The negative and potentially fatal effects caused to humans exposed to radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl accident are well documented.
But a study, the first of its kind, has found the event has left a lasting negative legacy on trees in the area.
Published in the journal Trees, the research team reported that the worst effects of the radioactive fallout were recorded in “the first few years” following the accident.
However, they also point out that trees were left vulnerable to increased environmental stresses, including drought, especially younger trees.
Scientists took core samples from surrounding native Scots pine trees and compared them to those found across Europe. Rings from the pine trees were also read – a change in wood colour was a clear indicator of the years since the accident.
Twisted stems on the trunks and branches of the trees were also a reminder of the mutations caused by the deathly-high levels of radiation exposure within the area.
The pines had once held enormous economic value for the local pine-logging industry. According to researchers they were also a good way to gage radio-ecology as they showed more obvious signs of being effected by the accident – as opposed to other local varieties like birch.
The study’s lead scientist, Professor Tim Mousseau, who has been carrying out field studies since 1999 within the 30km exclusion zone around the site of the explosion, told reporters it was the first time that a study of this scale had been conducted.
Mousseau said that he and his team would perform similar work in the Fukushima area of Japan, which experienced a similar accident at a local power plant following the 2011 Tsunami disaster.