Radioactive: Dogs, Cats and Wildlife

by Linda DeStefano
Translated by Rob English

When nuclear disasters occur, not only people but also nearby animals are contaminated with radioactivity. This has been observed in Chernobyl and in Fukushima. In 1986 the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) exploded, contaminating a vast area with radioactivity. Emergency responders died. About 50,000 people evacuated, and most never returned home because the contamination is long-lasting. What of the animals who could not evacuate? Some of the abandoned dogs and cats survived and reproduced. Their descendants are helped today by Clean Futures Fund. The Fund provides veterinary care to these animals and adopts out the dogs, removing radioactive particles from their fur and from inside their bodies. Luckily, most of the dogs live in parts of the zone that are less contaminated – unlike the wild animals that populate the area – perhaps because dogs stay near humans who feed them. Also unlike the wild animals, the dogs do not exhibit any obvious abnormalities. Among the negative impacts for Chernobyl wildlife are tumors, infertility, smaller brains and dwindling populations. Whereas migratory wild animals may spread genetic damage to unaffected populations through breeding, the dogs are evaluated for DNA damage, and are spayed or neutered before being transported to their new homes.

But what about the plants and the wild animals? Organic matter in forests around Chernobyl are taking years or even decades longer than normal to decay. There are reduced population sizes and genetic abnormalities among birds, bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, dragonflies, spiders, and mammals in highly radioactive parts of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Birds are showing an increase in sterility, albinism and cataracts, with abnormal sperm in barn swallows up to 10 times higher for Chernobyl birds as compared to sperm from males living in control areas.

Another nuclear disaster occurred in Fukushima, Japan in March, 2011. After an earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants had meltdowns and explosions, contaminating a wide area of land and the Pacific Ocean. About 47,000 people evacuated initially and more later. At least one kind man chose to stay behind to care for the abandoned farm animals. In studying the effects of the contamination, Dr. Timothy Mousseau and his team found that animals and microbes living in contaminated areas are failing to thrive.

Upstate nuclear power plants with the same design as those that failed in Japan could also have meltdowns and explosions because a severe ice storm could make the backup generators useless. Even without a disaster, the nuclear facilities have regular releases of radioactivity and create toxic waste that will last hundreds of thousands of years. And the water they take from Lake Ontario goes through grilles which kill fish. The hot water which is returned to the Lake is also a problem for the animals living in the water.

It is important to quickly move from these dangerous, expensive nuclear facilities in our backyard to energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal). Gov. Cuomo is keeping the Fitzpatrick nuclear facility in Oswego open by forcing all ratepayers to subsidize it. That money could instead be used for moving more quickly toward clean energy, which would create more jobs.

Information about transition to a green economy can be found at Allianceforagreeneconomy.org

Linda DeStefano is President of People for Animal Rights. For more information about animal rights or to connect with Linda, contact People for Animal Rights, P.O. Box 15358, Syracuse, NY 13215-0358, (315) 488-PURR (7877) between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., people4animalrightscny@gmail.com or peopleforanimalrightsofcny.org

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