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Wed Jul 14, 2021, 02:21 AM

Where I Work: Chernobyl.

This news item came in my Nature Briefing Email this morning, in Nature's "Where I Work" Series in the news sections.


12 July 2021

Tracking Chernobyl’s effects on wildlife

Evolutionary ecologist Germán Orizaola Pereda analyses how species have been affected, 35 years after the world’s worst nuclear accident.

(Virginia Gewin, Nature 595, 464 (2021))

The accompanying picture:

It's probably open sourced, and it's brief. A few exceprts:

Thirty-five years after the explosion and meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, I study how amphibians in the region have changed, physically and genetically. In 2016, I joined an international research team to do this; since then, I have obtained various grants to continue the work. Chernobyl is a phenomenal place to study rapid evolution. I typically spend two to three weeks in the forests during the frogs’ spring breeding season.

...When I work in the ‘exclusion zone’, the 4,700 square kilometres around the reactor, I stay in a hostel in Chernobyl (20 kilometres from the reactor site), where we have a field laboratory inside an abandoned building. The radiation in the exclusion zone is roughly 1,000 times lower than at the time of the accident, and there are now two hostels, a bar, a couple of restaurants and a cash machine. In this image, I’m running a blood analysis on one of the tree frogs we have collected. The contamination maps on the wall behind me show that some hotspots of radiation persist...

...Once expected to become a wasteland, the Chernobyl area is now a nature reserve. New species have arrived, including European bison (Bison bonasus) and the wild Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii). We’re beginning to monitor these horses, originally from the Asian steppes: the effects on their health could be a proxy for what happens when humans return. The first 31 horses were released here in 1998, 12 years after the disaster, and it is one of the few places where they continue to live freely.

Dr. Germán Orizaola Pereda's Google Scholar hits are few in number and are mostly in Spanish.

Here, however, is a very nice article in English:


It is open sourced, I think.

Subtitle: The response of living organisms to Chernobyl’s ionising radiation.

An excerpt from this much longer interesting report:

...One revealing case in the current situation of Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone wildlife is that of Przewalski’s horses. These wild horses were not present at the time of the accident, but a herd of around 30 specimens was released in 1998–1999. The goal was that their feeding activities would control the forest expansion towards old cultivation lands. This population remains completely isolated within the Exclusion Zone, and they cannot reach any other horses of the same species coming from the outside. Nonetheless, 20 years after their introduction into Chernobyl, the population has increased fivefold and over 150 Przewalski’s horses now live in the Zone. Another example of the optimal condition of this population is its high reproduction rate, with 22 foals born in 2018...

I oppose recent discussions on reopening the exclusion zone to human habitation, although it is clear that some humans have defied the ban and moved into the exclusion zone.

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Arrow 24 replies Author Time Post
Reply Where I Work: Chernobyl. (Original post)
NNadir Jul 2021 OP
Hugh_Lebowski Jul 2021 #1
Jim G. Jul 2021 #4
Hugh_Lebowski Jul 2021 #16
NNadir Jul 2021 #6
Hugh_Lebowski Jul 2021 #14
Name removed Jul 2021 #2
hunter Jul 2021 #3
TomWilm Jul 2021 #5
NNadir Jul 2021 #10
TomWilm Jul 2021 #17
hunter Jul 2021 #18
TomWilm Jul 2021 #20
hunter Jul 2021 #21
NNadir Jul 2021 #22
TomWilm Jul 2021 #23
NNadir Jul 2021 #24
roamer65 Jul 2021 #7
NNadir Jul 2021 #8
roamer65 Jul 2021 #9
NNadir Jul 2021 #11
roamer65 Jul 2021 #13
Hugh_Lebowski Jul 2021 #15
sir pball Jul 2021 #19
hunter Jul 2021 #12

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 02:43 AM

1. Almost all the admitted/confirmed human deaths from Chernobyl were the handful

of first responders to the fire, and some who entered the facility trying to restore water flow early on in the meltdown, less than 50 ... is that recollection correct?

Not that we should necessarily trust the accounting of the USSR, but I'd imagine if that number was wildly wrong, people would've proven it's a big lie by now.

Any proof of elevated cancer rates among people around the edge of the exclusion zone?

Let me add that one of my ALL TIME favorite computer games is a first-person shooter (released 2007) that takes place in a fictional version of the exclusion zone. It's called S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl. I've played the whole thing through numerous times. It was made by a Ukrainian game studio. Really cool game, but totally made up nonsense.

