Chernobyl Radiation Exposure Slows Down Waste Decomposition

Chernobyl Radiation Exposure Slows Down Waste Decomposition

06 April 2014

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Ukraine — Time freezes as if it has stopped elapsing in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Trees, plantations, and fallen leaves that were exposed to the biggest radioactive disaster 28 years ago have not shown signs of significant decay.

The radiation exposure that was caused by a major nuclear explosion on April 26, 1986 in the area has been slowing down the decomposing process of the exposed trees and leaves. The city has been closed since the disaster as the radiation level was too dangerous for living things, even until now.

Tim Mousseau, a biology professor of University of South Carolina, United States and Anders Moller of paris-sud University has been investigating the biological condition of the trees and plantations in Chernobyl.

“We were stepping over all these dead trees on the ground that had been killed by the initial blast,” said Mousseau as quoted by Livescience on March, 24. “Years later, these tree trunks were in pretty good shape. If a tree had fallen in my backyard, it would be sawdust in 10 years or so.”

The researchers were then investigating the phenomenon by spreading uncontaminated and free-from-insects leaves and examined the leaves nine months later just to find a surprising result. The leaves which were spread in the area with higher radiation level decomposed 40 percent slower than those spread in the uncontaminated area. As reported in the Oecologia journal, the decomposition level is affected by radioactive contamination. The radiation effect could be deadly for the microorganisms such as bacteria and mushrooms.

According to Mousseau, the lower microbes’ activity has caused the slower decompositions. Today, the indecomposable organic wastes on the forest floor trigger new threat. The piling waste could be an ideal fuel when a forest fire started.

“It’s dry, light and burns quite readily. It adds to the fuel, as well as makes it more likely that catastrophically sized forest fires might start,” Mousseau added. “That would end up moving radiocesium and other contaminants via smoke into populated areas.”

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