Chernobyl and Fukushima Studies Show that Radiation Reduces Animal and Plant Numbers, Lifespan, Fertility, Brain Size and Diversity … and Increases Deformities and Abnormalities

Radiation Facts and Myths

Many have claimed that wildlife is thriving in the highly-radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Some claim that a little radiation is harmless … or even good for you.

One of the main advisors to the Japanese government on Fukushima announced:

If you smile, the radiation will not affect you.   If you do not smile, the radiation will affect you.

This theory has been proven by experiments on animals.

Are these claims true?

We Ask an Expert

To find out, Washington’s Blog spoke with one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of radiation on living organisms: Dr. Timothy Mousseau.

Dr. Mousseau is former Program Director at the National Science Foundation (in Population Biology), Panelist for the National Academy of Sciences’ panels on Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities and GAO Panel on Health and Environmental Effects from Tritium Leaks at Nuclear Power Plants, and a biology professor – and former Dean of the Graduate School, and Chair of the Graduate Program in Ecology – at the University of South Carolina.

For the past 15 years, Mousseau and  another leading biologist – Anders Pape Møller – have studied the effects of radiation on birds and other organisms.

Mousseau has made numerous trips to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Fukushima – making 896 inventories at Chernobyl and 1,100 biotic inventories in Fukushima as of July 2013 – to test the effect of radiation on plants and animals.

On the third anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, we spoke with Dr. Mousseau about what he discovered regarding the effects of radiation on plants, animals … and people.

[Question] How did you get into this field? Is it because you are an anti-nuclear activist?

[Mousseau]  No.

I’m an activist, but not an anti-nuclear scientist. I’m an activist for evidence-based science policy.

I got into this out of an interest in discovery of new forms of adaption to changing environments. I’m an evolutionary biologist by training. And – about a decade and a half ago – I met up with Anders Pape Møller, one of the world’s leading ornithologists.

We decided to go to Chernobyl and see if the females, the mothers, are doing anything to enhance their offspring’s fitness in response to this novel stressor of radioactive contaminants.

And then in 2005, when the international Atomic Energy Agency commissioned this report by a panel – the Chernobyl Forum – and the Chernobyl Forum put out their first release in 2005, followed by their main publication in 2006, we realized they didn’t cite anybody’s work that went against their dogma that contamination levels at Chernobyl were just too low to be of any profound significance for biological communities.

In fact, they have a statement in the Chernobyl Forum report where they suggest that the plants and animals are thriving because there are no people there.  And – by implication – the suggestion is that the radiation isn’t a problem.

[Q] What did you actually find in the field?

[Mousseau] What we observed was that in the more contaminated parts of the Chernobyl zone, there were many fewer critters, fewer birds singing, and we noticed there were no spider webs getting in our face.

We set up a quantitative design to measure the critters not only in the most contaminated areas, but also in the clean areas.  In the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,  you have everything from pristine, completely uncontaminated areas to really highly-contaminated areas.  It’s kind of a quiltwork … a mosaic.

So this provides the ability to do rigorous comparative analyses of critters that are in the same environment, except for the radiation.

[Q] So you utilized good controls in terms of ruling out other health-damaging and mortality factors, because in this “quiltwork” ecology you had higher or lower levels of radiation … but otherwise the conditions were similar?

[Mousseau] Exactly, combined with the fact that – everywhere we went – we also measured all of the other environmental factors that would likely play some role in the abundance and distribution of organisms … such as the type of soil, whether it was forest or grass, the water, as well as the ambient conditions at the time we collected the data.

And we did a control for human habitation sites as well, in Belarus.

[Q] What kinds of effects did you test for?

[Mousseau] We’ve tested for mutation rates, estimates of genetic damage, estimates of sperm damage, sperm swimming [i.e. how mobile the sperm are], fertility rates in both females and males, longevity, age distribution of the birds in these different areas, species diversity, etc.

[Q] And what did you find?

[Mousseau] The diversity of birds is about half of what it should be in the most contaminated areas.  The total numbers of birds is only about a third of what it should be in the most contaminated areas.

