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The Fukushima nuclear accident and the pale grass blue butterfly: evaluating biological effects of long-term low-dose exposures

Atsuki Hiyama, Chiyo Nohara, Wataru Taira, Seira Kinjo, Masaki Iwata and Joji M Otaki*

Author Affiliations

The BCPH Unit of Molecular Physiology, Department of Chemistry, Biology and Marine Science, Faculty of Science, University of the Ryukyus, 1 Senbaru, Nishihara, Okinawa 903-0213, Japan

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:168  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-168

Published: 12 August 2013



On August 9th 2012, we published an original research article in Scientific Reports, concluding that artificial radionuclides released from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant exerted genetically and physiologically adverse effects on the pale grass blue butterfly Zizeeria maha in the Fukushima area. Immediately following publication, many questions and comments were generated from all over the world. Here, we have clarified points made in the original paper and answered questions posed by the readers.


The following points were clarified. (1) There are many advantages to using the pale grass blue butterfly as an indicator species. (2) The forewings of the individuals collected in Fukushima were significantly smaller than in the northern and southern localities. (3) We observed growth retardation in the butterflies from the Fukushima area. (4) The aberrant colour patterns in the butterflies obtained in the Fukushima area were different from the colour patterns induced by temperature and sibling crosses but similar to those induced by external and internal exposures to the artificial radionuclides and by a chemical mutagen, suggesting that genetic mutations caused the aberrations. (5) This species of butterfly has been plentiful in Fukushima area for at least half a century. We here present specimens collected from Fukushima Prefecture before the accident. (6) Mutation accumulation was detected by the increase in the abnormality rates from May 2011 to September 2011. (7) The abnormal traits were heritable. (8) Our sampling localities were not affected by the tsunami. (9) We used a high enough number of samples to obtain statistically significant results. (10) The standard rearing method was followed, producing normal adults in the control groups. (11) The exposure experiments successfully reproduced the results of the field work. This species of butterfly is vulnerable to long-term low-dose internal and external exposures; however, insect cells are known to be resistant to short-term high-dose irradiation. This discrepancy is reconcilable based on the differences in the experimental conditions.


We are just beginning to understand the biological effects of long-term low-dose exposures in animals. Further research is necessary to accurately assess the possible biological effects of the accident.

Abnormality rate; Artificial radionuclides; Colour pattern; Fukushima nuclear accident; Long-term low-dose radiation exposure; Pale grass blue butterfly; Zizeeria maha