect on populations. Young animals are most sensitive so mammals with a short life span and a high birth rate would tend to show the effects more. Small mammals and birds can have 10 or 20 or more generations for every human generation. No one knows how long until levels drop to a point where the health effects will be minimal but I think it's safe to say none of us will live to see that time.

Re:Humans & Mammals (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106230)

They also thrive without humans.

The point is that the food supply may be dwindling. Keep in mind that a good portion of the land around Chernobyl was farmland which is notorious for generating edible waste. And if we look at the progression of plants that would replace the cultured crops of farms, we see that the first few plants, like grasses, berry plants, etc also tend to be very edible. By now, the area is probably getting pretty choked up with forest (it takes a few decades for a forest to get established). That doesn't have as plentiful food or habitat for herbivores and their predators. So we would expect, just on that basis alone, to see a decline in animal populations.

Further, if we look at the actual article, we see that the complaint is about biodiversity, not whether the animals are thriving or not. Again, this is something that can be explained without having to resort to radiation as the excuse. Keep in mind that you had a sudden increase in habitat 25 years ago. You'd expect the occupation of this new habitat to be first accomplished by the most aggressive plants and animals first. Given that those species tend to be a small subset of all species, that means you have reduced species diversity just due to the recent history of the area.

Re:Humans & Mammals (1, Redundant)

interiot (50685) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105834)

This isn't a chicken-and-egg problem. Scavengers existed before humans evolved.

Re:Humans & Mammals (4, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106142)

This isn't a chicken-and-egg problem. Scavengers existed before humans evolved.

Given that it is wholly irrelevant to the original post, I wonder why you brought it up. Let's read the original post again:

I cant help but think maybe the decline in some mammals could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.

Is EEPROMS claiming that Chernobyl or prior human habitation responsible for evolving foxes, badgers, etc? No. What he is noting is that humans generate a lot of waste that opportunist scavengers (I use the term loosely since most such animals have several niches that they can inhabit), or sometimes their prey, eat. It is implied here that there is less food available for these mammals now that humans aren't around. That's a reasonable assertion to make since farmland in particular generates a lot more edible waste than wilderness (after all, you're deliberately growing food while you aren't in the latter case).

It's reasonable to me that it'd take a few decades for farmland to revert to mostly non-food producing vegetation (especially given that early colonizing plants like grasses, berry plants, etc tend to be good for herbivores and omnivores to eat as well as the residual farm crops). So we could see (IMHO would likely see) a decline in mammals just due to the reforestation of farmland.

Re:Humans & Mammals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106084)

So kinda like homeless people?

Re:Humans & Mammals (4, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106126)

could also be effected by the lack of humans not living there anymore. Many mammals are scavengers and make use of what we waste. Good examples are species like foxes, badgers, rats, raccoons, they thrive around humans.

and lawyers, politicians, and cable companies.

Re:Humans & Mammals (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106310)

Well, some species like rats are so dependent on humans that your hypothesis is almost certain to be right. But if species that are less dependent or even don't tolerate human presence well are also declining, then it seems almost certain its radioactivity. Not all mammals are so dependent on people, just (not surprisingly) the ones you're most likely to come in contact with.

Mammals are a lot more susceptible to radiation than, say, insects are. Don't know about reptiles, fish, birds etc.

Re:Humans & Mammals (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106584)

There are only a few countries where throwing away food is usual. Urkaine is/was not one of them. So I doubt, that many animals there lived of human waste. Normally you give food rests to pigs so they can convert it into beacon.

Question (2, Interesting)

Windwraith (932426) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105440)

I am not too informed about the radiation levels and how they work, but I have some curiosity about how this compares to the spots where the A-bombs where dropped in Japan during WWII. Are those areas populated again? If so, how long did it take for them to be habitable again? Or is this a whole different level of radiation and thus incomparable?