In 2006, I decided to collect fruit flies across the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, and I couldn’t find very many.

And then I realized, there wasn’t any rotting fruit on the ground.  And considering that every farmer, every landowner would put up fruit trees in that part of the world, you look at the fruit trees and realize there’s hardly any fruit on them.

And of course, that’s why there weren’t many fruit flies.

And then it dawned on us, where are the pollinators? And that point, we realized there aren’t many bees and butterflies.

So we started counting the bees, the butterflies, the dragonflies, the spiders, and the grasshoppers.

And that’s when we realized that all of the groups we looked at showed significantly lower numbers in the most-contaminated areas.

It look us a little longer to figure out a way to study mammals. We decided we can count many of the mammals by looking at footprints in the snow. The ecologists in Canada and Northern Europe have been doing this for centuries. There’s even a book published [a field guide] for identifying animals by their footprints in the snow.

We found – for most of the mammals – significant declines in numbers in the most contaminated areas. The one exception were the wolves, which showed no difference, probably because they have huge ranges which span across the high and low areas of contamination.

[We’ll cut away from the interview to explain what Mousseau found, using information and slides from his published studies. The copyright to all images are owned by Dr. Mousseau.]

Indeed, Mousseau found – in studies of plants, insects and mammals – that:

  • Most organisms studied show significantly increased rates of genetic damage in direct proportion to the level of exposure to radioactive contaminants
  • Many organisms show increased rates of deformities and developmental abnormalities in direct proportion to contamination levels
  • Many organisms show reduced fertility rates
  • Many organisms show reduced life spans
  • Many organisms show reduced population sizes
  • Biodiversity is significantly decreased many species locally extinct
  • Mutations are passed from one generation to the next, and show signs of accumulating over time
  • Mutations are migrating out of affected areas into populations that are not exposed (i.e. population bystander effects)

He found that the numbers of birds plummeted:

And biodiversity significantly declined:

The same is true for bees:


And mammals:

Examples of abnormalities Mousseau found include cataracts, albinism, and tumors:

And he found that the brains of birds in high-radiation areas are smaller.

[Back to the interview.] [Q] Aren’t humans totally different from the plants and animals you’ve studied?

[Mousseau] Most medical research is conducted with either animal models or cell lines. What’s the reason? Because we can look at the effects very clearly in these animal populations.

And we’re just animals … so what happens to animals is likely to be of relevance to humans as well.

[However, since humans live longer than most animals – and much longer than birds or bacteria – it can take longer to see genetic mutations due to radiation.] [Q] What about people who say that low doses of radiation are actually good for you, what’s called “radiation hormesis?”  And I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but some Department of Energy articles have tried to push that theory.

[Mousseau] Most of those reports have been generated as a result of energy-related funding.  And the data which supports the theory is really shaky … and even flaky.

We conducted meta-analysis a couple of years ago published in the Cambridge Biological Review. We analyzed all of the published we could find that was conducted with any kind of scientific rigor for naturally radioactive areas around the world.

And the idea is that there has been plenty of time in these natural hotspots for organisms to adapt and evolve and show adaptive responses and even hormetic responses.

And there was no indication in this meta-analysis that hormesis was playing any role in any of these populations, and certainly not the human populations.

[Q]  Did your meta-review include human studies?

[Mousseau] Yes, it included everything we could find.

[Q]  Did your research back up the linear no threshold model of radiation [the prevailing scientific view of radiation, which is that there is no safe dose]?

[Mousseau]. Damage increases down to very low levels of radiation.  There’s no indication that the effect disappears at low doses.

Science Daily summarized Mousseau’s findings in 2012:

Even the very lowest levels of radiation are harmful to life, scientists have concluded in the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s journal Biological Reviews. Reporting the results of a wide-ranging analysis of 46 peer-reviewed studies published over the past 40 years, researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of Paris-Sud found that variation in low-level, natural background radiation was found to have small, but highly statistically significant, negative effects on DNA as well as several measures of health.

