Fukushima radiation causing abnormalities in Japanese butterflies

Evidence emerged last week that butterflies in Japan have suffered “physiological and genetic damage” caused by radiation released from the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Once again we see another animal species paying the price for nuclear power.

In May last year, two months after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami destroyed three of the Fukushima reactors, scientists and researchers in Japan collected and examined pale grass blue butterflies, a common species in Japan. Their findings are disturbing. Some of the butterflies collected showed “mild abnormalities.” Other butterflies bred from the collected specimens had more severe abnormalities that they then passed on to the next generation. These abnormalities included malformed eyes, wings and antennae.

And so another animal exhibit for the nuclear zoo. Only a few weeks ago in June, we heard that swallows at the Sellafield nuclear facility have been contaminated by radiation from the plant. Sellafield has quite the history of radioactive animals. We’ve talked before about the contaminated seagulls there needing to be culled by sharpshooters. Nuclear waste from the plant has also contaminated lobsters, shrimps and mussels in Scandinavian waters.

The disaster at Chernobyl also bred species of damaged animals. Research has found that birds around the site have “5% smaller brains, an effect directly linked to lingering background radiation.” Another investigation found that the populations of bumblebees, butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies and spiders are in decline in the area. Wild boar in Germany have been contaminated by radioactive caesium-137 released from the Chernobyl reactor.

Nuclear power is about 60 years old and yet we still know so little about radiation’s effects on living organisms. Many people are dismissive and say little damage has been caused by nuclear accidents. And yet it is known that genetic damage caused by radiation can span generations. What have been the effects of the Fukushima disaster? It is still too early to tell.

The Japanese scientists conclude that their research on the butterflies “has invaluable implications for the possible future effects of radiation on animals.” That’s a chilling thought. The past effects of the nuclear industry on the animal kingdom are more than enough without considering future ones. The damage caused to the pale grass blue butterfly in Japan tells us that nuclear power has no future.

(Original image © Greenpeace / Daniel Beltrá)