Thursday, June 07, 2007

Rites Of Silent Spring (... Or, Julia Will Be 25 In The Year 2011)

"Two decades after an explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant sent clouds of radioactive particles drifting over the fields near her home, Maria Urupa says the wilderness is encroaching.

Packs of wolves have eaten two of her dogs, the 73-year-old says, and wild boar trample through her cornfield. And she says fox, rabbits and snakes infest the meadows near her tumbledown cottage.

''I've seen a lot of wild animals here,'' says Urupa, one of about 300 mostly elderly residents who insist on living in Chernobyl's contaminated evacuation zone.

The return of wildlife to the region near the world's worst nuclear power accident is an apparent paradox that biologists are trying to measure and understand.

Many assumed the 1986 meltdown of one reactor, and the release of hundreds of tons of radioactive material, would turn much of the 1,100-square-mile evacuated area around Chernobyl into a nuclear dead zone.

It certainly doesn't look like one today.

Dense forests have reclaimed farm fields and apartment house courtyards. Residents, visitors and some biologists report seeing wildlife -- including moose and lynx -- rarely sighted in the rest of Europe. Birds even nest inside the cracked concrete sarcophagus shielding the shattered remains of the reactor.

Wildlife has returned despite radiation levels in much of the evacuated zone that remain 10 to 100 times higher than background levels, according to a 2005 U.N. report -- though they have fallen significantly since the accident, due to radioactive decay. ...

[Tim] Mousseau and his colleagues have painted a far more pessimistic picture.
In the journal Biology Letters in March, a group led by Anders Moller, from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, said that in a study of 7,700 birds examined since 1991 they found 11 rare or unknown abnormalities in a population of Chernobyl's barn swallows.

Roughly one-third of 248 Chernobyl nestlings studied were found to have ill-formed beaks, albino feathers, bent tail feathers and other malformations. Mousseau was a co-author of the report.

In other studies, Mousseau -- whose work is funded by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society -- and his colleagues have found increased genetic damage, reduced reproductive rates and what he calls ''dramatically'' higher mortality rates for birds living near Chernobyl.

The work suggests, he said, that Chernobyl is a ''sink'' where animals migrate but rapidly die off. Mousseau suspects that relatively low-level radiation reduces the level of antioxidants in the blood, which can lead to cell damage." ...

Associated Press "Chernobyl Area Becomes Wildlife Haven" New York Times June 7, 2007


Kate Ravilious "Despite Mutations, Chernobyl Wildlife Is Thriving" National Geographic News April 26, 2006


Chernobyl Children’s Project International

"A herd of Przewalski's horses roams Ukraine's Chernobyl "exclusion zone." These small horses were once found throughout the grassy plains of Mongolia (see map), but hunting and habitat loss caused the species to go extinct in the wild.

The lands near Chernobyl were blanketed by radiation two decades ago by the infamous nuclear reactor explosion. But a group of captive-bred horses released in the region in the 1990s, along with native wildlife, is now thriving there." (National Geographic)

Photo credit: © Tim Mousseau. All rights reserved. With thanks.


John Keats (1795–1821)

Ballad of La Belle Dame Sans Merci


O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.


O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms! 5
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.


I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew, 10
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.


I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light, 15
And her eyes were wild.


I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan. 20


I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.


She found me roots of relish sweet, 25
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”


She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sigh’d fill sore, 30
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.


And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dream’d 35
On the cold hill’s side.


I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!” 40


I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.


And this is why I sojourn here, 45
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.


John Keats: Fragment from an Opera

Asleep! O sleep a little while, white pearl!

ASLEEP! O sleep a little while, white pearl!
And let me kneel, and let me pray to thee,
And let me call Heaven’s blessing on thine eyes,
And let me breathe into the happy air,
That doth enfold and touch thee all about, 5
Vows of my slavery, my giving up,
My sudden adoration, my great love!


Source: Great Books Online


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