Timothy Mousseau, biologist, USA

„The radiation puts an enormous stress on the flora and fauna in the evacuation zone."

Timothy Mousseau is a biologist at the University of South Carolina in the US. He researches the effects of radiation on nature in the Chernobyl evacuation zone.

Scots pine in the evacuatin zone, probably deformed due to a radiation induced genetic malformation

"I conducted the first smaller studies in the evacuation zone at the of the 1990s. The results were clear: the radiation puts an enormous stress on the flora and fauna. But none of this can be found in the 2006 report published by the expert group on the environment of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). Instead it talks about 'flourishing ecosystems'. The report says that the Ukrainian government declared the exclusion zone a wildlife habitat and found that it also looks like that. I was shocked. How can it be that an institution committed to scientific integrity displays such ignorance? I and my colleagues decided to step up our research. Once when I was outside the exclusion zone searching for fruit flies, I could hardly find any at all. It dawned on me: not only were the fruit flies gone, there were hardly any more fruits, bees and butterflies. So we began to count them and found there were far less than you would naturally expect. Bees and butterflies, as well as many other mammals, already disappear at an annual dose of 50 millisieverts. But even at a considerably lower radiation, which is still deemed acceptable for employees at nuclear power plants, the declines are high – and this applies to all living things. The deeper we delve into the matter, the clearer this picture becomes, be it in plants or animals: the higher the radiation, the more frequent the genetic damages, birth defects, reduced fertility, lower life expectancy, lower populations and biodiversity. Spiders can form only bizarre shapes with their webs, trees grow up into plant monsters, the leaves in the forest don't rot because there are hardly any living things left to take on this natural recycling. Many species have disappeared entirely. The mutations are inherited, and it looks as though they accumulate not only over the generations but also appear in populations outside the exclusion zone. Not all living things suffer to the safe extent. Some turn out to be far more able to adapt, and we can't rule out that they will gradually recover. This would make it a man-made process of selection. And that might just be the beginning since radiation-induced mutations take effect over many generations.
But the notion of nature, which knows how to help itself, remains stubborn. This was conveyed in the 2010 documentary Chernobyl: A Natural History by the French director Luc Riolon. He accompanied us over the course of several summers, but he ultimately suppressed in his film nearly everything that contradicted his thesis. The images of wild animals such as wolves or bears, which the film implied were roaming around the exclusion zone in droves, were actually shot in Germany and were used in the film without giving this information. Likewise, a highly controversial, long-refuted study, which was partly funded by the nuclear industry, on the astonishing ability of mice to adapt to radiation was given a lot of space. I can only assume that Riolon received money from the industry. We succeeded in blocking the film from being shown in the UK any more, but it can regularly be seen on German channels. In the meantime, our research is constantly threatened because the funding is a new balancing act each year.
The animals in the exclusion zone don't drink. They don't take drugs. Nor are they unemployed. Yet they're still sick, and it begins with low radiation doses. There's no reason why humans should be less affected. I'm no longer able to distinguish if I'm still a sober scientist or if I've already become an activist against forgetting and ignorance."



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Founded in 2012, the Association for Sustainable Journalism on the Internet is committed to high-quality, independent on-line journalism that stands the test of time. The association promotes and runs journalistic websites dedicated to topics that are hardly covered any more in conventional media. Its members include journalists, photographers, designers and web designers.

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Without provoking or causing a scandal, www.society-and-the-atom.org wants to shake things up a bit by encouraging society to reflect on a subject that affects all of us: nuclear power. It is a subject that polarises, turning opponents and supporters into ideologues. And it is a subject that divides the informed and the uninformed in a way that creates intentional and unintentional dependencies. Against the background of the current debates on the 'energy transition', we want to contribute a critical discussion for all those who want to more know about nuclear power. And we want to do our bit to overcome the deep ideological divide that separates supporters and opponents. When it comes to this subject, the truth very quickly becomes relative – or is made relative. You move around in an area where experts, opinion makers, ideologues, affected persons, victims, lobbyists, politicians and world saviours jostle against each other. Everyone should be able to have their say, to tell their truth. The truth of the radiation victims as well as that of the power plant operators, the supporters and the opponents. The second objective of the book is to explore the many facets of truth – and remain receptive to all those who want to make it comfortable for us.

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