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Scientists search for mutations at Chernobyl

Professor Jim Smith

Professor Jim Smith

A new study launched today will see scientists studying fish living in lakes surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor to find out whether the radiation is causing genetic mutations in fish and aquatic invertebrates.

The half-million pound project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), is being led by Professor Jim Smith at the University of Portsmouth.  Professor Smith and his team will return to the site of the world’s worst ever nuclear disaster and study the many lakes, including the reactor cooling reservoir, which became severely contaminated.

Professor Smith said: “Despite spending many years studying the lakes and rivers around Chernobyl, we have yet to see any obvious mutants. Surprisingly, the aquatic ecosystem appears to be thriving in these lakes, even in the cooling reservoir right next to the power plant. This project will give us the opportunity to see if we can find any more subtle effects of radiation such as changes in gene expression or damage to reproductive organs”.

Other members of the Portsmouth team working on the project include fish biologist, Dr Karen Thorpe and aquatic invertebrate expert, Dr Alex Ford.

Dr Ford said: “There is currently great concern about the health of aquatic ecosystems following the releases of radioactivity at Fukushima. We hope our studies of the long term effects of Chernobyl will help us understand what the future impacts of Fukushima might be”.

The scientists are working as part of a consortium of eight UK universities and research institutions funded by a £2.5m grant from NERC to study the transfers and effects of radioactivity in the environment.

The institutions involved in the project are the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the Universities of Stirling, Lancaster, Salford, Nottingham, the West of England and Plymouth.

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