Nearly three decades have passed since the devastating meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. Yet, all these years later the fallout from the disaster continues to have a detrimental environmental effect.
The deadly 1986 explosion at Chernobyl resulted in a mass evacuation and the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people living in surrounding areas. Radiation spread across the region.
Today, more than 1,000 miles away from the disaster site, residual poisons linger in the quiet pastures of central Norway in an unsuspecting host: radioactive reindeer.
Norwegian scientists point to the reindeer’s diet as the reason for their contamination, according to Norway’s The Local news site. Gypsy mushrooms, which the reindeer eat, absorb radioactive caesium-137 particles that have drifted north over time and accumulated in Norwegian soil.
This poses a problem for Norway’s indigenous Sami people. They brave the country’s harsh climate to herd the reindeer as a means of economic survival andcultural tradition, but this has become dangerous. The Sami harvest the animals for meat production, but as a result of the recent rise in radioactivity levels, many are not safe for consumption, which is impacting their livelihood.
In 2014, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority reported that they detected radioactivity in the reindeer. Radiation levels in meat can be found by analyzing the amount of becquerels — a unit for measuring radioactivity– of caesium-137 per kilogram, and the numbers they detected were as high as 8,200 becquerels per kilogram in reindeer, according to The Local.
In comparison, the Japanese Ministry of Health set the safe consumption limit of caesium-137 at 500 becquerels per kilogram following the country’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
A Sami riding his snowmobile through the mountains as the herd is driven toward the corral.
Reindeer run to avoid the herders’ lasso inside the corral. The very young reindeer are snared and have their ears tagged with a unique family mark.
Reindeer chew on lichen, fed to them by the herders.
A young reindeer is selected for tagging.
A vet’s assistant reads from a device measuring the radiation in a reindeer selected for slaughter.
The herd swirls around young Sami men inside the corral.