In the game world, which takes place around Chernobyl (and Pripyat), there's all kinds of mutant animals, and various (of course fictional) radiation-based anomalies that occasionally produce 'artifacts' that 'Stalkers' invade the exclusion zone to collect (which are valuable and also provide enhancements to your character) ... and there's various warring factions (one is a left wing and one is right wing outfit), and scientists doing experiments and such. Supposedly the geography/buildings/topography and such are quite accurate, even if not 'to scale' exactly.

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Response to Hugh_Lebowski (Reply #1)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 10:26 AM

4. Sounds A Little Like 'Fallout"

I'll have to check it out. I played through a couple of the 'Fallout' games & 'The Last Of Us' games which are similar sounding. I prefer killing mutants & aliens & zombies over people.

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Response to Jim G. (Reply #4)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 12:43 AM

16. It's a lot grimmer and stark than Fallout (I've played 3, FONV and 4)

And it's a real shooter (ain't no V.A.T.S. lol), and the gun physics are pretty good actually. But it's a single player adventure/shooter/survival type of game. Mostly open world, up til the end when you go to Chernobyl itself, you can turn around and go back to where you started the whole thing. But there's NO fast travel.

It's a fairly wooly game (like, it's a little bit low budget and rushed) but like Fallout's, there some nice fan-made mods (and I mean there's A LOT of them).

The 'Complete' mods (there's one for S.O.C, Clear Sky, and Call of Pripyat ... each of the 3 games in the series) are definitely worthwhile, even for a first playthrough.

Where it REALLY succeeds is atmosphere, and the survival aspect. There's freaking scary places you go in this game, and a lot of fights that are no joke. ANd there's very little handholding, almost no tutorial, you just have to like ... figure the friggin world out. And SAVE A LOT, like, not just quick save. Make saves.

It's pretty beloved by a lot of gamers though despite it's rough edges. It has a charm and challenge to it that really no other FPS I've played has.

Oh, and it's also PC only, and Mouse/Keyboard only. And there's a lot of remapping of keys you'll want to do, some of the defaults suck . At this point though you don't need much PC power to play it.

If you decide to pick it up (it goes on sale on steam for cheap often), let me know.

DEFINITELY start with Shadow of Chernobyl though, not the other two.

Complete mod is here ... looks like there's an exe for it now ... nifty!


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Response to Hugh_Lebowski (Reply #1)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 09:41 PM

6. President Carter is among roughly 350,000 "liquidators" involved in nuclear reactor "clean ups."

Of course, he had no involvement in Chernobyl, but in the early 1950s, fuel rods at the Chalk River Nuclear NRX Research Reactor in the Ottawa Valley region of Ontario partially melted. (December 1952). It was the first melt down of a nuclear reactor in history of which we know. The experience of the future President nonetheless is rather similar to the experience of the roughly 350,000 Soviet Military Personnel involved in the Chernobyl clean up; it involved short exposure to possibly intense radiation to move highly radioactive components of a failed reactor.

This Stanford under graduate student's term paper describes Carter's experience there: Carter at Chalk River

A CNN piece around the time of Fukushima, when Carter was 86 years old, directly quoted the former President on this experience: Jimmy Carter's exposure to nuclear danger

"We were fairly well instructed then on what nuclear power was, but for about six months after that I had radioactivity in my urine," President Carter, now 86, told me during an interview for my new book in Plains in 2008. "They let us get probably a thousand times more radiation than they would now. It was in the early stages and they didn't know."

Despite the fears he had to overcome, Carter admits he was animated at the opportunity to put his top-secret training to use in the cleanup of the reactor, located along the Ottawa River northwest of Ottawa.

"It was a very exciting time for me when the Chalk River plant melted down," he continued in the same interview. "I was one of the few people in the world who had clearance to go into a nuclear power plant," he said.

"There were 23 of us and I was in charge. I took my crew up there on the train..."

..."It was the early 1950s ... I had only seconds that I could be in the reactor myself. We all went out on the tennis court, and they had an exact duplicate of the reactor on the tennis court. We would run out there with our wrenches and we'd check off so many bolts and nuts and they'd put them back on.

