Even Low Radiation Levels In The Fukushima Disaster Area Are Harming Animals

Framing in the shadow of Hamaoka Nuclear power. Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Butterflies eating food collected from around the Fukushima nuclear meltdown site showed higher rates of death and disease, according to a Japanese study.

Researchers fed groups of pale blue grass butterflies (Zizeeria maha) leaves from six different areas at varying distance from the disaster site and then investigated the effects on the next generation.

Feeding offspring the same contaminated leaves as their parents magnified the effects of the radiation.

But offspring fed uncontaminated leaves were mostly like normal butterflies and the authors say this shows that decontaminating the food source can save the next generation.

The 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant released substantial amounts of radiation into the surrounding area.

Humans were evacuated and no significant health effects have been reported but the scientists from the University of the Rukyus, Okinawa, are studying the impact on the area’s wildlife.

In a previous study, the group suggested that eating leaves with high levels of radiation seriously affected the pale grass blue butterfly.

Their new study investigated the effect of eating leaves with much lower levels of radiation, which had been collected in 2012, a year after the disaster, from six areas that were between 59kms and 1,760kms from the site.

Their study, published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, showed that even in these comparatively low levels of radiation, there was an observable difference in the butterflies’ lifespan, depending on the dose of caesium radiation in their food.

Butterflies fed leaves with higher caesium radiation doses were also smaller and some had morphological abnormalities such as unusually shaped wings.

Professor Joji Otaki, of University of Rukyus, says wildlife has probably been damaged even at relatively low doses of radiation.

He says the study demonstrates that eating contaminated foods can cause serious negative effects on organisms.

“Such negative effects may be passed down the generations,” he says.

“On the bright side, eating non-contaminated food improves the negative effects, even in the next generation.”

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