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Wildlife and the Atom

revised edition by Lowana Veal

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This is a revised edition of Wildlife and the Atom that was originally written by Lowana Veal in 1983 for Greenpeace (London). She has now updated it with new information. Thanks to Greenpeace (London) for help with printing costs. About the author Lowana Veal is a biologist and freelance journalist who has been involved in the anti-nuclear movement since the mid 1970s. Besides Wildlife and the Atom, she has recently written Capenhurst; the Facts. She now lives in Iceland, where there are no nuclear power stations.

Photos by Marianne Birkby

The effects of radiation are serious and long lasting. When Wildlife and the Atom was first published it was the only pamphlet to cover the effects of radiation upon our fellow creatures. That was in 1983, before Chernobyl & Fukushima. If we are ever going to stop such disasters from taking place in the future, is important to learn about the damaging changes which result from them in nature. This is why we are now publishing the second edition to this work. Martyn Lowe of Close Capenhurst Campaign WILDLIFE AND THE ATOM

Produced by Close Capenhurst Campaign Published Online by Radiation Free Lakeland April 2020

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CONTENTS 4- 5 6-9 10-13 13- 18

Animal experiments Facts about radiation Biological effects Ecological effects Evidence from Chernobyl Evidence from Fukushima 19-21 Farm animals 21-23 Aquatic ecosystems 24-26 Action and resources

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Animal experiments Animals are frequently used in research which is trying to gauge the results of radiation on people. Many – especially mice – are used in research on radiation treatment for cancer. Many of these experiments are performed in the name of the Crown, for instance in weapons research, and hence do not fall under the regulations of the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures Act), which replaced the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act. Similarly, the results of these tests are rarely published, as military personnel (in this country at least) are subject to the Official Secrets Act, and so the experiments are stamped “Classified” and filed away. Thus it is virtually impossible to obtain any details about these experiments from the Home Office. Mice, rats, guinea pigs and rhesus monkeys have been used in experiments at the Atomic Weapons Establishment – at least when it was called the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment – but whether or not animal experiments are still carried out there is unknown. Between 1961 and 1991, 4900 beagles were used in 15 different experiments in several American research laboratories to test the effects of neutron and gamma irradiation on lifespan, mutagenesis and tumour formation. The experiments used a range of doses and dosing patterns and became known as the Argonne beagle dog experiments. Beagles were used as they were considered to be similar to humans in terms of physiology, so results could be extrapolated to humans.1 The dogs were mainly exposed to Cobalt-60, which is used in radiation treatment for cancer, though some received daily injections of strontium-90 to test for possible effects on humans from fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing and others were exposed to

1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3784403/

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cerium-144 (which could be emitted during a nuclear accident from American light-water reactors) or caesium-137.2 In the USA the Freedom of Information Act allows the general public to find out more information about military experiments. And the number of animal experiments performed there that relate to military matters has been increasing, especially since 9/11. One American study3 used irradiated female rats to investigate countermeasures in the case of a nuclear attack or nuclear accident, but also looked at ways to mitigate radiation injury in cancer patients, as “it is not ethical to conduct clinical trials with total body doses and schedules of radiation that would be relevant to a nuclear attack or accident. Very few countermeasures … have demonstrated efficacy in irradiated humans in trials on cancer patients receiving radiotherapy”. Biodefence studies on ways to mitigate the effects of chemical, biological and radiological attacks have mostly used three primate species: rhesus macaques, long-tailed macaques and African green monkeys. In a report by ICAN called “Unspeakable Suffering: The humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons”4, Felicity Ruby writes: “While much of the research and writing about nuclear weapons focuses on the intense human suffering, animal genes, tissues, and organs are also impacted by radiation sickness, cancers, cataract formation, decreased fertility, and genetic mutations. Animals too would be blinded by the light and burned from the rays of the fireball and the radiation sickness.” A 2005 report from the National Academies of Science5 stated that there is no safe level of exposure to radiation – even low doses can cause cancer as well as damaging cells and causing mutations in future generations of animals. And as with humans, the dangers of radioactive isotopes are most dangerous when they are ingested or inhaled and then absorbed by muscles, bones, and lungs. 2

http://janus.northwestern.edu/nira/index.php/Beagle_Dog_Experiments

3

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261643/

4

http://www.icanw.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Unspeakable.pdf

