A US academic yesterday shared his research on the effect of radioactive contaminants on animals in areas affected by nuclear disasters, while antinuclear advocates called for nuclear power to be phased out.
University of South Carolina professor of biology Timothy Mousseau, who has conducted long-term studies on the influence of radioactive contamination on animals and plants around the sites of accidents in Chernobyl, Ukraine and Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, told a meeting at the Legislative Yuan radiation exposure has dramatic effects on the development, reproduction and survival of organisms.
Increased rates of tumors, smaller brain sizes, cataracts and male sterility have been observed in birds, while the population of birds, as well as the number of species of birds have declined dramatically, Mousseau said, adding that almost all organisms near Chernobyl show some levels of damage, regardless of the degree of exposure.
“Many of the effects that we see in wild populations of animals and plants [at Chernobyl and Fukushima] are very similar to the consequences of atomic bombs. So radiation is radiation, no matter what the source is,” he said.
Organisms living in the areas were found to be 10 times more sensitive to radiation than other scientists had predicted, suggesting there might not be a safe threshold of exposure below which there are no health effects, he said, adding that it is assumed there should be parallels between humans and animals in terms of the consequences of radiation exposure, but the effects would be felt much later among people.
“Given a very high sensitivity to radiation, we need to be very concerned about the consequences of nuclear accidents, but also the day-to-day operations of nuclear power plants, where radiation is really on a regular daily basis. Whether you are for nuclear power or against it, the problem is on the table no matter what perspective you take on nuclear power,” he said.
Taiwan Renewable Energy Alliance director Kao Ju-ping (高如萍) said aging nuclear power plants pose major safety problems and must be deactivated as soon as possible, while eliminating nuclear power would not create power shortages.
Replacing nuclear power with sources of renewable energy could sustain economic development, instead of causing electricity prices to rise and stalling economic growth, as the government and Taiwan Power Co have warned, Kao said.
Taiwan Environmental Protection Union founding chairman Shih Hsin-min (施信民) said nuclear waste would remain a lasting threat to Taiwan even if nuclear power is phased out, while the government has yet to find a safe storage solution that could satisfy the public.
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