And finally when we went down into the reactor itself, which was extremely radioactive, then we would dash in there as quickly as we could and take off as many bolts as we could, the same bolts we had just been practicing on. Each time our men managed to remove a bolt or fitting from the core, the equivalent piece was removed on the mock-up..."

(Later President Carter, while President, would walk through the Three Mile Island Reactor while the situation was, excuse the pun, fluid, much to the consternation of the Secret Service.).

I mention this as an indication of how difficult it is to ascertain the "true numbers" associated with the exposure to radioactivity at Chernobyl. President Carter is the oldest of four siblings, and is the only one of them who is still alive. The other three, Ruth Carter Stapleton, Gloria Carter, and "Billy" Carter all died, Ruth in her 50's, from the same disease, pancreatic cancer.

As an advocate of nuclear energy, I could point to this anecdotal evidence about President Carter and make the specious claim that being exposed to a nuclear meltdown, two in Carter's case, the big bogeyman at Three Mile Island included, is a potential way to protect people with a clear familial history of pancreatic cancer, for them to avoid dying from the disease. This of course would be exceedingly misleading, since we really don't know what effect, if any, his participation in the clean ups had on his pancreas cells. It might be that is other three siblings inherited a different set of genes from their parents than he did.

On the other hand, if President Carter were to die at the age of 100, a nuclear opponent could easily claim that he would have lived to 110 if he hadn't cleaned up Chalk River and toured Three Mile Island while its core was melting. Some of them are indeed this stupid.

This points out something about the complexity of your excellent question.

I personally very much doubt that the "death toll" - which involves considerable complexity to discern - associated with Chernobyl is "under 50." I would expect a higher figure, although the figure is nowhere near the figures I was trained to believe would result by stupid journalists, anti-nuke "activists," the curious fellows at the poorly named so called "Union of Concerned 'Scientists'" - an organization I joined at one point in my life without making any reference whatsoever to whether I was a journalist, someone who never passed a college level science course with a grade of C- or better, or whether I was a Nobel Laureate Physicist. No information was required to join; the only thing required was sending a check.

In fact, that the observed results of the accident, the serious study of which led me to leave the class of dumbass anti-nukes and join the class of nuclear energy advocates, played a huge role in my current opinions on the topic, since I compared lazy expectations based on general reading from weak sources, to observed reality from legitimate sources.

This topic is covered by vast scientific literature. I would refer to an excellent journalistic consideration of bias among anti-nukes and pro-nukes like myself, by Mary Mycio, a Ukrainian-American author who traveled to Chernobyl in the early years after the accident to flesh things out for herself: Wormwood Forest A Natural History of Chernobyl (2005) It's not all that technical, but as a social science document, I found it excellent, and on the part of nuclear advocates, I felt a bit chastised myself.

An excellent overview of the scientific consequences, including mortality, is found the "UNSCEAR report" put together by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation." The tortured bureaucratic name of this committee suggests some level of irony. Here's a link to the 2008 report: Annex D, Health Effects Due to Radiation from the Chernobyl Accident. The list of references to the primary scientific literature starts on page 205 and ends on page 219 in relatively small print.

Of course, anti-nukes completely dismiss this report, since they apparently believe that Chernobyl wiped out Kiev and most of Eastern Europe, in fact, and parts of Scotland.

If it said that two million people died from Chernobyl - it doesn't - I of course, engage in "whataboutism" by noting that millions of people die in a continuous fashion from air pollution, which is also continuously dismissed by faith based anti-nukes in this (and other) space. A recent related post on the subject of Diablo Canyon I made on this site produced, as well I should expect, stupid accounts of the geological faults near the plant, pointing to an unrealized risk being elevated to the obvious effects of climate change in that State.

This is why Ms. Mycio's book is, in my view, a "must read" for anyone considering bias in this discussion.

It is clear to me, nonetheless, that whatever the risks of nuclear energy - and they are very real - these risks pale in comparison to the vast and observed risks of not using nuclear energy.

I could write for hours on the topic of radiation exposure, which has been included in my work over the last 30 years, and may at some point take the liberty of saying more in this space, or at least refer to my earlier writings on the topic, but the question is not, as the anecdotal evidence of President Carter's experience as a "liquidator" in the early 1950's suggests, simply answered.

Thanks for your excellent question. Stay tuned.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #6)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 12:21 AM

14. Thanks for your excellent response ...

I always read what you have to say my man.

Cheers ...

