30 Years Later, Tech Researchers Are Still Learning from Chernobyl Disaster

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Texas Tech researchers who have visited Chernobyl to research the environmental impacts of the explosion said, even 30 years later, there are still many lessons to be learned from it.

“People always say, ‘not another Chernobyl,'” Ron Chesser said. “These are technologies that are really important to the future of the human population on earth. We depend on having vast quantities of energy for all of our modern society. Nuclear power is likely to continue to be one of those sources of energy.”

On April 26, 1986, a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Soviet Ukraine.  Several died and thousands more were sickened from radiation.  The contamination caused the area to become uninhabitable, and parts of it are still restricted. It’s called the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Chesser, the chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at Texas Tech, has visited Chernobyl around 75 times to study the aftermath.

Over the years, he and several other Tech researchers have collected small mammals from Chernobyl and the surrounding areas to build up a valuable and extensive collection. The specimens are stored at the Museum of Texas Tech University.

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

Carleton Phillips, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, has visited Chernobyl around 15 times. He said he also worked for the State Department to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. He said there are still many lessons to be learned from Chernobyl.

“It was 30 years ago and it’s still valuable to current issues in North Korea and Iran,” Phillips said.

With the presidential election just a few months away, Phillips said he hopes the next President will not threaten countries like North Korea, but rather educate on Chernobyl to show them what nuclear power can do if used incorrectly.

“It’s better to not threaten those people, but instead to show kind of an interest in developing a relationship of some type that could lead to disarmament on their part,” Phillips said.

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