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Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, National Research Council, Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, The BEIR VII (2006), The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., quoted by Felicity Ruby in http://www.icanw.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Unspeakable.pdf

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Facts about radiation Before going any further, it is necessary to define a few terms used in radiation research. Roentgen, rad, rem and curie were the terms used in the past, but they have largely been replaced outside the US and Russia by SI units. The roentgen is a standard measurement of the amount of X- and gamma rays delivered to an animal, while a rad is ‘roentgen absorbed dose’ and is the amount of biological damage caused by the radiation. Rem, which stands for roentgen equivalent man, is a dose-equivalent unit which accounts for differences in biological impact, as alpha particles and neutrons cause greater damage than beta particles and gamma rays because the energies from the former are deposited over smaller volume and therefore with greater intensity. Curies are the units in which radioactivity is measured in the environment, e.g. in fish in the Irish Sea. Conversion tables exist for translating the old radiation terms into SI units. The rad has been replaced by the Gray (Gy), where 100 rad = 1 Gy. Rem has been replaced by Sievert (Sv), where 100 rem = 1 Sv. Curies have been replaced by becquerels (Bq), where 1 curie = 3.7 x 1010 disintegrations per second (dps) and 1 Bq = 1 dps. Disintegration per second refers to the rate of radioactive decay of a radioactive atom. In this pamphlet, S.I. terms will be used. The type of radiation, whether it is alpha, beta or gamma, is important as regards the effects it might have on animals. All alpha emitters are carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic, but alpha radiation has a very short range and does not penetrate the skin. However, if breathed in it can be verydangerous as all its energy is concentrated on the few cells where it lodges.

The river Calder as it leaves Sellafield

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One of the alpha emitters, plutonium, is considered particularly hazardous as it is more common – it is released during reprocessing and the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Beta radiation is probably the most dangerous type of radiation as it contaminates large areas after a nuclear explosion and is routinely emitted in large amounts from nuclear power stations. Beta radiation is widely considered to be two to three times more damaging than gamma radiation. It too acts at short range, acting on the surface on which it lands, causing harm to leaves or animal skin, but it can also be absorbed into the body by an animal eating another irradiated one. If this happens, the radioactive particles may end up in the bone (strontium-90), muscle (caesium-137) or thyroid (iodine-131). Tritium (hydrogen-3) is another beta emitter and is very serious as it is most commonly found as radioactive water. All animals and plants contain large amounts of water: animals absorb tritiated water very quickly and it equilibrates with body fluids within minutes. Tritiated water is also absorbed through the animal’s drinking water or via ingestion of the water in animal feed. Gamma radiation is very penetrating, and hence can damage internal organs from outside the body. This is another important source as far as animals are concerned. With nuclear weapons, gamma radiation is produced during the split second of the explosion itself. Many gamma-emitters have long halflives (a half-life is the time taken for half the radioactivity to decay). Radioisotopes are the radioactive forms of certain elements. Some emit both gamma and beta radiation, while others release only one type. Tritium, strontium-90, caesium-137 and iodine-131 are some of the more important isotopes, though ruthenium-106 is sometimes found in aquatic animals. In a nuclear explosion, blast (shock waves, etc.), heat and fire would kill many animals near ground zero, the area nearest the explosion. A blast would produce strong winds of up to 320 miles (515 km) per hour, the effects being felt up to 13 miles (21 km) from ground zero with an airburst of 1 megaton bomb.6 The heat and fire zone would extend 4 miles (6.5 km) from ground zero – burns and/or death would affect the animals in that area 6

Many modern warheads are about 75 kt each, but there may well be multiple warheads on each submarine, etc.

