Chernobyl Study: 30 Years After Blast, Trees Are Barely Decomposed

Image: Chernobyl Study: 30 Years After Blast, Trees Are Barely Decomposed

Thursday, 27 Mar 2014 12:06 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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Researchers studying the aftereffects of the Chernobyl disaster have found that the dead trees, plants, and leaves sitting on the contaminated nuclear site are not decaying at the rate they should be.

The nuclear power plant in Ukraine has sat virtually untouched since a reactor exploded there in 1986. Now, a duo of scientists is studying the biology of the contaminated site in an effort to see the effects of the radiation.

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Tim Mousseau, a professor of biology at the University of South Carolina, visited the site with Anders Møller of the Université Paris-Sud and discovered that the trees in the nearby Red Forest died, but their trunks remained largely intact.

"We were stepping over all these dead trees on the ground that had been killed by the initial blast," Mousseau said in a statement obtained by "Years later, these tree trunks were in pretty good shape. If a tree had fallen in my backyard, it would be sawdust in 10 years or so."

To test out the theory that it was the contaminated Chernobyl site contributing to the slow decay, the team of researchers collected hundreds of samples of leaf litter from a noncontaminated area. They packaged the leaves in bags made out of pantyhose in order to let air in and situated them throughout the Chernobyl site.

According to, those samples of leaves showed 40 percent less decomposition than samples placed in non-contaminated sites.

It makes sense, Mousseau said, because radiation has been shown to drastically decrease the amount of bacteria, microorganisms, and fungi in a sample. Radiation treatments are even sometimes harmful to cancer patients because it kills off the good bacteria in a person's intestines, noted.

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