Tech researchers study effects of radiation after Chernobyl disa

Tech researchers study effects of radiation after Chernobyl disaster

LUBBOCK, Texas -

Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the former Soviet Union.

The region, in modern-day Ukraine, still hasn't fully healed, and many areas near the plant remain uninhabitable. Ceremonies were held across the country Tuesday to remember the 31 killed in the initial blast and the thousands killed since by radiation.

Three decades on, and the cleanup and research still continues.

Ron Chesser, chair of Texas Tech's Department of Biological Sciences, has been studying the effects of radiation in the area since the early 1990s. His team has collected thousands of animal specimens, which are now preserved at the Natural Science Research Laboratory at the Museum of Texas Tech.

"We can look back to 1986 or 1994 using the specimens in this collection and look at that genetic information," Chesser said. "We can compare it to specimens that we may collect today and see if there are gradual changes occurring over time."

Chesser says radiation can still be detected in the skins of the animals.

"People can work in this collection with cells, DNA, molecules and proteins, and do that presumably forever, so it captures a moment in time in Earth history," said Carleton Phillips, professor of biological sciences at Tech. He works with Chesser to use Chernobyl as a warning.

"Even though it was 30 years ago, it's still valuable to current issues such as North Korea, Iran and so on," Phillips said.

He calls it "science diplomacy."

"We've been to China, we've been to South Korea, we've been to Japan to talk to governments there about our ideas about how to maybe talk the North Koreans down from their peculiar positions, talk them down and maybe we'll get them to cooperate and work with us in a way that makes sense," Phillips said. "That's one of the goals."

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