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Forty percent of the radiation produced by a groundburst nuclear explosion comes later from the delayed fallout. Fallout dispersion is influenced primarily by wind direction, but also by the size and type of weapon, height of explosion, type of soil, rainfall and the nature of the terrain. The intensity of fallout declines with time. Generally, the decay rate is such that at 7 hours the radioactivity of an area is 1/7 that of 1 hour, and after 49 hours it is 1/100 that of 1 hour. The areas affected are shown in Table 1. Bombs over 1 Mt would be of a fission/fusion type, hence the theoretical amount of radioactivity released is only 50% of a pure fission bomb. Within a fallout contour, hot spots occur sporadically which are far more radioactive than the rest of the zone. Size of weapon

75t

1Mt

10Mt

Downwind distance (miles/km)

31/50

60/97

274

Maximum width (miles/km)

2.2/3.5

8.8/14

46/74

Area (square miles/km2)

54/140

415/1075

6140/15,903

Downwind distance (miles/km)

12/19

27/43.5

76/122

Maximum width (miles/km)

0.1/0.16

4/6.4

27/43.5

Area (square miles/km2)

9.5/24.6

85/220

1600/4144

3 G/hr

10 G/hr

Table 1: Area of land affected downwind from a nuclear explosion. Accumulated fallout is very important as far as animals (and humans) are concerned, as animals usually do not have access to fallout shelters in which to hide – neither do most humans. Fallout with an initial radiation dose of 1 Gy/hr would still be emitting 0.5 Gy/hr after 7 days. Table 2 shows approximate dimensions of areas receiving different accumulated doses of radiation after the first two weeks of a 1 Mt, 50% groundburst bomb.These are the areas, especially in the 4.5 and 10 Gy range, where animals are most likely to be affected by radiation. If a bomb was dropped on a nuclear reactor, the amount of radiation released would be greater, and each dose contour would spread wider. In the event of a major accident at a nuclear reactor, as happened at Chernobyl, large areas of land would also be contaminated by radiation, including gamma-emitters.

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Accumulated dose (G) 1.5

4.5

10

Downwind distance (miles/km)

140/225

79/127

50/80.5

Maximum width (miles/km)

17.2/27.7

10.8/17.4

7.4/12

Ground zero width (miles/km)

9/14.5

7.2/11.6

6/9.7

Area /square miles/km2)

2010/5206

730

325/1891

Table 2: Areas receiving accumulated doses of radiation, 2 weeks after a 1 Mt attack.

Sellafield from the Cold Fell road

Note: Table 1 & 2 Adapted from: The Medical Consequences of Nuclear Weapons. Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons and the Medical Association for the Prevention of War. 1982. See also http:// resource.nlm.nih.gov/101456084 1980

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Biological effects In a report by the International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) called “Unspeakable Suffering: The humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons”7, Felicity Ruby writes: “While much of the research and writing about nuclear weapons focuses on the intense human suffering, animal genes, tissues, and organs are also impacted by radiation sickness, carcinogenesis (sic), cataract formation, decreased fertility, and genetic mutations.” A 2005 report from the US National Academies of Science8 stated that there is no safe level of exposure to radiation – even low doses can cause cancer, damage cells and cause mutations in future generations of animals. And as with humans, the dangers of radioactive isotopes are most dangerous when they are ingested and then absorbed by muscles, bones, and lungs. The effect that radiation has on an animal depends on whether the dose is given once, as in a nuclear explosion, or over a long period of time, such as the occurrence of fallout in a particular area. Whether the animal is grazing is important, as is the type of radiation. Generally, at low doses (less than 2 Gy) cancer becomes prominent as a cause of death. At slightly higher doses, internal haemorrhaging (bleeding) occurs, though the site of haemorrhaging varies with different animals and with some this may not be fatal. However, if the haemorrhages are severe, the animal may die because of a shortage of blood platelets which normally allow the blood to clot. The lining of the blood vessels is also damaged, which leads to loss of fluid and salts, swellings, and impaired oxygen and nutrient transport in the blood. Irradiated animals also lose weight as a result of blood loss, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and vomiting. Fever and bacterial infections may also occur, the effect of infections being impounded by the body’s lessened ability to fight them (usually it is the white blood cells that are crucial in fighting infections).When exposed to relatively high doses of radiation, e.g. 10-50

7

http://www.icanw.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Unspeakable.pdf

8

Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, National Research Council, Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, The BEIR VII (2006), The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., quoted by Felicity Ruby in http://www.icanw.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Unspeakable.pdf

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Gy, mammals will die within the first 10 days of exposure due to damage to the gastro-intestinal tract, whereas exposure to lower doses of 1.6-10 Gy results in mammalian death within weeks of whole-body exposure.

