When scientists at the Savannah River Site looked down into a holding pool containing several spent nuclear fuel assemblies, there was essentially one thing they were convinced could not be in there with it – life. And yet that’s precisely what they found when they spotted a mysterious spider-web stretching through the pool. Now they’re trying to determine whether this is some kind of new organism or something else entirely. And while it might sound like the plot to a 1950’s B movie, it’s got more than a few scientists a bit concerned, and more than a little intrigued.
American culture has been in many ways shaped by the splitting of the atom. When the atom was first split artificially by scientists, they thought they had uncovered something truly remarkable – perhaps the answer to all of mankind’s concerns. Unfortunately, the development also happened during the second of the two largest wars in world history, meaning it would be used for destruction before being harnessed for power.
And in the shadow of possible nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis a generation watched late night movies about creatures influenced by nuclear power to turn them into something monstrous – in the end the idea of nuclear power became synonymous with the vast and uncontrolled power mankind now could wield with technology. Aliens would take center stage in these silver screen nightmares to remind us that we were heading toward certain destruction if we did not change our ways.
And now thanks to a public report filed by the safety board in the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, the possibility of nuclear created or influenced life is once again being brought up – only now rather than fiction it seems perplexingly real. The mysterious string-like substance made its worldwide debut in the Augusta Chronicle. But unlike the monsters of B-movie fiction, this mysterious strand of possibly living matter is nothing more than a series of threads lacing through the pool, too small to provide a definite answer without further study.
The high level of possible radioactivity in the pool means even microscopic life in most forms would not survive for long without becoming damaged and finding splitting and growing to be a near impossible to impossible task. But there are some organisms that not only survive in radioactive environments – but thrive. These radioresistant creatures exist in the plant, animal, and insect worlds – noted most popularly to be the cockroach. In the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, these creatures were among the first to have a population boom during the period when others were dying from the harsh conditions.
But could something be so resistant to radiation that it actually found its home at the core of a radioactive waste deposit? Further analysis should turn up some very interesting leads. Meanwhile, scientists are double checking to make sure this mystery web actually is alive, and just where it came from in the first place – no doubt fueling speculation by the extreme interest such a creature might spark in the public.