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Bird populations near Fukushima more diminished than expected

February 10th, 2012

From Green Right Now Reports

Birds may have been more greatly and immediately affected by the Fukushima disaster than even scientists anticipated, according to research by a team of scientists comparing effects in Japan with that of the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 25 years ago.

A bird studied as part of the Chernobyl work by USC professor Timouth Mousseau.

Their findings, that the bird community within 15-30 miles of the Fukushima nuclear complex has been greatly diminished by the nuclear accident of March 2011, were published this week in Environmental Pollution.

The research team compared their survey in Japan with a study they did of the Chernobyl “Exclusion Zone” from 2006-2009. The found that for the 14 species of birds found in both locations, the diminution of population from radiation was “more pronounced” at Fukushima, according to a news release on their work.

Co-author Timothy Mousseau, a biologist in the University of South Carolina’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the findings suggest that “these birds, which have never experienced radiation of this intensity before, may be especially sensitive to radioactive contaminants.”

The accident also struck during nesting season, which may have exacerbated its effects on birds.

When the researchers looked at all birds in the regions — including those not common to both areas, they also found a strong negative outcome in Chernobyl, where many of the native birds have nearly vanished from the area.
The study was sponsored by the University of South Carolina, QIAGEN GmbH, The Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust and the CNRS (France).
USC scientists have been studying the effects of the Chernobyl accident for many years. You can read more at their website, where Dr. Mousseau explains more about the team’s findings as they sought to establish a base line for first-generation bird losses in Japan:
The researchers, who came from Rikkyo University, Nagasaki University, Fukushima University, the University of Paris-Sud, and the University of South Carolina, identified and counted birds at 300 locations within Fukushima Prefecture during July, 2011. These locations were chosen to vary as much as possible with respect to background radiation levels. The study sites with the highest background radiation were about 35 microsieverts per hr while the sites with the lowest levels were less than 0.5 microsieverts per hour. The total number of birds that could be seen or heard was recorded and the species of  each bird was identified at each location.  Advanced mathematical and statistical analyses were used to determine if the abundance of birds changed in areas of different radiation levels.

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