Re:Question (5, Informative)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105536)

I am not too informed about the radiation levels and how they work, but I have some curiosity about how this compares to the spots where the A-bombs where dropped in Japan during WWII. Are those areas populated again? If so, how long did it take for them to be habitable again? Or is this a whole different level of radiation and thus incomparable?/

The radiation levels here are much worse than Hiroshima or Nagasaki, partially due to the fact that those were comparatively small airborn detonations. That means that the radioactive byproducts were mainly spread by wind to a large area. My impression also is that meltdowns produce more dirty products than deliberate detonations, but I'm not sure. Whatever the reasons, Nagasaki was safe enough to have rebuilding begin shortly after the war, and the same was true of Hiroshima. Both are once again, large, functioning cities. Radiation levels remaining are almost statistically negligible.

Re:Question (4, Informative)

Renraku (518261) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105564)

Chernobyl will be uninhabitable for longer than anywhere an A-bomb has hit. For starters, the goal of an A-bomb is to convert energetic radioisotopes into thermal energy. Unfortunately, a lot of radiation is given off as well, and the process isn't nearly 100% efficient. Some radioactive materials are left behind and some more are created by neutron activation.

Chernobyl has a big pile of radioactive death sitting within the casket they built around it. Chernobyl was a 'dirty bomb' compared to the usual nuclear weapons. By 1950, people were rebuilding and living in the bombed out area, so I'd say radiation levels weren't much above background, if any. Most of the radiation threat passes after a few days. The only things you have to worry about are radioactive iodine and other fallout elements that might enter your body.

Re:Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105640)

Chernobyl was essentially a dirty bomb with a bloody awful lot of radioactive material in it. It scattered medium-lifetime, highly radioactive fission daughter products in massive quantities over a large area. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were nuclear detonations. These started with a lot less fissile material. As old, low-yield nukes, they weren't very efficient, so they were fairly dirty, but didn't scatter nearly as much radioactivity as Chernobyl did. That's why Hiroshima and Nagasaki are bustling metropolises today (they were rebuilt in the 1950s, if memory serves), but Chernobyl is still dangerous.

Also, the nature of the radiation is a problem too. Chernobyl is contaminated with a lot of gamma and beta-emitting isotopes with medium lifetimes. This means that while their radiation is not immediately hazardous to life, it is still a chronic exposure problem, and the contamination tends to stick around for a while. The two nuke sites, on the other hand, were contaminated with mostly short-lived but intensely radioactive material (which was immediately hazardous to life, but also faded to safe levels quickly) and very long-lived alpha emitters (uranium and plutonium). The latter two are radioactive, but at such low levels that their chemical toxicity is apt to be a much larger problem than radioactivity.

Re:Question (1)

Delarth799 (1839672) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105712)

The initial release of material at Chernobyl, according to Wikipedia, was 400 times that of Hiroshima. The Chernobyl disaster affected a much larger area because there was far more radioactive material in one place, a good deal of which was thrown up into the atmosphere. With more material more wind picked it up and spread it a lot farther contaminating a lot more lakes, rivers, etc. Radioactive material from Chernobyl was detected and spread throughout most of Europe to some degree. The atomic bomb was also just the one explosion and it was done. Reactor 4 at Chernobyl has about 40 tons of radioactive dust that has built up inside and there is still a slab of uranium and concrete inside so that's continuing to release radiation, about 95% of the fuel that was in Reactor 4 at the time of the explosion is still there in a lava like pool continuing to release high levels of radiation.. The sarcophagus that was supposed to house and contain the radiation around reactor 4 has not held up over the years potentially leaking more radiation into the environment because that slab of uranium and all the radioactive dust is still there. So the danger of another explosion and more radiation being released still exists at Chernobyl. There is also radioactive waste still inside the cooling ponds of reactors 1 and 3 and forest fires release radiation in trees and grass back into the air again.

With Hiroshima the city was rebuilt in 1949 and is a very bustling city once again with a population of about 1.3 to 2 million people. Studies of the children of survivors have not shown a significant increase in the number of birth defects over the years. I believe that because the explosion released far less radiation that Chernobyl that it has dissipated much quicker as well, allowing for a much quicker rebuild with far fewer side effects. Nagasaki, where the other atomic bomb was dropped is also inhabited again and was rebuilt around the same time as Hiroshima. The atomic bombs detonated over and destroyed just the area of a city, so a couple miles. Chernobyl didn't physically explode and destroy much of anything, but because the spread of heavily contaminated soot was tens of miles away from the explosion it got into the ecosystem and has done much more damage and still continues to do damage.

