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Mutant Butterflies Show Effects of Fukushima Radiation

Adult pale grass blue butterflies are showing mutations due to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster stemming from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan, damage that seems to be growing more pronounced with each generation
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Radiation from the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown that occurred after Japan’s twin-disaster earthquake and tsunami is showing up in at least one species' gene pool, according to a paper in Scientific Reports, the online version of the journal Nature.

A research team from Japan found that adult pale grass blue butterflies have higher-than-normal incidents of mutations in their wings, legs and antennae, according to Slate. The samples were collected two months after the nuclear disaster, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The abnormalities included underdeveloped palpi and leg tarsus, dented eyes, rumpled or underdeveloped wings,” the Wall Street Journal said.

Overall, Slate pointed out, the three reactors that melted down still did not cause as much radiation buildup as the notorious Chernobyl disaster in Russia. But these mutations are exacerbated in each subsequent generation, with a higher rate of deformity in butterflies that were collected four months after the first, the Wall Street Journal said. This indicates “that the radiation has caused lasting genetic damage to the species,” Slate suggested.

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Although the Japanese government calls the mutations insignificant, the Wall Street Journal reports, the long-term health consequences of the radiation on humans are not yet apparent. This may simply mean that this particular butterfly species is more susceptible than most animals to radiation, the Wall Street Journal said.

Japan was hit on March 11, 2011, by a 9.0 earthquake, followed by a tsunami that crippled the power plant and swept away entire villages. Debris from the tragedy has already begun washing up on Turtle Island’s western shores.