Contaminated Wild Boars: Echoes from Chernobyl to Fukushima

John LaForge

Two wild boars: The animals are hunted for food in Japan, Germany, Italy, Austria and other places where they’ve become highly contaminated with radioactive cesium-137. Major radiation releases from reactor disasters in Fukushima (2011) and Chernobyl (1986) make boars off limits not just five, but 30 years after-the-fact.
Two wild boars: The animals are hunted for food in Japan, Germany, Italy, Austria and other places where they’ve become highly contaminated with radioactive cesium-137. Major radiation releases from reactor disasters in Fukushima (2011) and Chernobyl (1986) make boars off limits not just five, but 30 years after-the-fact.

The five-year-long triple reactor disaster stemming from Fukushima, Japan, is shooting many of the same poison darts still coming from the 30-year-old Chernobyl catastrophe. In Japan today, just as it is in Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Germany, Austria, and Italy, wild boars are too contaminated with radioactive fallout to eat.
Chernobyl’s single reactor explosion and 40-day-long fire spewed long-lasting radioactive materials heavily across Europe and eventually throughout the entire northern Hemisphere -- including Japan. Cesium-137 was found as far away, for example, as Minnesota’s milk.
Fukushima’s cesium-137 contamination is still spreading to the atmosphere and the Pacific Ocean, but news of wild boar irradiation might have made students of Chernobyl wince twice. The two catastrophes are considered the worst accidental releases of radiation in history; Chernobyl’s total release was reportedly larger, but total cesium-137 spewed from Fukushima might between two to four times greater than Chernobyl, according to a 2014 report by the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, near Seoul.
Japan’s wild boars are among the countless victims of Fukushima’s cancerous fallout. According to the London Daily Mail, tests of wild boar meat in northern Japan found cesium-137 concentrations 300 times higher than the government’s legal limit for human consumption. Three decades ago, all across the former Soviet Union, and Europe the boars been contaminated from eating Chernobyl-poisoned berries, crops, mushrooms, roots, rodents and refuse. Cesium-137 lasts up to 300 years in the environment and will contaminate the food chain the whole while.
The most heavily contaminated wild boar reported in Fukushima Prefecture as of March 2012, one year after the disaster, had 14,600 Becquerels-per-kilo (Bq/kg) of cesium137. In August 2014, in Germany, 28 years after Chernobyl, one boar was found to have 13,000 Bq/kg. The high level of cesium found in boar meat this long after Chernobyl, is likely due to bio-accumulation and bio-concentration of radio-isotopes which occurs as toxins move up the food chain. Likewise, the mushrooms and underground truffles eaten by the boars in Germany, 700 to 950 miles from Chernobyl, are also too contaminated to eat, the Christian Science Monitor reported in April 2011.The Monitor interviewed Joachim Reddemann, a director of Bavaria State’s hunting association, who said the government’s radiation protection office reported that some mushrooms have registered up to 20 times Germany’s legal cesium limit.
German and European Union law says foods contaminated above 600 becquerels-per-kilo may not be eaten. Japan’s allowable cesium contamination limit is 100 Bq/kg. According to research by the group Mining Awareness, this means Europe allows the sale, purchase and consumption of food which is 6 times more radioactive than Japan permits. In the US, the allowable limit for “radiocesium” is a whopping 1,200 Bq/kg. So the US allows food 12 times more radioactive than Japan. (Put that nugget in the ‘What Could Go Wrong’ file.)
Back in December 2013, Italian authorities discovered at least 29 cases of the radioactive boars in the northern area of the country known as the Piedmont, the New York Daily News reported. The paper said then that similar cases had been reported in Austria.
Like other feckless governmental “cleanup” measures following reactor accidents, Japan’s state and local authorities have asked hunters to destroy the boars by the thousands. Afterward, the contaminated carcasses are either dumped in landfills -- threatening groundwater -- or incinerated, which either re-suspends the radioactive material in the air, or reduces it to bottom ash which is also landfilled.
Even with hunt now off limits, it seems that some Japanese may still be threatened by radioactive wild boar after all, since they can eventually drink or breathe them.

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