Posted 11 July 2011, by Rob Pavey, The Augusta Chronicle, chronicle.augusta.com
Lessons from Chernobyl could help define the effect of radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant on global bird populations, according to a Savannah River Ecology Lab scientist.
“We’ll be going over what we did almost exactly 25 years ago,” said senior research professor emeritus I. Lehr Brisbin.
During the American Ornithologists’ Union’s meeting in Florida later this month, Brisbin hopes to organize a workshop on how Japan’s crisis might affect migratory birds.
Radiation from Chernobyl was found in many parts of the world in birds that traveled through the site’s exclusion zone, he said, and birds flying along Japan’s coastline could be similarly affected.
Radioecologists trying to define the extent of species mutations or population changes will need good data on bird migration routes.
“Since Chernobyl, one thing we’ve learned is that you must have an ornithologist at the table,” Brisbin said. “They may not know about cesium or gamma rays, but they know where birds fly.”
Studies found birds contaminated in Chernobyl winter in North Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Europe.
The Fukushima incident, Brisbin said, also underscores the need for education programs in radioecology, the study of how radiation affects the environment.
As a discipline, radioecology opportunities increased after Chernobyl, aided by research at Savannah River Site, but have dwindled in recent years.
“When Chernobyl boomed, radioecology bloomed,” Brisbin said. “It’s a shame we always have to wait for an accident before we start preparing ourselves in a field we’ve forgotten about.”
SRS is also home to a new consortium aimed at creating opportunities to study how radiation affects plants and animals. Formed in January, the National Center for Radioecology is a partnership that includes – in addition to Savannah River National Laboratory and SREL – the University of South Carolina, Clemson University, Oregon State University, Duke University and Colorado State University , along with the International Radioecology Laboratory of the Chernobyl Center in Ukraine and France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety.