A four-year study on the effects of radiation on birds in Fukushima revealed information contradicting volume I of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation’s (UNSCEAR) report, “Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami.”
Dr. Timothy A. Mousseau, a professor of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, presented his team’s findings to The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Aug. 22 and the 26th International Ornithological Congress 2014 in Tokyo on Aug. 21.
Between July 2011 and July 2014, “the total numbers of birds drops off with radiation in Fukushima in a very consistent pattern,” said Mousseau, pointing to a chart relating bird abundance to radiation distribution over time. “There’s no evidence of any kind of threshold of a radiation level below which there is no effect.”
Similarly, the study showed the effects on species richness and biodiversity dropped off with radiation increases.
“Contrary to governmental reports, there is now an abundance of information demonstrating consequences (i.e. injury) to individuals, populations, species, and ecosystem function stemming from the low dose radiation due to the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters,” Mousseau said.
The UNSCEAR report issued on Aug. 7, 2013, and last updated on April 9, 2014, states in its section on “radiation exposures and effects on non-human biota:”
“… Exposures of both marine and terrestrial non-human biota following the accident were, in general, too low for acute effects to be observed, though there may have been some exceptions because of local variability:
“(b) Continued changes in biomarkers for certain terrestrial organisms, in particular mammals, cannot be ruled out, but their significance for population integrity of those organisms is unclear. Any radiation effects would be restricted to a limited area where the deposition of radioactive material was greatest; beyond that area, the potential for effects on biota is insignificant.”
About half a dozen studies related to radiation effects on biota in Fukushima were released prior to the release of this report, in addition to dozens of related studies in Chernobyl.
In its critical analysis of the UNSCEAR report, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) states:
“UNSCEAR disregards current scientific fieldwork on actual radiation effects … and rather refers to its own reports on the effects of radiation on non-human biota from 1996 and 2008.
“This implies that no new knowledge has been acquired since then, even though a growing number of published ecological and genetic studies from both Chernobyl and Fukushima find substantial evidence for low dose rate radiation effects generating genetic damage such as increased mutation rates, as well as developmental abnormalities, cataracts, tumors, smaller brain sizes in birds and mammals and further injuries to populations, biological communities and ecosystems. …
“UNSCEAR should include the findings of the current field studies from Chernobyl and Fukushima, given their publication in peer reviewed scientific journals. Ignoring such studies gives the appearance of bias or a lack of rigor by the UNSCEAR proceedings that can only serve to undermine any constructive or useful advice the committee might have.”
Mousseau began conducting research in Chernobyl after the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report in its 2003-2005 Chernobyl forum suggesting that the radioactive environmental conditions of the Chernobyl exclusion zone expanded the populations of many plants and animals and had a positive impact on the biota. These assertions were completely unfounded, Mousseau said.
Both the UNSCEAR report and the Chernobyl forum suggested that radiation did not affect animal abundance and biodiversity in both radioactive zones, Mousseau said.
He decided to test the idea himself.
In order to predict radiation effects on populations in Fukushima, Mousseau measured environmental variables, including radiation levels and abundance and distribution of organisms, in 400 discreet locations, with 1,500 biotic inventories total.
Taking the same basic research approach in Fukushima as in Chernobyl, Mousseau’s team tested very contaminated and very clean areas within the same general zone.
“Chernobyl and Fukushima are highly heterogeneous with respect to the radiation levels,” he said. “You can find a hot spot here and a kilometer away it’ll be 10 times or even 100 times less contaminated.”
Hundreds of replicated scientific comparisons in areas with high and low radiation levels that are very similar to environmental parameters except for radiation allow his team to create statistically sound data.
“It’s apparent that some governmental and intergovernmental organizations are ignoring these scientific studies, and you can’t help but think that this must be a deliberate attempt to minimize some of these consequences for the environment related to nuclear accidents,” Mousseau said.
The nuclear industry claims that radiation in Fukushima is sometimes lower than places with natural radiation, he said. His team’s meta-analysis found that there were small but significant consequences to humans and the plants and animals living in areas with natural low-dose radiation.
In his research in Chernobyl, for example, in the second generation of birds exposed to radiation, nine of 10 bird species showed a dramatic increase in morphological damage to the sperm, a direct cause of infertility. In another study, he found that up to 40 percent of male birds living in contaminated Chernobyl areas were completely sterile.
Researchers have conducted a number of studies showing genetic damages in flora and fauna located in contaminated areas in Chernobyl, with some similarities to the handful of studies conducted in Fukushima.
Mousseau found that barn swallows in contaminated areas in Chernobyl had higher frequencies of white feathers and cataracts, as well as a two-thirds decrease in the frequency and biodiversity of birds. In addition, he discovered that Chernobyl birds have smaller brains and are much less likely to survive to the following year.
His team found the first partial albino swallow in Fukushima two years ago and has since been working with the Wild Bird Society of Japan to document many additional cases of partial albino birds in Fukushima.
Another Mousseau study showed color and pattern abnormalities in fire bugs in Chernobyl. In Japan, researchers in Okinawa discovered mutations and early fatality in pale grass blue butterflies that were fed radioactive plants from Fukushima as caterpillars.
At the end of his speech, Mousseau emphasized the lack of funding, access and support for independent scientific studies held in contaminated areas in Japan, for both Japanese and foreign scientists.
“What we’re calling for is funding of some international scientific effort to fully document the range of biological consequences related to low-dose radiation in the environment,” Mousseau said. “This effort must be lead by independent scientists who are committed to a rigorous, unbiased analysis of the present situation with the goal of predicting long-term impacts. This really obviously hasn’t been done to this point.”
by Melanie Pawlyszyn