Radiation from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents may not be as harmful to wildlife as previously thought, according to a study published on Wednesday by British scientists.
"There have been many high-profile findings on the radiation damage to wildlife at Chernobyl, but it's very difficult to see significant damage and we are not convinced by some of the claims," said Professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth.
Scientists believed radiation had a dramatic effect on bird populations because it had caused damage to their antioxidant defense mechanisms.
But writing in the journal Biology Letters, Smith and colleagues argued that birds' antioxidant mechanisms could easily cope with radiation at density levels similar to those see at Chernobyl and Fukushima.
"We cannot rule out some effect on wildlife of the radiation," said Smith, adding it is likely that apparent damage to bird populations in Chernobyl were caused by differences in habitat, diet or ecosystem structure rather than radiation.
"We would expect other wildlife to be similarly resistant to oxidative stress from radiation at these levels."
Over 20 years, Smith regularly visited Chernobyl for his research. He observed that wildlife populations in the exclusion zone around the site had recovered and were doing well, "even better than before because the human population has been removed."
Similarly, radiation levels at Fukushima is not expected to cause oxidative stress to wildlife, Smith added.