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Radioactive wild boars still run wild in Germany, 28 years after Chernobyl

radioactive cesium wild boar chernobyl fukushima Wild boars walk in the forest of the state radiation ecology reserve in the 30-km (19 miles) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near the village of Babchin, some 370 km (230 miles) southeast of Minsk, February 22, 2011. Still inhospitable to humans, the Chernobyl "exclusion zone" -- a contaminated 30-km radius around the site of the nuclear reactor explosion of April 26, 1986 -- is now a nature reserve and teems with wild animals and birds. Belarus, Ukraine and Russia will mark the 25th anniversary of the nuclear reactor explosion in Chernobyl, the place where the world's worst civil nuclear accident took place, on April 26. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko
Practically glowing.
By Gwynn Guilford
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Wild boar meat is a delicacy in Saxony, the easternmost state in Germany, which bulges over the Czech Republic. Unfortunately for sausage enthusiasts, the German government reports that a staggering number of wild boars in the area have been oozing radiation—so much so that they’re unfit for human consumption.

In a single year, 297 out of 752 boars tested—more than one third, that is—exceeded the legal limit of cesium-137, which in Germany is 600 becquerels per kg (a measure of radioactivity). Indeed, some boar carcasses measure 9,800 becquerels per kilogram (link in German).

Scientists think this the root of the problem is the Chernobyl nuclear accident—even though it happened in 1986 some 700 miles from Saxon forests. Wind and rain swept radioactive elements west, causing soil contamination as far away as France. Mushrooms and truffles, the favorite food of wild boars in late summer and early fall, tend to store radiation unusually well. In fact, in the last three years, certain types of mushrooms in the area have been found to contain more than 1,000 becquerels per kilogram (link in German). Experts predict it could take as long as half a century before the level of soil contamination finally ebbs.

Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection
Radioactivity levels around Germany. Yellow denotes < 0.060 microsieverts per hectare; light green denotes >0.080 microsieverts per hectare; light teal denotes >0.110 microsieverts per hectare; darker teal denotes >0.140 microsieverts per hectare.

It’s becoming an expensive problem for the state, as well. Any time game is too nuked-up to sell, it has to be destroyed—a cost the state shoulders (link in German). In 2009, the German government paid out almost €425,000 ($555,000) in compensation for wild boar meat that was so irradiated it had to be destroyed.

Another place in the world where wild boars roam in big numbers is Japan, especially the areas around Fukushima, the site of the nuclear disaster caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese health ministry has found wild boars in the area to contain cesium levels ranging between 79 and 1,900 becquerels per kilogram (pdf, link in Japanese).

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