The other thing you need to remember is that its now been over 60 years since Hiroshima, where as its only been 24 years since Chernobyl.

Re:Question (4, Interesting)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106006)

Or is this a whole different level of radiation and thus incomparable?

WWII A-bombs released a few kg of fission products at high altitude. Chernobyl had tons of the stuff at ground level. A more direct comparison would be the ground level thermonuclear tests the US did on Pacific Ocean atolls. These also released fission products measurable in tons. (Most fusion bombs use the fusion mainly as a neutron generator and actually get the majority of their yield from fission of cheap U238.) Parts of those atolls are still uninhabitable.

Re:Question (4, Informative)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106102)

Chernobyl was pretty nasty; it released several hundred times as much radioactivity into the air as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions did. The reactor filled up with steam and went into a runaway power generation loop, which first caused a steam explosion, then a more powerful nuclear explosion.

The nuclear explosion itself wasn't very impressive. It had as much power as about 10 tons of TNT, which was several orders of magnitude lower than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions. No one outside the USSR even knew about it until that incoming shift of Swedish nuclear plant workers kept setting off the radiation alarms.

But one thing to remember with nuclear explosions is that the explosion itself isn't everything. Since their instruments were all fucked up, they thought the reactor wasn't related to the loud explosions they were hearing. Meanwhile since their reactor core had partially blasted its way through the cheap-assed bitumen roof that the Soviets used as a reactor containment vessel, and since the graphite moderator was on fire, it lit the roof up in a bunch of places. In general graphite fires are quite rare, but bitumen is the least desirable material to have underneath smoldering red-hot radioactive graphite in the open air. The fires emitted foul black clouds of fission products across the countryside. Most of the fission products had actually been generated much prior, not during the brief explosion itself. The reactor had presumably consumed more fuel at that point than could ever be carried by a single bomber.

Commie Craftmanship, made out of potato (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105472)

They blowed it up real good, now all they got left is a lot of potatoes to make more vodka.

That darn radiation (4, Interesting)

Alcoholist (160427) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105492)

Not wanting to be captain obvious here, but there is a mostly covered pile of radioactive crap at the centre of it all. Humans don't live there, maybe the animals figured that out too.

Re:That darn radiation (2, Interesting)

Erikderzweite (1146485) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105734)

Interesting question whether or not animals are capable of detecting high radiation levels.

Re:That darn radiation (2, Interesting)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105792)

They're certainly capable of detecting the sudden lack of garbage laying around to live off of...

Re:That darn radiation (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106240)

If you use a stupid enough definition of detect, then of course then can detect it, they can detect it with their DNA.

not really a contradiction (4, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105556)

There is a difference between the study in this story, and the previously reported (this is my understanding). The previous stories seem to count the number of wildlife now and compare them to what was there before the accident. It is not surprising that without people, the number of animals and creatures will increase.

This study compares the number of animals to the number that would be present in a similarly uninhabited, uncontaminated zone. It appears that there are fewer than would be expected in a non-contaminated zone. There are accounts of pigeons with tumors and such.

These findings are not surprising, but it's good to know what's going on.

Re:not really a contradiction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105622)

Where'd they find an equivalent "island" of human-free and relatively prime ecological land closely by surrounded by lots of humans?

Re:not really a contradiction (1)

Erikderzweite (1146485) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105718)

So basically they are estimating if not guessing what would it be without radiation. As for migrating birds -- you also have to look at where they migrate to/from. It is possible that bad things happen on the other side of the migration (although it is clear that Chernobyl is more likely to be the case).

Re:not really a contradiction (4, Interesting)

tomhath (637240) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105788)

This study compares the number of animals to the number that would be present in a similarly uninhabited, uncontaminated zone.

Actually, this study counts the number of species, not the number of animals; in their words the exclusion zone shows a "reduced biodiversity". So what the study really shows is that some species are holding up better in this environment than other species. Darwin would approve.

The Bird Issue (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106168)

There are accounts of pigeons with tumors and such.