The review is a meta-analysis of studies of locations around the globe …. “Pooling across multiple studies, in multiple areas, and in a rigorous statistical manner provides a tool to really get at these questions about low-level radiation.”

Mousseau and co-author Anders Møller of the University of Paris-Sud combed the scientific literature, examining more than 5,000 papers involving natural background radiation that were narrowed to 46 for quantitative comparison. The selected studies all examined both a control group and a more highly irradiated population and quantified the size of the radiation levels for each. Each paper also reported test statistics that allowed direct comparison between the studies.

The organisms studied included plants and animals, but had a large preponderance of human subjects. Each study examined one or more possible effects of radiation, such as DNA damage measured in the lab, prevalence of a disease such as Down’s Syndrome, or the sex ratio produced in offspring. For each effect, a statistical algorithm was used to generate a single value, the effect size, which could be compared across all the studies.

The scientists reported significant negative effects in a range of categories, including immunology, physiology, mutation and disease occurrence. The frequency of negative effects was beyond that of random chance.


“When you do the meta-analysis, you do see significant negative effects.”

“It also provides evidence that there is no threshold below which there are no effects of radiation,” he added. “A theory that has been batted around a lot over the last couple of decades is the idea that is there a threshold of exposure below which there are no negative consequences. These data provide fairly strong evidence that there is no threshold — radiation effects are measurable as far down as you can go, given the statistical power you have at hand.”

Mousseau hopes their results, which are consistent with the “linear-no-threshold” model for radiation effects, will better inform the debate about exposure risks. “With the levels of contamination that we have seen as a result of nuclear power plants, especially in the past, and even as a result of Chernobyl and Fukushima and related accidents, there’s an attempt in the industry to downplay the doses that the populations are getting, because maybe it’s only one or two times beyond what is thought to be the natural background level,” he said. “But they’re assuming the natural background levels are fine.”

“And the truth is, if we see effects at these low levels, then we have to be thinking differently about how we develop regulations for exposures, and especially intentional exposures to populations, like the emissions from nuclear power plants, medical procedures, and even some x-ray machines at airports.”

Postscript: To support Dr. Mousseau’s important research, please consider making a donation to the University of South Carolina’s Chernobyl and Fukushima Research Initiative (specify that the donation is to support Mousseau’s research.)

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  • jadan

    Excellent article that counteracts the PBS view of Chernobyl exclusion zones: teeming with healthy animal and plant life. Studies of radiation effects are more important than ever. Cancer is soon to be the #1 cause of mortality, by 2030, they say. Much sooner than that sez I, like 2016. But this is not to say that radiation causes cancer exclusively. The people of Japan are sliding into a condition of biological despair, a mass depression. Denial as practiced by people like PM Abe as the only alternative to evacuation of the island leads to mass psychosis. German national socialism was mass psychosis. But the Japanese variety is more patently insane: if you think positive thoughts, radiation won’t harm you.

  • Sister Jane

    LOL, Mr. Yamashita’s lecture was like watching a Japanese comedy show if it wasn’t so serious. I’d really love for Mr. Yamashita to go into the woods, find a hungry Bear, and smile real big for him or her, please show all of your teeth to the Bear, and find out if it will save his ass. BTW Mr. Yamashita, Bears really do shit in the woods, and no amount smiling will ever stop Death from knocking on anybody’s door.
    Recently watching Japanese TV and they said in Fukushima Prefecture the Cancer rate among children is now 33 for every 100,000 Children, (Actually the report I hardly remember and it was probably more terrifying than what I’m writing.) now they also said the average is usually about 1 to 3 per 100,000. Also, 36% of children in Fukushima Prefecture have abnormal growths in their thyroid glands, perhaps the kids should smile and they wouldn’t have any trouble, would they now Mr. Yamashita?? : / Now, I know Mr. Yamashita was only trying to calm people’s fears, the problem is the fears are Reality, and there’s not much going on to eliviate those people’s fears, besides passing of Secrecy Bills for putting people in Jail if they should actually find any proof of collusion between the government and Tepco, etc. Also, within Japan and everywhere for that matter, governments seem to be doing a lot for Governments and Companies, but their really not doing too much for the people anymore, except giving them Rhetoric like Mr. Yamashita here, and all the while feeding some Corporate or Government appetite for more. Another shocker for me was, they say 1,600 died in the Tsunami and earthquake in Fukushima Prefecture, while an equal number died because of the evacuation.

