Chornobylís Red Forest:

Radionuclide Dynamics and Biological

Effects in one of the Earthís Most

Contaminated Ecosystems


Prepared for the International Radioecology Lab by Texas Tech University

What is the basis for radiation dose

limits established for terrestrial ecosystems?

Are these limits cost-effective?


The second major plume of radiation released by the Chornobyl Nuclear Accident on 27 April 1986 was carried directly over what is now called the Red Forest. Radioactive particles settled on trees, killing approximately 400 hectares of pine forest. The Red Forest is now one of the most contaminated terrestrial habitats on earth.

The highly radioactive plume killed most of the Scotch Pines, but

Birch and Aspen are more radioresistant. Now the pine trees are being

replaced as the Red Forest recovers.

Aerial photographs provided by Chernobyl Center for International Research.

What information is needed to evaluate biological and ecological risk?



Much of the Red Forest was bulldozed and buried in trenches. The trenches were then covered to form long bermes. As the trees decay radiation leaches into the ground water.

Construction of Dose Rate Landscapes (above) and radiation contours (below) were enabled by highly precise GPS measures at capture sites of mammals. The result is a Geographic Information System (GIS) that permits accurate maps that can be overlain with other data (ellipses below represent genetic haplotypes). The new Texas Tech Biological Informatics facility will model this system and could assist DOE and Ukraine on management and cleanup decision making.

The biological effects and radionuclide distributions in the Red Forest have been studied by scientists from Texas Tech and Georgia since 1995. Mammals from this area carry a higher burden of radioactivity than in any other place on earth. Extensive study of these mammals has helped us to understand long-term effects of exposure to radiation and future studies will assist in the evaluation of regulatory limits for terrestrial systems set by the IAEA and USDOE.


How Effective Have Cleanup Measures been for reducing risk of migration of radiation from the Red Forest to populated regions of Ukraine?

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