Scientists believe that policymakers should think about nuclear environmental risks again after finding out that bumblebees exposed to current levels of Chernobyl radiations suffered a significant drop in their ability to reproduce.

The latest study on the Chernobyl exclusion zone, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, October 21, inquires on the effects of ionizing radiation to insects, which are generally thought to be more resistant compared to other kinds of animals.

An International Study on Bee Colonies vs Chernobyl Radiation

A team of Scottish and German scientists exposed bee colonies, in a laboratory setup, to varying levels of radiation - simulating different areas found in the Chernobyl exclusion site. Officially known as the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation, the area surrounding the infamous power plant has remained mostly uninhabited and restricted for people.

RELATED: Chernobyl Fungi Can Be Natural Radiation Shields for the ISS

Exposing the bumblebees to ionizing radiation levels previously thought safe or negligible has actually caused negative effects on the colony - reducing its ability to reproduce by 30 to 45 percent.

"We found that at radiation levels detectable in Chernobyl, the number of new queen bees produced from the colony was significantly reduced and colony growth was delayed-meaning colonies reached their peak weight at a week later," said Katherine Raines, lead author of the study from the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Stirling in Scotland. In a statement to Agence France-Presse, Raines noted that her team anticipates that it can also affect the pollination and ecosystem services in these contaminated areas.

Researchers also explained that they conducted the study with bumblebee colonies because of a perceived lack of laboratory-based studies on their species, and because of the important role they play as pollination agents. However, they were surprised by the findings: detecting the effects of radiation at doses as low as they did in the study.


Ionizing Radiation After the Chernobyl Incident

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, a now-abandoned nuclear energy plant located in Pripyat, in what is now northern Ukraine, is a set of four reactors. The infamous Chernobyl disaster occurred on Reactor No. 4, starting from a routine safety test and later ending in a nuclear explosion and subsequent meltdown. The other three reactors managed to continue operations, although these were all shut down by the year 2000.

Considered as the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, attempts to respond and decontaminate the area ultimately involved more than 500,000 people. It amounted to an estimate of 18 billion Russian rubles or more than the equivalent of $68 billion in 2009 after inflation.

"Our research suggests insects living in the most contaminated areas at Chernobyl may suffer adverse effects, with subsequent consequences for ecosystem services such as pollination," Raines added. Furthermore, they suggest that the findings be generalized after discovering that previously thought safe doses of ionizing radiation are actually harmful to the insects. They called for amendments to existing international frameworks for environmental risks from radiation.

RELATED: Mobile Phone Radiation Causes Decline of Insect Population, Says Study

The fourth reactor, the source of the Chernobyl incident, has been covered with a giant metal dome made up of about 3,800 photovoltaic panels that will generate solar power.

Check out more news and information on Radiation in Science Times.