Launched: sept 12 2005 Updated: 16 dec 2016
DATE OF THE DISASTER: APRIL 26 1986
Shortly after the disastrous accident in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station on 26th April 1986, newspaper reports came in that large numbers of migrant birds died as a result of the released nuclear fallout. Though these deaths were never confirmed it was clear that the contamination of the environment was without precedent.
At the same time reports trickled in about research on the amount of contamination in living organisms in particular in relation to human food such as sheep, cattle, reindeer and birds. Of course the accident provided a unique opportunity to study and monitor the effects of nuclear fallout of such enormous magnitude on the environment.
Here at Voorne Bird Observatory we wondered if we could in any way add basic knowledge which could be used for future monitoring and evaluation. We decided that the migrant birds from Scandinavia which come our way each autumn could provide us with answers on the spread of fallout indirectly over Europe and Africa as well as the long term effects on the organisms involved.
As members of the thrush family are practically always available in autumn we decided to focus on them and in particular on the Robin Erithacus rubecula . During favourable weather large numbers arrive from Scandinavia in The Netherlands each morning.
We collected robins in both the autumns of 1986 and 1987, in the latter we collected Blackbirds Turdus merula as well.
Our first results were offered and accepted for publication to Nature
(see below). The editors of which had decided to publish a special publication on the Chernobyl disaster. Unfortunately, the idea was withdrawn and since then little has been published on the immediate effects of the Chernobyl accident. As we feel that it is important that what knowledge there is becomes public we have decided to open this website. We invite all who have results from similar studies to make them available to us so that we can publish them here. Also we welcome all literature references.
Peter de Knijff and Norman Deans van Swelm
P. de Knijff
N. D. van Swelm
Foundation Voorne Bird Observatory The Netherlands
A. van der Wijk
Centre of Isotope Research, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Sir – Soon after the first reports of the Chernobyl fallout newspapers in The Netherlands published messages of high numbers of dead passerines migrant birds found in Scandinavia. Fortunately these turned out to be only based on rumours. But will the high amount of radionuclides precipitated in Scandinavia and Poland in April and May 1986 influence the bird population? In Robins Erythacus rubecula trapped in The Netherlands during September 1986 we found concentrations of radionuclides which were high enough to cause at least some serious concern.
Between 11th September and 17th October 1986 we trapped 318 Robins at the Maasvlakte, an industrial area west of Rotterdam. We collected 13 Robins on 24, 25 and 26th September and stored them at - 20° before use. The birds showed no abnormal moult, had normal measurements and had normal weights (between 13 and 17 grams) thus they were apparently healthy. The 13 birds were not older than 5 months at date of capture. For the gamma- ray spectrometry the lungs, hearts, kidneys and breast muscles were removed and put in 10 ml of isotonic NaCI. This was sonified and freeze dried for 24 hours. After this the dry weight of this pooled sample was 9.23 gram. The freeze dried fraction was stored at -20° until use. Gamma ray spectrometry was performed on 2nd February 1987. Table 1 shows the results of activity measurements.
The ratio 134Cs/137Cs of 0.29 confirms (regarding the decay of 134Cs since 26 April 1987) that the activity found in the Robins was caused by Chernobyl fallout (1). It was surprising that fairly high amounts of both 95Zr and 95Nb could be detected 9 months after the accident. It means that much higher concentrations of these two short living nuclides must have been present in the birds at date of capture. High concentrations of these nuclides were only observed in the areas contaminated by fallout of the first plume (Scandinavia, Poland and the Baltic Soviet States) (2). Ringing data have shown that Robins trapped in The Netherlands during September and October originate from Scandinavia and Poland. It seems that the ringing data are confirmed by this radioactive research!
During the summer months Robins feed almost exclusively on insects and worms. Late summer they start to include berries in their diet. In order to keep in good condition they have to take between 7 and 10 grams of food every 24 hours containing at least 1.5 grams of proteins. The birds we have measured were all born in 1986, most likely in May or June. This means that they have lived 100 -120 days and must have consumed 700 – 1200 grams of insects and berries before they were collected. Assuming that contamination is only caused by the food they have consumed we can conclude that the activity found in the birds is in accordance with the estimates made for other samples from the same areas. At this moment it is not possible to predict the effect these high concentrations of radioactivity on the reproductivity of these birds. Perhaps that the 1987 breeding results will supply us this information.
