January 11, 2013
Timeline for Radiation Effects: Carolina Studies Chernobyl Disaster
The University of South Carolina is a key player in the Chernobyl Research Initiative (CRI) examining the long-term effects of radiation exposure, including mutation, on native species such as birds. CRI’s ongoing, published results, led by USC biology professor Timothy Mousseau, may help determine the most prudent path in ensuring the public’s long-term safety following a nuclear disaster. A private foundation, a biological technology company, and others have made philanthropic contributions, essential to the project's sustainability.
Provided below is a timeline of USC’s ongoing involvement in CRI.
Forming a Carolina-Chernobyl Connection in Ukraine
In 1998, University of South Carolina biologists travel to Ukraine to begin examining the ecological effects of long-term, low-level radiation exposure at the former Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. Initial research is made possible through support from the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, at the time chaired by the late William E. Murray, ’48, law. Murray, a philanthropist who sought to improve east-west relations, was CEO and chair of the East Bay Trading Co., a successful Carolina developer in areas including downtown Charleston.
Mousseau Steps to the Fore at CRI
Timothy Mousseau, a USC professor of biological sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences
, forms CRI in partnership with Anders Moller
from the University of Paris-Sud, and Gennadi Milinevsky
from the University of Kyiv, Ukraine. Their groundbreaking work receives additional support from the National Geographic Society and other organizations. The Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, later chaired by former USC President John Palms
, remains an important contributor.
Consistent Returns: Success Built on Frequent Travels to Ukraine
CRI studies, most published within the past seven years, show that wildlife in contaminated areas near Chernobyl are experiencing dramatically elevated DNA mutation rates, lower survival and fertility rates, and visible mutations including tumors. As but one example, Mousseau offers that partial albinism in barn swallows affects the birds’ ability to attract mates. Changes in animals and plants are gauged each year, with Mousseau and others receiving Fulbright grants to enhance research.
Philanthropy Grows: Corporate Donor Involvement
Within the past two years, Qiagen, a German company that develops technology used to isolate DNA, RNA, and proteins from biological samples, becomes CRI’s first corporate donor. Mousseau, who visits Chernobyl three to four times per year, said the initiative’s major scientific contribution is to better predict the environmental half-lives of harmful radiation contaminants. CRI research benefits assessments related to industrial, military or terrorist incidents.
–Larry Di Giovanni, Development Communications