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Fukushima study shows no radiation damage to local animals

Animals living in the area near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan are reported to have no adverse health effects despite exposure to high levels of radiation.

The plant collapsed in 2011 after being hit by a tsunami that damaged several reactor cores, leaving the environment largely inaccessible to people with no health consequences.

In the decade since the incident, several generations of local animals have been exposed to the radiation.

But a Colorado State University team has studied wild boars and rat snakes across a range of radiation exposures and found no significant adverse health effects.

First author Dr Kelly Cunningham said their findings may indicate that people don’t have to be as afraid of going back to the remediated areas as they thought.

The wildlife research is especially relevant to humans because human physiology is relatively similar to that of wild boars, said study co-author James Beasley.

While mice have traditionally been used as a radiation biology model from which to extrapolate human effects, pigs — which are descendants of wild boars — are physiologically more similar to humans than mice and thus a more appropriate biomedical model species, he said.

In addition, the ambient radiation decreased rapidly after the accident. By the time the study began in 2016-2018, cesium-134, one of the main radionuclides released in the accident, had declined by as much as 90 percent due to its short half-life.

Important genetic markers, known as telomeres, tend to shorten when exposed to high levels of radiation; the researchers found that this didn’t happen in the boar or snake’s DNA.

The researchers thought that given the rooting behavior of wild boars and snakes living in contaminated soil, they would have received large doses of radiation.

They also found lower levels of the hormone cortisol, a primary indicator of stress, in wild boars living in the exclusion zone. “It’s similar to what they see in Chernobyl,” said Professor Susan Bailey, the paper’s lead author.

“The animals thrive mainly because there are no people around and they don’t experience the associated stress.

” In 2016, the Fukushima cleanup operation ran into a problem when specialized robots made to extract radioactive material from Fukushima failed to complete their task after their circuits were destroyed by radiation.