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article imageScientists record radioactivity spike in Norway’s reindeer

By Martin Laine     Oct 6, 2014 in Science
Radioactive dust released during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster is the unwanted gift that just keeps on giving. Unsafe levels were recorded in Norwegian sheep and reindeer.
Last month, reindeer tested in Jotunheimen in central Norway recorded radioactivity levels of 8,500 becquerel of Cesium-137 per kilo, according to an article in The Local. The Becquerel is a unit of measure used to determine radioactivity. Two years ago, reindeer in the same area gave readings of 1,500 becquerel.
“This year is extreme,” said Lavrans Skuterud, a radiation protection scientist.
Sheep tested in two places in southern Norway also recorded unusually high levels of radioactivity. The safe limit for radioactivity in sheep meant for human consumption is 600 becquerel per kilo. Sheep tested in both Valdres and Gudbrandsdalen had readings of 4500 becquerel.
Skuterud said he believe the radioactivity got into the food chain through an abundance of mushrooms this year.
“This year, there has been extreme amounts of mushroom. In addition the mushroom season has lasted for a very long time. And the mushroom has grown very high up on the mountains,” he said. A particular favorite is the mushroom known as the gypsy mushroom (Cortinarius caperatus). It’s a good food source both for humans and animals, except for the fact that it also can absorb high levels of radioactivity.
During what should have been routine safety testing at the Chernobyl nuclear plant on April 26, 1986, a system failure caused the core to overheat. There was an explosion, tons of radioactive materials were released, which was carried by the wind over much of eastern and northern Europe.
The economic impact of the disaster has been difficult to calculate. An article on the World Health Organization website estimates that it was in the “hundreds of billions of dollars” with agriculture being especially hard hit. Croplands, meat, and milk were all contaminated and could not be marketed.
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