Norway's Radioactive Reindeer

Categories: Nature

Even though this happened three decades ago, the repercussions of a nuclear disaster are still palpable in the area and in the animal population.

Thirty years ago, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster took place, releasing massive amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere, which drifted across much of Russia and Europe. Today, Sami reindeer herders in central Norway are still affected by the fallout, as their herds feed on contaminated lichen and mushrooms. As reported by Amos Chapple and Wojtek Grojec, in this story from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Reindeer meat is a mainstay in the Scandinavian diet. The meat from one reindeer currently fetches around $400 for the Sami herders. But only if the deer isn’t too radioactive to eat.” 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.

Reindeer are gathered by Sami reindeer herders near the central Norwegian village of Snasa. 

The Sami are an indigenous people who live in areas of Scandinavia and the Arctic. Their lives have traditionally revolved around reindeer herding.

As the cloud of radioactive material released from Chernobyl passed over Norway in 1986, heavy snow and rain dropped radioactive cesium across the landscape.

Reindeer largely feed on lichens, mosses, and mushrooms—all plants that readily absorb and retain radioactive contaminants.

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