Chernobyl’s Bird Brains Surprise Scientists

When the Chernobyl disaster first took place in 1968, it happened in a time when nuclear power was being heralded as the coming miracle to save the world from its energy concerns . The fallout from the disaster has literally and figuratively changed the world.  But far from the epic tragedy of the meltdown’s effect on humans, this story centers mostly on birds – and their brains.

A five percent decrease in brain size has been recorded since the disaster first took place, a breaking new study finds.  Researchers from several universities from various countries, including the US, Norway, and France reported that the link may have been related to the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster of 1968.  If the effects are from radiation, we could be looking at one way the future could play out.  Could we be looking at a world where gradual mutations like these take hold and affect our own species?

When we think about nuclear mutations, generally we think about giant insects, human mutants with super-human strength, highly developed and bulbous minds housed within massive craniums, and vestigial limbs.  But when something as simple as a normal bird’s brain size is called into question, the more shocking and perhaps disturbing truth comes out.  These mutations could in the long run not actually result in a dramatic easily noticeable change in the development of species, but be more subtle and have longer lasting effects than one or two generations of dramatic mutations.

The bird brains were five percent smaller than their normal counterparts discovered elsewhere.  The species studied included 48 native species such as Marsh Warblers.  The exclusion zone, where the birds make their nests has been off limits to most humans for decades, though lately humans have been allowed in for tours and scientific research.

But things are nowhere near as bad as once the public thought.  And for the most part the nuclear devastation caused, while still incredibly powerful, is quickly being overtaken by a plethora of flora and fauna.  And what was once considered to be a nuclear wasteland for the next thousand years has rebounded with surprising precision.  Unfortunately, there are still a few aspects of wildlife where the radiation is taking its toll.

And while scientists are not yet sure just what could be causing the smaller brains, it is yet another mutation that has spread through the species of the region and been attributed to radiation, environmental stressors, and a lack of available food in the form of invertebrates.  Researchers will be continuing to examine the species of birds to see if they rebound in the coming years or if this unfortunate mutation is here to stay.

In the Chernobyl meltdown around 30 people lost their lives shortly after the first incident, and an estimated 2,500 deaths took place in the coming decades from causes directly blamed on the radiation from this catastrophe.  Another casualty was the widespread use of nuclear power as people worldwide feared a repeat of the dreaded catastrophe.