TTU professor studying Chernobyl after effects

TTU professor studying Chernobyl, 30 years later
Published: Apr. 27, 2016 at 2:45 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 27, 2016 at 3:03 AM CDT
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Dr. Ron Chesser (Source: KCBD Interview)
Dr. Ron Chesser (Source: KCBD Interview)
Source: KCBD Video
Source: KCBD Video

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Tuesday marks 30 years since the Chernobyl disaster.

It remains the world's worst nuclear disaster, as it covered huge areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia with a radioactive cloud.

It happened on April 26, 1986, killing more than 30 people and affecting thousands.

Texas Tech professors are still measuring the after-effects in animals from that area. Many of those animals are housed at the Natural Science Research Laboratory at Texas Tech.

They are constantly tested to see just how the radiation they were exposed to has affected them.

Dr. Ron Chesser, chair of Texas Tech's Department of Biological Sciences, was the first American scientist allowed into the exclusion zone at the explosion site in 1992.

Since then, he says he's made over 70 research trips to Chernobyl.

"When you start going through village after village that has been abandoned - it looks like people could still live there, but it's overgrown. Houses and buildings are starting to decay," he says. "It's surreal, and it touches you emotionally."

Chesser says it was difficult seeing over 135,000 left homeless by the explosion, but he hopes his research can help people.

"We started working with fish, but then migrated over to work with mammals, because they're so intimate with environment that they pick up all of this radioactivity," Chesser explains.

Testing both weasels and mice, he says they measure the radiation amounts they were exposed to and look to see if any genetic mutations have occurred.

"This collection is a repository of specimens that have been collected after the explosion in highly contaminated areas that will allow scientists, not only now, but in the future, as techniques are sort of developing, to try to make inferences on how the radiation may have affected these animals in very subtle ways," he says.

It's been 30 years, but Chesser and his colleagues say their research is ongoing and they have no specific end date in mind.

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