From Bardsea beach in Cumbria looking accross Morecambe Bay to Heysham Nuclear Power Plant in Lancashire

The reproductive capacity of animals is also affected by radiation. Mature eggs and sperm are relatively insensitive to radiation, so an animal will remain fertile for a few months after irradiation. However, the earlier stages of eggs and sperm are adversely affected by radiation, so after the initial few months the animal will become sterile. This sterility may be temporary or permanent, depending on the dose and sex of the animal. If pregnant females are exposed to radiation in the early stages of pregnancy, before the embryo is implanted in the uterus, most of them fail to give birth. If radiation exposure occurs while the major organs are forming, gross abnormalities will occur in the offspring, ranging from anatomical defects to effects on the central nervous system which impair coordination.

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Often one new-born animal will have several abnormalities. If irradiated in later stages of pregnancy, the offspring appear normal but in fact they are smaller and develop into smaller adults, have a shorter life-span and often grow up sterile (see the Chernobyl section for more details on this). After a few weeks, damaged eyes and brain become apparent. One of the side-effects of the nuclear bomb would be the reduction of the ozone layer by up to 70% of normal. This would lead to a great increase of ultraviolet-B radiation (the damaging type of UV) reaching the earth from the sun. Exposed animals would be blinded by the light and burned from the rays of the fireball, due to scarring and opaqueness of the cornea (part of the eye). Blindness would throw the environment into disarray for these animals, and many plants would not be pollinated. UV light plays an especially important part in the life of insects with respect to phototaxis (movement towards light), celestial navigation and sex identification. It is also a powerful carcinogen. The degree of harm that a substance is likely to cause has traditionally been determined by the LD50 test. This involves giving a large number of animals a dose of the substance under consideration and then increasing the dose, using different animals, until half the animals die within a defined time, usually 30 days. The LD50 Gy values for a number of animals, dying within 30 days, are shown below. Guinea pigs 2–4 (according to strain) Dogs 3 Goats 3 Humans 4 Mice 4 (wild) – 6 (laboratory) Rats 6–7 Hamsters 7 Frogs 7 Rabbits 8 Tortoises 15 Insects 20–100 The lethal doses for birds are roughly in the same range as those for mammals, i.e. up to 10 Gy. Most fish are killed at doses of 11-15 Gy.

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Animals such as squirrels which are hibernating at the time of irradiation are relatively immune to the effects of radiation (doses of several thousand gray are necessary to kill them in this state), but as soon as the temperature rises they become as susceptible as if they were in a non-hibernating state.

Ecological effects A nuclear disaster would also cause ecological disaster. Insects vary in their susceptibility to radiation (see Chernobyl section), but cockroaches and Drosophila fruit flies can for instance withstand phenomenal levels of radiation. If a nuclear bomb exploded, trees would be felled by the blast, and other plants and trees would be killed by betaradiation. Insect eggs and larval stages are very radiosensitive, especially at certain times of year such as spring, and are killed at doses below that of mammals, but as the generation time of insects is short the population will easily recover. Insects can also migrate from unaffected areas. In mammals too, natality is more sensitive to radiation than mortality. The minimum acute doses needed to reduce reproduction rates may be just 10% of that required to kill animals.9 Radioactive rat droppings, half as radioactive as the dose delivered by a conventional X-ray (1.5 milliGy) have also been found in the containment building of the Three Mile Island reactor in the USA.10 This was the reactor which almost suffered a core meltdown. The rats probably picked up the radioactivity by drinking the heavily irradiated water in the containment building. As a result of nuclear weapons testing, caribou and reindeer In the Arctic and northern Scandinavia exhibited high levels of radioactive caesium and 9

https://inis.iaea.org/collection/NCLCollectionStore/_Public/23/039/23039160.pdf 1992

10

Financial Implications of the Accident at Three Mile Island, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1981

