Not many people may realize it, but science has only been aware of radiation for the last 100 years. It's only been a factor in the world for about that long, so the field is a relatively new one. For that reason, there are always conflicting reports of the dangers and the possible generation-long effects radiation has on humans and the environment.
That being said, science has seen the firsthand effects of radiation for themselves. Generations of children born in places of radioactive activity have experienced birth defects that are shocking and appalling. The ones who survive birth usually have long-lasting disabilities as a result of exposure to radiation.
There are multiple sites in the world where radiation is a factor. Chernobyl is the most famous, but places in Kazakhstan and Japan have their own history with radiation. The atomic bombs dropped in World War II had a devastating effect on the area, and cold war testing in Kazakhstan has caused generations of mutations in the residents of the area.
Radiation also has the ability to travel, which has some worried about the possible effects on a global scale. The recent Fukushima Nuclear Plant meltdown has many people worried how it may affect the people in the western United States.
15 Adil Zhilyaev
Adil Zhilyaev is another innocent victim of Soviet-era nuclear weapons testing in The Polygon. Like many children, Adil was born with terribly deformities that threaten her chance at survival. This picture was taken in 2008 where he can be seen being held by a nurse at a local orphanage. Most parents don't have the means to take care of these disabled children by themselves, which has caused an influx of orphans in the areas surrounding The Polygon.
Adil was born with Infantile Cereberal Paralysis and hydrocephalia because of his mother's exposure to radioactive material. He's blind because of his condition. Sadly, Adil has been abandoned by his parents and left to an orphanage like so many children afflicted with these complicated, radioactivity-induced disabilities.
14 Three-Eyed Fish
Thanks to The Simpsons, the three-eyed fish has become a virtual symbol for radiation poisoning. The fish that lives in the lake near The Springfield Nuclear Plant was given three eyes to indicate its exposure to radiation, so it's hard to argue that this three-eyed fish found in Argentina wasn't exposed to a similar situation.
Argentinian fishermen caught this mutated wolf-fish in a lake in Cordoba in 2011. Locals have speculated that the fish mutated due to the radioactive dumping in that particular lake. Julien Zmutt, one of the fishermen, initially thought he had just caught another fish, but on further inspection, he saw a third eye on the top of its head. Not surprisingly, the men decided not to eat the fish and sent it into a lab for testing.
13 Earless Bunny
Fukushima has only recently been showing the effects of radiation on the environment, and one of their first mutated animals already emerged in 2011, painting an ominous picture of what may be in store for the wildlife around the Fukushima plant.
While it's too early to say that this mutation was definitively caused by radiation, finding a rabbit with no ears near a leaking nuclear plant usually points to that direction. In any case, the image was enough to scare many of the people living closer to the plant than they'd like. Years after the event, the whole area is a ghost town that looks like a scene out of The Leftovers.
The area will be monitored closely for future mutations, but this earless bunny could mark the first of a generation of mutated animals in and around Fukushima.
This photo may not look shocking or astonishing; it's just a young boy lying in bed. The shock comes when you learn that this boy is already 15 years old. His name is Vasilii, and he suffers from a birth defect that causes him to be the size of a small child.
Children in the area affected by the Chernobyl nuclear event have been born with many more birth defects than those of a previous generation. Over 31 years after the event, people in the area are still feeling the effect of the radiation. Vasilii's disabilities, like almost all disabilities in the area, cannot be directly linked to radiation. It's hard to pinpoint radiation as the cause of a later generation's deformities, but most researchers agree that radiation played a large part.
11 Radioactive Spiders
The wildlife surrounding the Chernobyl site was largely decimated by the radiation that was released. Those that survive are already showing how the radiation has affected them.
Bugs in the area are showing the greatest signs of mutations up to this point. Because bugs have a short lifespan, they are already generations deeper than many of the other animals in the area. Because of that, their genes have been able to mutate quickly and with surprising results.
The appearance of the genetically-altered spiders isn't too different, but their webs tell the real story. Spiders in the area are building ineffective and erratic webs, similar to webs made by spiders that were given drugs in a test environment. On top of that, their webs emit radiation that can be dangerous to the other wildlife.
10 Chernobyl Cow
Many people who escaped the Chernobyl area thought they were safe from the radiation. There were a lot of farmers who had to move their operation, and most of them took their livestock with them. These farmers saw what can happen in a few generations after a radioactive event firsthand.
The cow pictured above is a breed of cows that comes from a family tree that experienced the radiation levels of Chernobyl. The cow has a cleft lip, but many of its other problems are internal. This photo was taken in 1989, only three years after the disaster took place. Cows and other animals in the area are still affected to this day. They produce poisonous milk that cannot and should not be consumed by humans.
In reality, the most shocking mutation of all is actually adaptation to the nuclear environment. While nuclear disasters like the Chernobyl leak are terrible for the environment and the world at large, it has given scientists an opportunity to study the adaptation of some species in the area.
One of the only wild adaptations scientists have seen is in some of the birds around Chernobyl. While their counterparts are developing tumors, losing feathers, and experiencing a compromised existence, some birds like the Great Tit are showing signs of adaptation to the nuclear fallout.