P. de Knijff & N. D. van Swelm
Foundation Voorne Bird Observatory, The Netherlands
A. van der Wijk
Centre of Isotope Research, University of Groningen, The Netherlands.
1. - Devell, L. et al. Nature 321, 192-193 (1986)
2. - Veen, J. van der et al. Nature 323, 399-400 (1986)
|LINKS TO websites||
** ALBINISM AND PHENOTYPE OF BARN SWALLOWS (HIRUNDO RUSTICA) FROM CHERNOBYL
A. P. Møller, a, b and T. A. Mousseauc
Evolution: Vol. 55, No. 10, pp. 2097-2104.
a. Laboratoire d'Ecologie Evolutive Parasitaire, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Formation en Recherche de la Evolution 2365, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7 quai St. Bernard, Case 237, F-75252 Paris Cedex 05, France
b. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
c. Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29208
** BEAUDOIN J.-Cl., FERRAND D., GENTRIC A., JACQUEMIN J.-L., LE MAO J.- P., LERAY V., LOGEAIS J.-M., MOURGAUD G., 1991.
Compte rendu ornithologique de la saison postnuptiale 1986 à la nidiﬁcation 1988 en Maine-et-Loire. Bull. Gr. Angevin Ét. Orn, 19(42): 9.
**Bengsston G 1987. Radiation doses in Europe after the Chernobyl accident. Medical Oncology and Tumor Pharmacotherapy 4: 33-137
**Camplani A, Saino N and Moller AP 1999. Carotenoids, sexual signals and immune function in barn swallows from Chernobyl. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 266: 1111-1116
**Chaussade J-P 1990. Public confidence and nuclear energy. IAEA Bulletin 2: 7-10
**Ellegreen H, Lindgren G, Primmer CR and Moller AP 1997. Fitness loss and germline mutations in barn swallows breeding in Chernobyl. Nature 389: 593-596
**Jonsson B, Forseth T and Ugedal O 1999. Chernobyl radioactivity persists in fish. Nature 400: 417
**Kazakov VS, Demidchick EP and Astakhova LN 1992. Thyroid cancer after Chernobyl. Nature 359: 21-22
**Vigorita V and Sgorbati G 1991. Il Tordo bottaccio (Turdus philomelos) bioindictore dell'incidente di Chernobyl. In: Spagnesi M and Toso S (eds) Attic del II Conv. Nazi. Dei Biologi della Selvaggina, Supplemento Ricerche di Biologia della Selvaggina 19: 761-765
**Yosef Reuven and Lorenzo Fornasari. 2004: Simultaneous decline in Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) populationsand Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes) reproductive success: coincidence or a Chernobyl legacy? Osstrich 2004, 75(1&2): 20-24
On 24·11·86, a Bittern Botaurus stellaris has been found weak near Vihiers, Maine-et-Loire, France (ca 47:09N 00:32W), it died the following day and appeared to be radioactive (Angers Sciences University).
Barn swallows are common breeding birds in the area surrounding the radioactive contaminated sites near Chernobyl, Ukraine. Our studies have shown that barn swallows around Chernobyl have markedly elevated levels of asymmetry in tails and wings compared to museum samples from the same area before the contamination in 1986, and that birds from control areas (Møller 1992). Mutation rates in micro-satellite molecular markers are increased by a factor 5-10 over the rates in control areas (Ellegren et al. 1997). The red facial plumage of barn swallows consists of carotenoids, and birds from
** DeSante and Geupel's. 1987. Findings of a possible effect of Chernobyl on landbird
** Jagoe, C.H., R.K. Chesser, M.H. Smith, M.D. Lomakin, S.K. Fisher, and C.E. Dallas. 1997. Levels of cesium, mercury and lead in fish, and cesium in pond sediments in an inhabited region of the Ukraine near Chernobyl. Environmental Pollution 98:223-232. (SREL Reprint No. 2252)
** Kivivuori, O. (1987) Ydinvoima, linnut ja lintuharrastaja - lintujen radioaktiivisuusmittaukset Jurmossa keväällä 1986. Lintumies, 22, 104-111.
