Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Leads to Mutant Butterflies

Many people around the world have been wondering about the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster which occurred in Japan in March 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the country. Researchers have now found the first evidence of the effect that disaster may have had on nature – mutant butterflies.

The Fukushima Daaichi plant leaked radiation into the surrounding areas and thousands of residents from the surrounding area were displaced. It was considered to be the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Two months later a study began into the effects of the disaster.

In May 2011, researchers collected over 100 pale grass blue butterflies from the surrounding area and found that up to 12% were displaying abnormalities or mutations. The results, published in Scientific Reports, an online journal, showed that some of the butterflies had abnormalities in their legs, antennae, and abdomens, and dents in their eyes.

While 12% doesn’t seem like a significant number to some, the effects are still felt further down the line. Researchers found that when the mutated butterflies mated, the rate of mutations in the offspring rose to 18% and when they mated with healthy unaffected butterflies, the mutations rate rose to 34%.

This was a mere two months after the disaster and the results were to be expected. The scientists conducted a similar test in September, this time with even more butterflies and, this time, showing even more devastating results. 28% of the butterflies now showed mutations and the rate of mutations in offspring had jumped to 52%.

The results of the study have now brought up concerns about the larger impact of the Fukushima disaster. One of the researchers involved, Joji Otaki, an associate professor at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, said that while butterflies are one of the best indicators for radionuclide contamination, more research should be conducted into what else may be affected because irradiation sensitivity varies between species.

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