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strontium. This is principally because these animals live on mosses and lichens, which themselves contain high levels of strontium-90 and caesium-137. Mosses and lichens grow slowly and derive much of their nourishment from the air (where the fallout is) rather than the soil, as do most plants. Small quantities of radioactive waste from a nuclear reactor were dumped into White Oak Lake in the USA. Fish that appeared afterwards were grotesquely shaped: many miles downstream from the lake, fish were found to be glowing ‘like Christmas trees’. In Cumbria, radioactive gulls (see photo), pigeons and swallows have been found over the years by Sellafield’s waste ponds, variously attributed to consumption of radioactive insects or radioactive grasses used for nest-building.11 Since this pamphlet was first published in 1983 there have been two major nuclear accidents which have provided a wealth of information concerning the effects of radiation on animals. The first was in Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986 and the second in Fukushima in Japan in 2011. While Chernobyl was inland and thus mainly affected terrestrial fauna, effects from Fukushima have also been noted in the oceans. Much of the evidence corroborates earlier knowledge. Evidence from Chernobyl The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimate that the Chernobyl accident released 400 times as much radioactivity into the atmosphere than the Hiroshima bomb did in 1945. With the absence of human interference since the Chernobyl accident, the location has often been seen as a paradise or sanctuary for wildlife. High species biodiversity has 11

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jun/08/radioactive-swallows-sellafield

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been recorded for the area as a whole, motion detection recorders have documented an abundance of fauna at all levels of radiation, and there have been signs of potential adaptive responses to radiation, such as darker skin colour in frogs.12 Male Kestrel

However, other researchers have challenged these findings. For instance, one article provides insights into the consequences of chronic exposure to lowdose ionizing radiation.13 Constant exposure to radiation has caused genetic damage and increased mutation rates in Chernobyl fauna, leading to decreased population sizes and reduced biodiversity in high-radiation areas. Bird species which typically have high mutation rates, such as the blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), are amongst the most likely to show population decline at Chernobyl. Bird diversity has also been found to be dramatically lower in Chernobyl, and changes in adult sex ratios (favouring males) have been noted, with only 50% of the number of older birds relative to juveniles and one-year-olds.14 Birds and mammals, including bank voles, have also been found to have eye cataracts and smaller brains, while many birds have malformed sperm. In the most radioactive areas, tumours are visible on some birds, and up to 40% of male birds are sterile. Besides birds and mammals, in the most radioactive areas population declines have been noted in butterflies, dragonflies, bees, grasshoppers and spiders.15

12

https://theconversation.com/chernobyl-has-become-a-refuge-for-wildlife-33-years-after-the-nuclearaccident-116303 https://theconversation.com/at-chernobyl-and-fukushima-radioactivity-has-seriously-harmedwildlife-57030 13

14

https://academic.oup.com/jhered/article/105/5/704/2961808

15

https://theconversation.com/at-chernobyl-and-fukushima-radioactivity-has-seriously-harmedwildlife-57030

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In Germany, wild boar are hunted for their meat but in Saxony, 700 miles (1127 km) from Chernobyl, hunters must allow the meat from the killed animals to be tested for radioactivity. Carcases found to exceed the safe limit of 600 Bq/kg have to be destroyed. In one year, 297 out of 752 samples had to be destroyed. It is thought that boar are so radioactive because they traditionally rummage through soil and feed on mushrooms and underground truffles (another kind of fungi) that store radiation. 16 Stray dogs in Chernobyl have radiation in their fur and rarely live beyond the age of six.17 Within the 30-km (19-mile) exclusion zone around the plant, abandoned dogs had reduced mass of muscular and fat tissue; changes in the liver, gut and kidneys; haemorrhages in the stomach; and local cell damage to the liver and kidneys.18 Some species, including wolves, do not seem to be affected by radiation, and the same is true for some birds. This has been attributed to reductions in predators or fewer competitors in highly radioactive areas. Some evidence indicates that birds can adapt to radiation by changing the way they use antioxidants in their bodies. 19 Morphological changes due to radiation have also caused reduced mating success in insects, for instance in the horns of stag beetles (Lucanus cervus) and also in the leaf beetle (Chrysomela vigintipunctata).20 The most important isotopes emanating from the Chernobyl accident were iodine-131, strontium-90, caesium-137 and plutonium-239. Evidence from Fukushima Partly due to the length of time since the Chernobyl accident, it appears that the main consequences of that accident are manifested in genetic damage coupled with increased mutation rates in many organisms, whereas in

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/11068298/Radioactive-wild-boarroaming-the-forests-of-Germany.html 16

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/05/dogs-chernobyl-abandoned-pets-stray-exclusionzone 17

18

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412007002474#bib80

https://theconversation.com/at-chernobyl-and-fukushima-radioactivity-has-seriously-harmedwildlife-57030 19

