TAIPEI, Taiwan–Animals exposed to even low doses of radiation suffer a higher incidence of physical abnormalities, a world-leading ecologist said in Taipei on Tuesday.
Timothy Mousseau, an ecologist at the University of South Carolina, is a pioneering expert on what radiation does to organisms.
For decades, he and his research team have studied Chernobyl, Ukraine — site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986 — and Fukushima in Japan.
Their studies found that radiation exposure had significant effects on local populations, for instance causing tumors, small brain sizes, sterility and cataracts in birds in Chernobyl.
No Safe Dose?
Findings indicate that radiation, even at low doses, can increase mortality rates and the incidence of physical abnormalities.
“There is no threshold below which there is no effect on organisms,” Mousseau said.
“We need to be very concerned not only about the consequences of nuclear accidents, but also the regular day-to-day operations of nuclear power plants, where radiation is released on a regular basis.”
Call for Taiwan Research
Mousseau was speaking on invitation at a press briefing and forum at the Legislative Yuan, where he was joined by three Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers including Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇).
At the event, anti-nuclear activists called on the central government to commission an independent research team to study effects on people who live near Taiwan’s three operating nuclear power plants.
Birds, Butterflies First
Mousseau said his data suggested that some organisms were far more sensitive to radiation than others.
Studies from Chernobyl and Fukushima showed that the first significant effects of radiation occurred in the same taxonomic groups.
“Birds and butterflies are the two most sensitive groups — we saw immediate large responses in birds and butterflies in Fukushima,” he said.
Other animals, such as grasshoppers and spiders, are less susceptible to the effects of radiation.
Meanwhile, there is insufficient research on the human population to make convincing assessments on the impact of low dose radiation.
Mousseau said that in the U.S., studies are thwarted when researchers can’t access the relevant health records.
“There are privacy issues related to health records that are so strong in the United States, and there is a lack of organization of the registries. That makes it very difficult to do solid, hard science,” he said.
In addition, causation is difficult to prove — even more so for human populations than for birds.
“The difficulty with people is that they move around and they have very complex behaviors in general,” Mousseau said.
“They have many factors on their lives impinging on their health. They smoke, drink, engage in other behaviors. So it is often difficult to unravel the various causes of disease.”