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Why We Need to Keep a Level Head About the Nuclear Butterflies from Fukushima

Over the last few days, we've seen thousands of stories around the Web concerning a study that concluded that radiation released into the atmosphere from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power had caused mutations in the local population of butterflies. At the same time, another piece of research noted that there hasn't been any observable effect thus far on people.

When I read the story, I do what I always do, and shot off a note to Ralph Andersen, NEI's chief health physicist. Here's what he had to say about the study:
Please note that there are species of plants, insects and animals that are particularly sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, including radiation. The pale grass butterfly is among the most sensitive, which is why it was selected for study following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi.

This article provides a rational perspective on what has been found, what it may mean, and what it doesn’t necessarily mean.

Similar findings in some species of biota were detected around Chernobyl in the first few years after the accident there, but impacts on the overall environment and ecology were relatively small and the area today is considered by scientists to be verdant and robust in regard to plant and animal life.

Fukushima Daiichi represents a major accident with significant radiological releases and there are and will be discernible consequences for some years to come. Our emphasis here is on taking actions to prevent such an event in the US and globally.

In regard to understanding the consequences there, we remain open-minded and objective, gaining (and sharing) a fact-based perspective on what it is and what it isn’t.
Good advice, and just the sort of guidance we ought to be paying attention to when we read headlines in the media. In the meantime, some nuclear bloggers have taken a closer look and have shared some similar thoughts. Please visit Atomic Insights and Nuclear Diner for more. Also, be sure to check in with the conversation on Reddit.


donb said…
The science in the report is suspect. Here is some analysis at NuclearDiner.
jim said…
Do you know Mark Twain mentioned two headed turtles and six legged toads and other such freak creatures? Which nuclear plant did he live near, I wonder?..

It’s up to the researcher to do his homework and investigate all possibilities before popping up a conclusion, and omitting prominent factors like toxic tsunamis flooding towns and habitats — which isn’t even considered in this butterfly study, simply means they’re looking for a fast and easy blame toward nuclear plants via radiation effects. If they weren’t sure they should’ve called a peer review instead going public with an assumption designed to further scare the frightened. I would let the chips fall where they may if a separate institution with no axes to grind confirmed this study.

This is a prime example why the nuclear profession/industry desperately needs to create a media/web FUD-busting 911 agency to immediately pounce and question nearly indelible wildfire assertions like this.

James Greenidge
Queens NY
Anonymous said…
Jim, what's your peer-reviewed reference that demonstrates that "toxic tsunamis flooding towns and habitats" are responsible for deformed butterflies? Isn't that just a "popped up conclusion" on your part?
Bob Applebaum said…
jim thinks the paper wasn't peer-reviewed, but it was. donb thinks the science in the report is suspect, but it isn't. The whole point of the study went over the head of the NuclearDiner blogger, who fixated on the May data and a single value of a radiation level (as if a city has radiation at a single level).
jim said…
By peer-review I don't mean by another green group which is like foxes in a henhouse trading forks. It'd like to see a major university or renown international institute with no nuke axes to grind do a true and professional peer review.
After viewing videos of that tsunami scouring villages and coastal towns, carrying far inland a soup of garbage, sludge, gasoline, farm and industrial chemicals and pesticides and raw sewage, it would take a whooper for me not to believe that toxic brew at the least mutagenic. That the study breezed the possibility off so blithely alone makes it a suspect nuke hatchet job. They're not going to resettle chemical imbued superfund sites like Love Canal here for a while and they are non-atomic -- and curiously unpublicized, unlike mildly irradiated nuke sites, so it'll be interesting how Japan deals with land once saturated by a toxic wave. Will nuclear prejudice be in tow?

James Greenidge
Queens NY
Joffan said…
Bob thinks his defiant opinion counts as a rebuttal, but it doesn't.
Bob Applebaum said…
Here is a link to the editorial review board:

You can't just fabricate that they are anti-nuke because you don't like the outcome of the study.

Joffan - well thought out response.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Ralph for the objective assessment and link. If you could put the reports of increased thyroid cysts into perspective too that would be awesome.
Anonymous said…
Please note this butterfly has a large abdomen and wrinkled wings. Do you not remember Bio-101, where butterflies fresh from the chrysalis pump body fluids into their wings to expand them? It looks like this specimen was deliberately collected during that process and mounted to show a desired effect.
Anonymous said…
Good science is reproducible. If there were several independent studies with some quantifiable liekert-type measures such that standard deviations and variances could be determined then the report may have weight. Too much of the science world postulates or hypothesizes wild notions with very little supporting data. Maybe they have a likely hypothesis, but they need to collect the data, do the experiments and then draw their conclusions. Sample size does mean something and measuring methods must be determined and agreed upon. A few photographs are weak evidence.
Anonymous said…
Just read a newspaper article in a Japanese newspaper this weekend. Lots of anti-Nuclear sentiment, but the most surprising things is that one of the arguements against nuclear power is "the release of CO2 into the environment".

Really? That is some fine scientific reasoning.
jim said…

NEI, let's hear a peep!

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