20

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412007002474#bbib80

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Fukushima the main effects appear to be due to exposure to radioactive contaminants (radiotoxicity). 21 Wild Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata) in the forested area of Fukushima city, about 70 km from the power plant, were tested for caesium and other haematological attributes in April 2012 and compared to monkeys living about 400 km from the power plant on the Shimokita peninsula. Total caesium concentration in the Fukushima monkeys ranged from 78-1778 Bq/kg while it was negligible in the Shimokita monkeys. In addition, the Fukushima monkeys had significantly low counts of white and red blood cells, and the white blood cell count in immature Fukushima monkeys showed significant negative correlation with muscle caesium concentration, which indicates that exposure to radioactive material contributed to the haematological changes in the Fukushima monkeys.22

White spots (a phenomenon called partial albinism) appeared on the feathers of barn swallows in Fukushima in 2012, and increased in frequency in 2013 and 2014.23

Birds, butterflies and cicadas decreased in abundance with increasing radiation at Fukushima, whereas grasshoppers, bumblebees and 21

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1470160X12002324

22

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25060710

23

https://academic.oup.com/jhered/article/105/5/704/2961808

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dragonflies do not seem to be affected despite higher average radiation levels at Fukushima than Chernobyl. As time goes on, more negative effects are likely to be seen in the fauna around Fukushima as mutations kick in.24 As Fukushima is located on the coast of Japan, the marine biota was also subject to radiation. Benthic fish, which live on the seabed, are more exposed to contaminated sediments and receive higher radiation doses than pelagic fish that live nearer to the surface.25 The level of radioactive caesium has been monitored weekly by the Japanese authorities, and although levels declined rapidly between 2011 and 2012, benthic species were particularly slow to recover, potentially because bottom sediments delayed the dispersal of radioactive substances. Five months after the Fukushima accident, scientists discovered that all of the 15 bluefin tuna that they sampled off California had levels of radioactive caesium-134 and caesium-137 at levels 3% higher than background radiation. The tuna had clearly also been in the vicinity of Fukushima – in a separate study, one individual had been tagged and had swum three times between Japan and the West Coast over the course of 600 days.26 Caesium-134 has a half-life of only 2.06 years and has been termed the “footprint of Fukushima”. In November 2011 (the accident occurred in March), caesium-137 was found in 75% of mackerel, 91% of halibut, 92% of sardines, 93% of tuna and eel, 94% of cod and anchovies, and 100% of shark and monkfish tested by the Japanese authorities, caught both within Japanese coastal waters and in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.27

24

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1470160X12002324

25

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161018141309.htm

https://washingtonsblog.com/2012/05/absolutely-every-one-of-the-15-bluefin-tuna-tested-in-californiawaters-contaminated-with-fukushima-radiation.html 26

27

https://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/343-203/9463-canada-fish-eaters-threatened-byfukushima-radiation

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Herdwick Sheep on Corney Fell above Sellafield

Farm animals Specific studies have been done in the USA on the survival of livestock in the event of a nuclear accident. They have done LD50 tests on various types of domesticated livestock under three conditions: grazing on pasture, in a pen or corral, and in a barn. The values for LD50/60 (dying within 60 days) are shown in Gy in Table 3. Pasture

Pen

Barn

Cattle

1.8

4.5

5.0

Sheep

2.4

4.5

5.0

Pigs

5.5

6.0

6.4

Horses

5.5

6.0

6.7

Poultry

8.0

8.5

9.0

Table 3: LD50/60 values for farm animals28 The authors of the report, Glasstone and Dolan – who were writing on behalf of the US Department of Defense – did not consider the values for the pasture animals to be too serious as they presumed that the animals would be herded into a barn soon after the radiation attack! Pasture animals will be the most affected because they will be picking up radioactive particles from the surface of the grass as well as via their own skin. The main troublesome isotopes will be those of strontium, caesium and iodine – the latter being the most important in the first week after the accident. These isotopes will be absorbed into the body and lodged in specific organs. At 1.5 Gy, the report stated, cattle develop zones of thickened and hardened skin. When exposed to 2-6 Gy, cattle experience some loss of appetite and 28 Adapted

from S. Glasstone and P. J. Dolan. The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, 3rd ed. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C., 1977