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 10:13 AM

3. I find it disturbing that humans going about their ordinary lives...

... are far, far, worse for the natural environment than fallout from the worst sort of nuclear accident.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 03:27 PM

5. Chernobyl was a military reactor ...

... since its main purpose was to give energy to a gigantic antenna, build as an early warning system against incoming missiles.


This antenna once proved that global nuclear war did not need to start that day:

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Response to TomWilm (Reply #5)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 10:07 PM

10. This is not really true. The RBMK, which was very similar to design of the Hanford "N Reactor..."

Last edited Wed Jul 14, 2021, 10:44 PM - Edit history (1)

...was designed to make it possible to extract weapons grade plutonium as well as to produce electricity. This much is clear.

The United States similarly used this design at a weapons plant to produce electricity as a side product of the manufacture of weapons grade plutonium, which cannot be realistically produced in the BWR and PWR reactors that dominate the US nuclear fleet.

President Kennedy participates in ground-breaking ceremonies for construction of N Reactor at Hanford on September 26, 1963.

A few years back, I attended an excellent lecture on the rationale for building RBMK's at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. (The speaker was clearly an opponent of nuclear power. She was one of the social scientists at the University of Virginia that produced anti-nukes like the very amusing, if not extremely dangerous, anti-nuke fool Benjamin Sovacool.) She pointed out that while the reactor was a potential dual use, weapons/power, design, the chief motivation of the design was cost. The construction and (disastrous) operation of the plant was driven by a need for the workers to obtain bonuses for meeting timelimes.

Like any technology, electricity can be and is diverted to military ends. The RBMK design was not primarily devoted to weapons. There were excellent reasons connected with the ease of and low costs of construction involved. This is reflected in the lack of a containment structure.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #10)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 04:13 AM

17. Not really sure what your point is ...

I am aware of the plutonium possibilities of the RBMK reactors - but my point is, that the main reason for building this colossal reactor in precise that area of Ukraine, was for feeding the antenna.

BTW - there are plans to reuse the 117 meter tall antenna structure for a new system of wind turbines, which could produce up to 30 million kWh per year.

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Response to TomWilm (Reply #17)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 08:24 AM

18. I'd turn it into a monument / art project.

Cover it with addressable LEDS and flash photos from the Cold War across its surface.

Wind turbines will not save the world.

Art might.

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Response to hunter (Reply #18)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 05:00 PM

20. It is about one kilometer long ...

... lots of space for any project!

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Response to TomWilm (Reply #20)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 05:08 PM

21. Nevertheless, I Quixotic hunter still mock wind turbines.


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Response to TomWilm (Reply #17)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 08:18 PM

22. You think the Soviets built 4000 MWe of power plants, Chernobyl 1-4, to power an antenna?

I hear a lot of stuff about Chernobyl, but this is entirely a new one.

The CAISO real time power analysis for the entire State of California is here: CAISO Real Time Supply As of this writing, 16:50 PDT, (4:50 PM, PDT) all of the wind turbines in the entire State of California, spread over thousands of sq. km of land, are producing 2,963 MW of power.

It might be the case, although since I monitor the CAISO website frequently that at some point, California, might, for an hour or two, produce 4,000 MW or more of wind power if the wind is blowing hard. It's rare, but it happens some time. On the other hand, today, July 15, 2021, at 9:05 PDT in the morning, all of the wind turbines in California, the entire State, were producing 1,227 MWe of power.

The predicted peak power for the State of California posted on the CAISO website for July 15, 2021 is 37,473 MW. This means the claim amounts to saying that the Soviet Union built 4000 MWe of nuclear capacity to power an antenna that consumed 4000/37,500 = .10 = 10% as much as the entire State of California to power an antenna.

Do you stand by this claim?

As I noted in a recent post here, the Tehachapi Wind Resources Area, spread over 2,100 square km, has a peak capacity of 3,507 MW, not that it ever, even for a minute, produces that much power. Busbar Electricity Prices at the Tehachapi Wind Farm This Evening.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is occupies 2,600 sq km, and thus is slightly larger than the ecosystem torn apart and industrialized to build the Techachapi wind parks, which are only some of the wind parks in California.

Are you telling me that all the wind turbines in California could have all of their energy devoted to operating a single antenna? Is this what's circulating in the circle of websites claiming that so called "renewable energy" will save the world?

It might be time to do some math.

