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.
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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.
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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.
Read more at Norway’s Radioactive Reindeer are a Result of the 30-Year-Old Chernobyl Disaster
See also Norway’s Radioactive Reindeer
According to the Atlantic article cited at the end of this post, “Even though Norwegian authorities enforce a relatively high contamination limit for food (3,000 becquerels per kilogram—compared the EU limit of 600), some years—even as recently as 2014—reindeer pulled aside for slaughter have to be released back into the wild because they are too radioactive.” The Norwegian level is shockingly high (post-Fukushima Japan being 500 bcq per kilo). Presumably, it is out of consideration for indigenous people who herd and sell the reindeer. But what about health? The health of Scandinavians who consume it as part of gourmet meals, but more urgently, those who eat it as part of their ordinary diet? The U.S. EPA, for instance, sets standards that are presumably safe for those who are most vulnerable, e.g., those who consume the most of a given fish. As usual, economic and safety concerns are pitted against each other in this reindeer story.