The radiation in the air due to the Fukushima meltdown does not seem to have been high enough to effect human beings. But there is one species it has devastated: butterflies. Exposure to radioactive material released into the environment has caused mutations in butterflies found in Japan.
Two workers at the reactor were killed by the 50-foot-high tsunami, but the fear that the victims of the radiation that spewed from it would number in the thousands never materialized. In fact, the "hot spots" in Japan showed radiation at the level of .1 rem, a number that’s small compared with the radiation that people in Denver live with every day (a rem is the unit of measurement used to gauge radiation damage to human tissue).
But it was too much for the butterflies: scientists found an increase in leg, antennae and wing shape mutations among butterflies collected following the 2011 Fukushima accident. Since the Japanese are big butterfly collectors, this was noted immediately. When the accident occurred, these adult butterflies would have been wrapped up in cocoons.
On BBC News, Nick Crumpton quotes entomologist Joji Otaki as saying, "It has been believed that insects are very resistant to radiation. In that sense, our results were unexpected."
It turns out that Denver has high natural radioactivity, coming from radioactive radon gas which is emitted from tiny concentrations of uranium found in the local granite. If you live there, you get an extra dose of .3 rem of radiation per year (on top of the .62 rem that the average American absorbs annually from various sources). A rem is the unit of measure used to gauge radiation damage to human tissue. And the butterflies there seem fine–perhaps they have adapted.
Despite its high radiation levels, Denver has a lower cancer rate than the rest of the US. Some scientists think HUMANS there have adapted, that low levels of radiation induce cancer resistance. But it could also be because Coloradoans have a healthier lifestyle.
Nuclear expert Richard Garwin thinks that the number of Fukushima radiation deaths will turn out to be about 1,500, which is only 10% of the deaths that were caused immediately by the tsunami.
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