** Lehikoinen, E. 1987: Lintujen radioaktiivisen säteilyn taso Suomessa (Summary:
** McCreedy, C. D., C. H. Jagoe, L. T. Glickman, and I. L. Brisbin, Jr. (1997). "Bioaccumulation of cesium-137 in yellow bullhead catfish (Ameiurus natalis) inhabiting an abandoned nuclear reactor reservoir." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 16(2): 328-335. (SREL Reprint No. 2156)
** Notes about some rare birds from the Chernobyl exclusion zone area. - S.P. Gaschak. - Berkut. 11 (2). 2002. - The notes represent results of field observations (1991-2002) in the Chornobyl exclusion zone, concerning 20 birds species. White Stork and Collared Dove stopped breeding in abandoned settlements. Number of black storks, cranes, eagle owls, oystercatchers and some other species were increased. Great grey shrike is a unnumerous
** A. P. MOLLER, T. A. MOUSSEAU, G. MILINEVSKY, A. PEKLO, E. PYSANETS, T. SZEP.
** Ortiz, J, L. Ballesteros and V. Serradell. 1992.Post-Chernobyl accident radioactivity measurements in
Increased atmospheric radioactivity
after the accident in Chernobyl was first detected on air filters.
** Sellafield struggles with radioactive gulls By Jason Nisse. Published: 11 September 2005'' , The Independent Online Edition UK Environment.
It has been revealed that deep in the bowels of the Cumbrian nuclear plant, there is a freezer packed with an expanding mountain of radioactive gulls. They are the result of a controversial culling policy operated at the Britain's most notorious nuclear site for more than a decade. And no one has a clue what to do with them. The explanation is as follows: seagulls and pigeons would land at Sellafield and then fly on, potentially carrying hazardous radiation. Therefore, stung by criticism from local people, the managers at BNFL employed sharpshooters to kill any birds which were rash enough to land on the premises. Those that are killed are designated low-level nuclear waste and have to be put in a freezer because of contamination worries. Normally BNFL would dump its low level waste at Drigg, a site a few miles up the coast. But there is another, unpleasant twist. Since the seagulls would decay if they were left out in the elements, they were deemed "putrescent" and had to be stored in a large industrial freezer similar to those used by Tesco or Asda to transport frozen foods. A spokesman for BNFL could not say exactly how many gulls and pigeons were in the deep freeze but was willing to speculate. " We are adding to the store all the time so we do not count them. But given the size I'd say it was in the hundreds," he said. Meanwhile the deep freeze continues to fill.
Under fire for its safety record, accused of poisoning the Irish Sea for decades, Sellafield is wrestling with a new and unexpected threat. It has been revealed that deep in the bowels of the Cumbrian nuclear plant there is a freezer packed with an expanding mountain of radioactive gulls. They are the result of a controversial culling policy operated at the Britain's most notorious nuclear site for more than a decade. And no one has a clue what to do with them.The explanation is as follows: seagulls and pigeons would land at Sellafield and then fly on, potentially carrying hazardous radiation. Therefore, stung by criticism from local people, the managers at BNFL employed sharpshooters to kill any birds which were rash enough to land on the premises. Those that are killed are designated low-level nuclear waste and have to be put in a freezer because of contamination worries. A spokesman for BNFL could not say exactly how many gulls and pigeons were in the deep freeze but was willing to speculate. "We are adding to the store all the time so we do not count them. But given the size I'd say it was in the hundreds," he said.
**Condition, reproduction and survival of barn swallows
1. We investigated the relationship between radiation arising from the fall-out due to the explosion of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, and body condition, rate of reproduction and survival in a migratory passerine bird, the barn swallow Hirundo
Simultaneous decline in Steppe Eagle (Aquila nipalensis) populations and Levant Sparrowhawk (Accipiter brevipes) reproductive success: coincidence or a Chernobyl legacy?
Reading this article in .pdf : Chernobyl effect on raptors 2004
by Reuven Yosef 1* and Lorenzo Fornasari 2 - see also the yellow links :
1. International Birding and Research Center in Eilat, PO Box 774, Eilat 88000, Israel
André de Baerdemaeker, Alain Fossé, Ian Gray, Mara McDonald, Martin Helin, Stan Moore, Peter Pyle, Kalle Rainio, Jevgeni Shergalin, Dr. Reuven Yosef.
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