  • GoGoGo0

    I’m signing in just to thank Washington’s Blog for this important article.
    All of Washington’s Blog features on Fukushima have been excellent and educational, but this one deserves an A++.

  • 1999wwhh

    From the article above:

    “Postscript: To support Dr. Mousseau’s important research, please consider making a donation to the University of South Carolina’s Chernobyl and Fukushima Research Initiative (specify that the donation is to support Mousseau’s research.)”

    We will be making a donation. Thank you for making us aware that donations are accepted to help with Mr. Mousseau’s important research.

  • allisnotasitseems

    as always, thank you for your contribution to very important conversations in the world today. couple of questions though:

    1. who controls all the plutonium?

    2. how much is it worth?

    3. how much would essentially unlimited amounts of energy be worth? what if each individual could have his own device? what would that mean to the control grid of the oligarchs?

    yes, yes, this is the moment the masses get hysterical and shut down their minds, and revert to conditioning from their….govt….who? their govt. among others. – Galen Winsor, died at 82, was one of foremost experts on radiation on the planet, and designed and built some of the largest reactors there have been. He handled plutonium in bare hands just like his colleagues did. (this is where one resists the knee jerk reaction and simply watches the video if he can stay open that long)

    – i wonder what happens when graphite is burned and spewed into the air since that was what they used at chernobyl instead of water to cool the reactor? as it turns out it was incredibly toxic. what happens when you add fluoride…..very, very nasty.

    – 15k people at fukishima – why arent they all dead of this radiation over such a long period if everyone in canada and amerika are at evacuation risk from the plume headed this way?

    – over 2000 nuclear weapons have been detonated, and large number in the atmosphere. why isnt everyone sick?

    – why, in areas of the world where persons are living near large concentrations of radioactive material, are they incredibly healthy?

    – if you are exposed to too much radiation, e.g. from the sun, or plutonium, you will get burned without question. how bad depends on how much radiation. if you dont get burned, what is the problem? there is no such thing as radiation poisoning, you either get burned or you dont. its radiation, not chemicals. large numbers of persons can be hurt or killed by what is along with the radiation, e.g. graphite or fluoride, etc.. hmmm, so what harmed a few people and animals around chernobyl?

    this is a much grander question than the fear porn approach most have on this topic. lets just look at the facts around nuclear, not constant govt fear propaganda, and then retraction and “hide the data from the public, then rinse and repeat, then escalate fears more with talk about nuclear wars, then talk about no problem from the fallout of reactors. fear porn is very addictive for all it seems. it sells for both the govt and the alt media. the alternative media is already factored into the new world odor equation. they count on each of us to sell their fear to the amerikan public. without that most of the psyops wouldnt have a chance of working.

    frankly, if you dont know you are brainwashed, at best, you are a menace to yourself and others. buyer beware on the subject of nuclear. not saying to disregard all the conversations like here, just saying there is always way more than meets the eye. very little is as it seems.

  • Blah, Blah, Blah….
    Donate to my research.

    This is all this article is about.

    Not a link to the cited researches.
    Where are these published?
    The Sun or The Journal of Climate Jihad?

  • Acca

    After CNN iReport article ( ) someone else is reacting to advise about the new Technology by WOW Technology Inc. that is able to offer a SUPER decontamination performance for removing radioactive isotopes from water without generating any sludge.

    It is the Bouletin of French ministery for Foreign affairs:

    This Technology would allow a better cooling for those metdown rectors at Fukushima Daiichi and prevent additional problems.
    I hope that news will be spreaded all around the world.
    as it is a great news and a glimmer of hope.