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Chernobyl: Lasting Impacts of Nuclear Accidents

The Chernobyl Accident

On April 26th, 1986, a nuclear power plant in Ukraine was performing a routine exercise on an emergency water cooling system when things went horribly awry. Two explosions occurred, blowing the 1,000 ton roof off of Reactor Number 4 and releasing 400 times more radiation than when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Radioactive debris rained down on the surrounding area as the fires continued to burn for nearly two weeks. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster went down in history not only for its devastation, but for how it shaped the perspective of the world on nuclear power.

The nuclear plant workers and first responders who were directly exposed to the radiation developed serious health problems, and thousands more died from illnesses and cancers directly linked to radiation exposure. Countless health complications have been linked to the event and continue to surface as more time passes. Beyond the human impact lies a complex web of ecological changes as well. Many notable mutations have surfaced across all of the species in the area at all biological levels.

Radiation Exposure and Reproduction

Many researchers have studied the genetic impact that radiation has caused throughout various populations in the area. It has been determined that, in the case of sexually reproducing species, many of the detrimental mutations have been phased out through natural selection when it limits fitness. Recessive mutations, on the other hand, are much slower to phase out. They are only expressed in the offspring when both parents have the mutated gene. This allows for the gene to remain dormant across several generations, and potentially migrate out of the hot zone to unimpacted populations. When sexual reproduction is removed from the equation, detrimental mutations no longer just decrease fitness, they often reduce it to zero and eliminate the population altogether.

Microscopic Impacts of Nuclear Events

Single celled organisms are essential in every ecosystem, but given their

asexual reproduction and climatic limitations, nuclear events make survival very difficult.

Since single celled organisms make up a large percentage of the decomposer level of the food chain, their absence removes a large chunk of the ecological web that upholds a sustainable biome. When bacteria and fungi are no longer in the equation, decay of deceased organic materials is essentially halted. This leads to susceptibility to fires as dead plant material builds up.


These are a few topics that will be explored as I delve into the lasting impacts of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident and other nuclear events throughout recent human history. I look forward to continuing my research and sharing my passion for animals in conjunction with nuclear history!


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