Scientists are using these birds as an opportunity to further their understanding of adaptation. It is extremely rare to see a species adapt to their environment in such a short amount of time.
Almost all of the animals surrounding Chernobyl have felt the effects of the radiation. Generations after the incident, animals are being born with deformities and disabilities that challenge their ability to survive.
Birds have been particularly affected by the high levels of radiation, and this is perhaps most present in the local barn swallow population. By the year 2000, these birds have been seen to be born with a variety of abnormalities, including tiny beaks, cataracts, tumors, small brains, albinism, and more. Each generation of swallow shows more and more mutations with no visible end in the future.
These birds give us a glimpse into what the future may hold in any of the other areas affected by radiation. Capturing and studying these birds may give scientists insight into how radiation mutations may be prevented in the future.
7 Zhannoor Zhumageldina
This picture shows a 16-year-old Zhannoor Zhumageldina being washed and cared for by her mother, Mayra. It was taken in 2009 and represents the continuous effect that Soviet-era nuclear testing is having on those who live in the area called "The Polygon."
Zhannoor was born with multiple deformities, all of which were caused by the genetic mutation associated with radiation. She is afflicted with microcephalia and sixth-degree scoliosis. Her spine is literally twisted because of her family's exposure to the radiation of the nuclear bombs.
Zhannoor is left in complete care of her mother, as her condition has left her in a vegetative state. She is not able to complete any tasks on her own because of her disabilities. Her mother, Mayra, can't even afford diapers for her daughter, which means she has to wash her at least once a day.
6 Child Baldness
There have been several severe birth defects in children born around the radiation zone of Chernobyl. They vary in severity, but many caused children to die before they reached maturity while other can leave children handicapped for life. Children who lived through the disaster, and those who were born slightly after the incident, experienced an aesthetic change that signaled trouble on the horizon.
A few years after the meltdown, children in the area began losing their hair. The same was true for some children born shortly after the incident. At the time, the government was downplaying how bad the radiation levels were, but there was no denying the physical changes to children in the area. Many of them lost all of their hair and even lost their eyebrows.
Hyperdontia is a condition where teeth grow in other areas of the mouth. Those who are afflicted with this condition will see teeth begin to grow behind or in front of normal teeth, with the possibility for them to grow in any part of the mouth. This condition can cause numerous amounts of dental problems that often cause extreme discomfort to those who suffer from it.
Having one or two extra teeth is a relatively common occurrence, but full-on hyperdontia is relatively rare. Scientists haven't been able to identify a single cause of the disorder, although evidence points to a combination of hereditary elements in addition to environmental influences. This can include radiation exposure, as children who are born in areas affected by radiation have seen an increased number in this type of disorder.
4 Tumors Everywhere
One of the most common and tell-tale signs of radiation's effect on the environment is the tumors that grow in the animals of the region. Fish in the area affected by Fukushima are already being found to have an abnormal amount of tumors in their bodies. Animals in Chernobyl have experienced similar results, as flying and walking creatures alike are suffering from the radiation exposure of their ancestors.
People are no exception to this. Especially in the area of Kazakhstan called "The Polygon," those who have had prolonged exposure to the radiation have multiple types of cancer to show for it. Tumors have become a tell-tale sign of radiation poisoning and are one part of the reason why people should think twice before eating any of the food that comes from these areas, especially fish from the Fukushima area.
3 Mutated Daisies
The Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown was a relatively recent nuclear event, so there hasn't been much in the way of mutations coming out of the area. One of the recent finds is pictured above—a daisy that seems to be mutated as a result of nuclear contamination.
As of now, it's not possible to determine for certain that this mutation was caused by radiation. This type of mutation has occurred with other daisies in areas with no association to radiation, but when it's located in an area so close to the effected zone, people begin to speculate.
This picture was tweeted by a Japanese user, and it went viral. Scientists are split at this point; but if a pattern of mutations begin to emerge from the same area, they will be more willing to name radiation as the culprit.
2 Berik Sydykov
Berik Sydykov was featured in Vice's report entitled "Genetic Passport," which showcased some of the people living in what is referred to as "the polygon." During the Cold War, the soviet army would test their nuclear weapons in this part of Kazakhstan. They gave no warning to the local population, who found out about the testing by seeing bright lights and mushroom clouds on the horizon.
Berik is one example of the people who live in this area. He was born with a skin deformity that covers his entire face due to his mother's exposure to radiation. The condition is untreatable with the resources available in Kazakhstan, which has left Berik blind. He now relies on his elderly mother for guidance and panhandling for his money.
1 Cyclops Baby
This is another image taken from the Vice report on The Polygon in Kazakhstan. It's just one example of the type of horrors that can occur when radiation mutates human genes.
Today, many of the people who live in this area are deformed in one way or another. Those who lived through the explosions suffer from multiple forms of cancer, and their offspring don't have it any better. Most children are born with a deformity, many of which are fatal. Those who survive have to live their whole life with major or minor disabilities.
Because of the level of genetic changes they have gone through, the government has issued these residents specific passports to show they have lived in such an area. It's a harsh but understandable way to ensure that these radiation victims don't spread their genes to the whole world.
Sources: nationalgeographic.com , Vice, animalplanet.com
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