The Rise Fall and Future Needs for Radioecology

Radioecology was born and had its heyday during the 1950s and early 1960s as a result of societal concerns for health issues following the atmospheric testing or actual use of nuclear weapons during warfare. As travel to outer space began to attract increasing interest, studies of basic ecological processes and the production of agricultural products under levels of high background radiation also became popular. With the emergence of increased environmental concerns following Earth Day in the early 1970s however, nuclear weapons test ban treaties and a widespread societal rejection of nuclear power plants in the Western world decreased interest in and support for radioecology. Teaching and research in radioecology were thus greatly diminished in the United States through the 1970s and early 1980s. In April 1986, the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine however resulted in a resurgence of interest in radioecological studies, particularly in Europe where nuclear power had continued to be more widely used than in North America. Chernobyl's global radioactive contamination of a variety of ecosystems, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, provided a renewed impetus to use such opportunities to better understand both basic and applied ecological processes. Finally, increased awareness of the potential for a terrorist detonation of a so-called 'dirty bomb' (a device containing radioactive material packaged with a conventional explosive such as dynamite) has now placed an additional premium on a better understanding of radioecological principles - particularly as they may apply to the broad distribution of long-lived radioactive contaminants in an urban environment.

See also: Environmental and Biospheric Impacts of Nuclear War; Radioactivity; Radionuclides: Their Biogeochemical Cycles and the Impacts on the Biosphere.

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