30,000,000 MWh*3600 sec/hr *1000 W/kw = 1.08 * 10^(14) J, given that a watt is a J/sec.

1.08 X10^(14)( J/year)/31,556,600 (seconds/year) = 3,422,313 J/s, = 3,422,313 W which at 1,000,000 W/MW works out to 3.4 MW of average continuous power.

This is 3.4/4000 = 0.09% of the power level of the 4 nuclear plants when they were operating at full power, which many nuclear reactors, even crappy RBMK reactors, are capable of doing for long stretches of time.

The point of pointing to wind turbines on the abandoned antenna towers would be what? That symbolism trumps reality?

Ukraine [istill gets almost 50% of its electricity from nuclear power.]

Unlike Germany, they are unwilling to become dependent on Russian gas during periods of dunkelflaute to keep the lights on.

It is useful to do the math when making a claim.

Have a nice evening.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #22)

Fri Jul 16, 2021, 04:26 AM

23. Yes, that is what my Russian sources told me

... and I will now leave this discussion, since I simply has no idea what you are rambling about.

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Response to TomWilm (Reply #23)

Fri Jul 16, 2021, 08:28 AM

24. You need better Russian sources. It's clearly nonsense.

It's possible the tower was built because the nuclear plants were there, but absurd to claim the other way around.

The US nuclear weapons facilities at Hanford and Oak Ridge were built because hydroelectric power was available nearby proving that hydroelectricity can be diverted to produce weapons of mass destruction.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 09:46 PM

7. Fukushima Dai'ichi is the world's worst nuclear accident.

3 reactors melted down, one with MOX fuel.

It will become obvious in about 10-20 years.

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Response to roamer65 (Reply #7)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 09:53 PM

8. From this remark, I assume you know very little about the topic. n/t.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #8)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 09:58 PM

9. Ok, so what should TEPCO do with the 1.37 million tons of radioactive water on the site?

Dump it all in the Pacific Ocean?

Answer please.

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Response to roamer65 (Reply #9)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 10:14 PM

11. Yes, they should dump it in the ocean. It's the smart thing to do.

One would need to understand some science to understand why the storage of seawater at Fukushima is a silly activity motivated to please a stupid public. The death toll related to dumping the tritiated water, if it even exists, will certainly not amount to the death toll observed in the next from ten minutes of the indiscriminate dumping of dangerous fossil fuel waste directly into the planetary atmosphere, a topic routinely ignored by the moral Lilliputians who carry on, year after year after year about Fukushima while the coasts of major continents, from Australia, to Siberia, to, currently, the West Coast of North America, burn.

I forgot, though, that you're a nuclear expert, since in the commentary to previous post of mine you indicated you watched the dopey movie "The China Syndrome."

I don't get my information from comic books, OK?

I have nothing further to say to you. Most people raising these kinds of questions end up on my ignore list.

Have a nice life.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #11)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 10:36 PM

13. Never mind the radioactivity, eh?

You’re ignored.

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Response to roamer65 (Reply #13)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 12:32 AM

15. Dumping it into a small area right off the coast of a populated island like Japan

Where a lot of the economy is based on fishing ... would be a bad idea.

But that is a lot different than loading it into tanker ships and dispersing it widely, which I suspect is what NNadir is meaning should be done.

1.37 million tons isn't all that much compared to ocean size bodies of water. If I were to guess I'd bet that if you stand on a beach, the amount of water in your immediate view is probably something along the lines of that amount. Depending on your eyesight, and how deep the water is.

Do you imagine the oceans aren't covering lots of uranium deposits that slowly disperse low level radiation all the time?

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Response to Hugh_Lebowski (Reply #15)

Thu Jul 15, 2021, 09:12 AM

19. 1.37m tons of water is 342,500,000 gallons.


The ocean is only *checks notes* 332,519,000 cubic miles of water. So, as near as makes no difference, every gallon of Fukushima water will "contaminate" a cubic mile of "clean" water, or to put it in more understandable terms, 1.101e12 - 1,101,000,000,000 - gallons of water. One trillion one hundred and one billion...to one. You could probably literally count atoms of contaminant per gallon of seawater at that point.

Dump it, now.

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Response to roamer65 (Reply #7)

Wed Jul 14, 2021, 10:34 PM

12. In 10-20 years its going to be even more obvious that fossil fuels were a very bad idea...

... even the hybrid wind / natural gas systems.

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