It’s been almost 30 years since the catastrophic meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat, Ukraine, and the deadly explosion continues to have lingering effects on the environment.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands people forced to uproot their lives during evacuations, there’s another species still feeling the upshot: reindeer.
Nearly 1,000 miles away from ground zero of the disaster, reindeer in the unruffled central Norwegian pastures have been becoming more contaminated with radiation as time passes.
(More: Bison Causing Chaos in Montana)
Norwegian scientists point to gypsy mushrooms, a normal member of the animals’ diet for the spread of radiation. The mushrooms absorb the radioactive cesium-137 particles that have strayed north and collect in the soil, says Norway’s The Local new site.
The increased radiation in the reindeer causes a serious problem for the indigenous Sami people, who herd the animals for economic well-being and cultural tradition. However, the Sami norm of harvesting the animals for meat production has become more dangerous as the threat of radiation becomes more prominent. The recent rise in radioactivity levels means that many of the reindeer aren’t safe for consumption, which carries a massive impacts on the livelihood of the Sami people.
Radiation levels can be found by analyzing the amount of becquerels of cesium-137 per kilogram. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, the safe limit for consumption of cesium-137 was found to be 500 becquerels per kilo, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
In September of 2014, a level of 8,200 becquerels per kilo was measured in reindeer from central Norway.
Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30.17 years, meaning half of all the radioactive substance to that found its way north into Norway will soon disintegrate, according to the Vermont Department of Health.
See also Norway’s Radioactive Reindeer