Radiation from Chernobyl is Causing Blindness in Animals

First Posted: Feb 12, 2016 07:14 PM EST

It's been 30 years since the incident at Chernobyl. However, there are still vast amounts of radioactive particles that cause a low but long-term exposure to ionizing radiation in animals and plants. Now, researchers have found that it's causing blindness in animals in the vicinity of the Chernobyl disaster.

Damage caused by acute exposure to higher radiation doses have been demonstrated in numerous laboratory studies. However, effects of chronic exposure to low radiation in the wild remain largely unknown.

In this latest study, the researchers look at bank voles which had lived in areas where background radiation levels were elevated compared to areas with natural radiation levels. They found that the frequency of cataracts in these animals were higher than normal.

Interestingly, though, the effect of the radiation was significant only in female voles.

The reasons for the gender differences in wild mammals are still largely hypothetical. However, the researchers believe it's possible that the increased cataract risk could be associated with reproduction, since female bank moles with severe cataracts received fewer offspring.

The new results support observations of negative consequences of chronic exposure to low radiation on mild animals and whole ecosystems. Studying the effects of chronic exposure to low radiation in natural ecosystems is important since it will help prepare to predict the consequences to possible future nuclear accidents.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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