Environmental Protection

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Two Years Later

It’s been two years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that happened as a result of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Since that time, biologist Tim Mousseau of the University of South Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences discusses some of the consequences the area faces as a result of the radiation exposure.

Mousseau studies the effects of radiation on wildlife in their natural habitats and has conducted scientific expedition at the Chernobyl exclusion zone since 2000. He first went to Fukushima in July 2011 and published several research papers based on studies he has completed in the area that surrounds the epicenter of the meltdowns.

“The most important thing we’ve learned so far is just how little we understand about the role played by low-level, low-dose radiation in natural environments,” Mousseau said. “What we’ve learned over the last seven or eight years – in Chernobyl in particular – is that the impacts of radiation under natural conditions, in the field, are much greater than what people had seen in the laboratory setting, and they’re much greater than people had seen for the so-called ‘pure’ external-dose radiation, such as much of the work that has been done with atomic bomb survivors.

Mousseau’s work also challenges the widely held notion that low-level radiation, below a certain threshold, is harmless. “We see no threshold,” Mousseau said. “We see consequences – such as in terms of mutation rates, or lowered fertilities and other population consequences – all the way down to very low levels, levels that are much lower than what people previously had thought could be measurable in the wild.”

According to Mousseau, birds and insects such as cicadas and butterflies have been hit particularly hard with the side effects of radiation. Butterflies have experienced several mutations and developmental abnormalities in their wings and legs that negatively affect their ability to survive and reproduce. However, there is a high need for more funding for more research to be conducted to find how other species and other areas have been affected.

For more information on Mousseau’s research, please click here.

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