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slight fever for about 24 hours. There is then a latent period lasting about 14 days, then the animals that received the higher radiation doses suffer a high fever and die within a month or so. Surviving cattle will only develop a mild fever. Grazing cattle will also have a marked loss of appetite and vomit frequently. Cattle and sheep, which are ruminants (animals which chew the cud) are more susceptible to radiation when they are grazing outside because of internal radiation. With sheep, radioactivity concentrates in the rumen and the abomasum29 (true stomach) and causes ulcers. Loss of appetite is caused by stagnation in the rumen, which prevents the normal passage of the animal’s food. Severe diarrhoea and weight loss follow. 11,262 sheep died in 1953 and 1954 in Utah and Nevada as a result of the nuclear tests there. Irradiated cows produce as much milk as normal cows (albeit contaminated with iodine-131, strontium 90 and caesium-137 so it is undrinkable) but calf lactation is reduced as a result of the destruction of the thyroid gland (which controls lactation) by the cows consuming iodine-131. Cattle in the Chernobyl region after the accident showed impaired thyroid function that was related to the dose received, as well as displaying impaired immune responses, cardiovascular disorders and lower body temperatures five to eight months after the disaster. Dissection revealed either partial atrophy or total destruction of the thyroid, along with degeneration of the liver and heart muscles, enlargement of the gall bladder and spleen, and an increased level of visceral (stomach) fat. Five months after the accident, sheep evacuated from the exclusion zone had serious haematological alterations in their peripheral circulation: 89% of sheep had leukopenia (decreased levels of white blood cells), 90% had lymphopenia (low levels of lymphocytes), 54% had initial and marked anaemia, and 34% exhibited serious inhibition of haemopoiesis (formation of blood cells). Noticeable blood changes were also observed in pigs and cats in the exclusion zone in 1986.30

Ruminants have four stomachs. The food initially enters the first chamber (the rumen) and is then regurgitated and returns to the true stomach. 29

30 Alexakhin

et al. Large radiation accidents: consequences and protective countermeasures. Ilyin LA, Gubanov VA, eds. Moscow: IzdAT; 2004

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Over the years, a number of States in the USA have produced guidelines for farmers31 in the event of an accident at a nuclear power station. The New York missive, dated 2015, begins with “Please Keep this Booklet for Future Reference”, although the tone of the document indicates that farmers should not be unduly worried if a nuclear accident occurs. Farmers are advised to give their animals “protected water” that comes from closed containers or underground wells – animals can survive for several days on water alone, they point out. They may need to be fed “protected food” that has not been kept outside. Further, the instructions state: "Livestock that have been fed protected feed and water, but exposed to external contamination, could be used for food if adequately washed and monitored by officials before slaughtering. Animals can be washed using soap and water.” Farmers should wear clothing similar to that used in pesticide application. “Poultry raised outdoors, especially those kept for egg production, may be sampled by officials to determine if eggs have radiological contamination,” the document states. As a result of the October 1957 fire at the Sellafield reprocessing plant (called Windscale at the time), radioactive gases were released into the environment. One of these was iodine-131, which was subsequently taken up by cows. For up to 45 days after the event, milk from cows from an area of 200 square miles (518 km2) north of the plant was poured away and subsequently entered the Irish Sea, where the radioactivity was taken up by shellfish and fish. The Irish Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) continue to monitor the Irish Sea for radioactivity. 32

Aquatic ecosystems One of the most important facts about radiation in aquatic ecosystems is its ability to concentrate in animals, so that the animals at the top of the food chain, which may have eaten fish which in turn may have eaten plankton, will have higher levels of radiation in their bodies than do plankton that simply eat small plants or decaying animals. In the 1950s, nuclear reactors at Hanford were producing plutonium for nuclear weapons and releasing waste