That part bothered me, since they also relied on birds for the measure of bio-diversity. If you are measuring a population that exhibits a disproportionately greater effect from the radiation, and you really properly representing what is happening overall?

These findings are not surprising, but it's good to know what's going on.

It would be good to know, but multiple scientific groups are disagreeing with each other on this. It as as they say a great area to leave as a wildlife preserve (as if anything else could be done with it) and observe what happens to the wildlife there.

Mammals != Wildlife (1)

Psaakyrn (838406) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105562)

Sure, mammals, are declining, but how are the invertebrate overlords faring?

Re:Mammals != Wildlife (2, Funny)

GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105982)

They are doing great, specially the 12 legged, 90cm legspan, 4 headed spiders.

Re:Mammals != Wildlife (1)

GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105988)

And the ones that say "you'll all float down here"

grammar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33105608)

I am TERRIBLE at grammar, and even I know that "isn't quite so great" is incorrect.

so what you are trying to tell me is (5, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105802)

that the science behind the godzilla creation myth is not plausible?

don't mess with my religion man

Re:so what you are trying to tell me is (1)

feedayeen (1322473) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106486)

that the science behind the godzilla creation myth is not plausible?

don't mess with my religion man

Godzilla is not a mammal.

RAWR!!! (1)

Da Cheez (1069822) | more than 3 years ago | (#33105924)

"The largest wildlife census of its kind conducted in Chernobyl has revealed that mammals are declining in the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant."

Phew, that's a relief. With all that radiation, I was expecting something more like this to be happening to the mammals: http://www.snowspotmedia.com/blog/2010/04/06/Yao_Guai_by_Cyberpunk1989.jpg [snowspotmedia.com]

...compared to what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33106120)

You mean to tell me that the same regime that was responsible for the Chernobyl disaster sponsored detailed local animal population studies prior to the accident? I haven't heard of any new human development in the exclusion zone since that time going on 30 years ago, so what is all this about, really?

The Decline of Quality Journalism (1)

viridari (1138635) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106352)

I noticed that this article contains many single-sentence paragraphs.

My instructors back in school frowned upon this practice.

Did the editor not catch this?

changing two variables at once (4, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33106494)

The article leaves me feeling not very enlightened.

When the Chernobyl disaster happened, two changes were made simultaneously to the local ecosystem: (1) There was radioactive crud spread around. (2) Humans left the area.

It's fairly obvious that #2 should have a huge positive effect on many species. Having humans turn habitat into a city, and then drive around it incessantly in cars, is the worst thing that can possibly happen to any plant or animal's habitat. (Of course there might be a few exceptions, like mice and cockroaches, or plants that benefit from artificial irrigation, or certain plant species that tend to thrive in disturbed areas like road cuts.)

Effect #1, radiation, could be either positive or negative. A wide variety of data shows that low levels of radiation are beneficial to almost all living things, until you get to a certain dose at which the net effect starts to become negative. This is called radiation hormesis. Surprisingly, there is even a radiation hormesis effect on reproduction. That is, organisms like mice and fish actually produce more, healthier offspring when they're exposed to small doses of radiation. Radiation doses at Chernobyl are not uniform. You can look at contour maps that show how much radiation there is in different places. The dose is much, much higher when you're closer to the ruined plant. So roughly speaking, I'd imagine that some organisms a little farther out from the site would benefit from hormesis, while others closer in would be harmed. In any case, I would expect #1, radiation, to be a much, much weaker effect than #2, removing people.

The article makes it sound like they just tried to do surveys and evaluate biodiversity, and different people are getting different answers about whether biodiversity is up or down. Seems to me that this tells us absolutely nothing. If biodiversity has increased, it could be because effect #2 is extremely powerful, outweighing significant harm from #1. Or it could be that both #1 and #2 are positive (you get a net hormesis effect). If biodiversity is down, I'm still not sure it tells me anything. Maybe it just means that #2 is negative, for some counterintuitive reason. After all, you kick an ecosystem like crazy (by evacuating all the people), and it's not necessarily easy to tell what will happen. Maybe eliminating humans made it a better environment for predators, which made it a worse environment for prey animals. Maybe eliminating humans allowed a small number of weed species to take over instead of a larger number of ornamental and cultivated plants.

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