31

https://www.agriculture.ny.gov/Emergency_Preparedness.pdf

32

https://www.epa.ie/radiation/monassess/sellafield/

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water into the Columbia River. Although the radioactivity of the water was relatively insignificant: 1)The radioactivity of the plankton (mostly diatoms) was 2000 times greater. 2)The radioactivity of the fish and ducks feeding on the plankton was 15,000 and 40,000 times greater respectively. 3)The radioactivity of young swallows fed on insects caught by their parents was 500,000 times greater. 4)The radioactivity of the egg yolks of water fowl was more than a million times greater.33 New Scientist magazine reported in 2004 that lobsters, cockles and scallops from north-west England south-west Scotland are so contaminated with plutonium from Sellafield in Cumbria that they would breach limits due to be introduced by the United Nations in 2005.34 Winkles sampled by the Food Standards Authority from St Bees, adjacent to Sellafield, had 66 Bq/kg of plutonium and related isotopes, while the limit due to be imposed for shellfish was 1 Bq/kg. At Port Appin in Scotland, 160 miles (257 km) from Sellafield, traces of radioactive carbon-14 emanating from the reprocessing plant were found in shells of mussels, cockles and winkles, albeit well below safety limits.35

33 Appeal

to end Nuclear Tests. Albert Schweitzer. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 1957, pp. 204-205.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6516-new-radioactivity-limit-could-sink-shellfish/ #ixzz63dI2ROPo 12 October 2004. 34

35

https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14157272.scottish-shellfish-are-contaminated-by-radioactivewaste-from-sellafield/

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Bio-accumulation of caesium-137 in fish muscle increases with the size and position of the fish in the food web, predatory fish such as pike and perch having higher levels than others.36 One scientist, Tom Lancraft, postulated a mechanism for the upwards transport of radioactive waste, at least in certain areas. He studied the eelpout fish in the Santa Cruz basin, 30 miles (48 km) off Port Hueneme on the Californian coast where 3100 metal drums of radioactive waste were dumped in the 1950s by the Atomic Energy Commission. The eelpout has an unusual life-cycle in that its eggs sink to the bottom of the sea. The hatchlings spend their first year of life there and then move up the water column to the midwater zone, where they may live for another five years. Here, swordfish, tuna and other commercial fish prey on them. Of the 3100 drums dumped in the Santa Cruz basin, about 25% of these have been corroded and have leaked radioactive waste into the sea. The eelpout transports this waste further up the water body. Although the eelpout is only found from Baja California to British Columbia, certain fish in other areas could also have a similar type of life-cycle.37

Black Combe, Duddon Estuary, Cumbria, UK

36

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.8b02378

37

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1980/11/13/A-four-inch-long-ocean-fish-called-the-eelpout-could/ 8440342939600/

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Action and resources What can you do? Raise awareness of the issue. In some circles, nuclear power is (mistakenly) seen as a climate-neutral energy source, so make people aware of the negative effects a nuclear accident might have on wildlife, including marine fauna, Encourage people in animal rights groups to become involved in groups campaigning on anti-nuclear, climate change, general environmental issues or peace issues – and vice versa. The only real way to ensure that animals will survive and/or not be tortured (relative to nuclear war) is to dismantle the nuclear industry – this means pushing for the decommissioning of the nuclear power stations, dismantling/ removal of nuclear weapons, and abolition of the military establishment. If you are not already involved in a campaigning group, join one or start your own. The following groups are worth contacting: Kick Nuclear https://kicknuclear.com/ Radiation Free Lakeland https://wildar4.wixsite.com/radiation-free-land Close Capenhurst Campaign http://close-capenhurst.org.uk/ Friends of the Earth Nuclear Network https://www.facebook.com/groups/ FoENuclearNetwork/ South West Against Nuclear (SWAN) https://www.facebook.com/ southwestagainstnuke/ 24


Stop Hinkley http://stophinkley.org/ People Against Wylfa B https://www.stop-wylfa.org/ Nuclear Trains Action Group http://www.nonucleartrains.org.uk/ Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) https://cnduk.org/ Japanese Against Nuclear (JAN UK) http://januk.org/english.html Animal Aid https://www.animalaid.org.uk/ Animal Justice Project https://animaljusticeproject.com The following organizations offer good resources: No2NuclearPower http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/ Nuclear Information Service https://www.nuclearinfo.org/

And this is also a good resource: EPIC database, Radiation effects on aquatic biota

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Packhorse bridge over Friars Gill which flows into the river Calder and then on to Sellafield, the world’s riskiest nuclear waste plant

WILDLIFE AND THE ATOM

Produced by Close Capenhurst Campaign Published Online by Radiation Free Lakeland April 2020

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Profile for Radiation Free Lakeland

Wildlife and the Atom  

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