The explosion in 1986, which was, before Fukushima, considered the worst civilian nuclear disaster in history, coated the earth with toxic material, turned the reindeer radioactive. Chernobyl spewed streams of radioactive material into the atmosphere above the Soviet Union and across Europe. Among the most dangerous fission products was cesium-137.
Cesium-137 has a 30 year half-life, meaning it persists in ecosystems for about 180-300 years.
In Norway, a relentless downpour caused an estimated 700 grams of radioactive cesium-137 to settle into the lakes and forests, contaminating wildlife, berries, and plants. It got into lichen, a reindeer’s favourite snack. Lichen can comprise up to 90% of a reindeer’s diet in the winter.
Lichen absorbs nutrients from the air, making it well suited to sponge up cesium-137. By 2016 the radioactivity of the cesium-137 released has decayed by half, but much of the slow-growing lichen remains unsafe. In 2014, hundreds of reindeer failed inspection due to eating strong fungus growth. The Sami herders in Snasa, who eat reindeer, get tested annually for radiation. ( Link )
Lichen can be especially good at absorbing radiation, for another reason.
A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae and/or cyanobacteria living among filaments of a fungus in a symbiotic relationship. The combined life form has properties that are very different from the properties of its component organisms.
Some lichen appears to absorb radiation with radiotrophic fungi, which may use the pigment melanin to convert gamma radiation into chemical energy for growth.
… Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine showed that three melanin-containing fungi… increased in biomass … faster in an environment in which the radiation level was 500 times higher than in the normal environment.
Do radiotrophic fungi have an equivalent process to photosynthesis that uses gamma radiation?
Experimentation … yielded supportive results, where irradiated melanin was found to have manifested a 4-fold increase in its ability of reduce NADH in comparison to the non-irradiated form. This would theoretically lead to more efficient energy transduction from radiation to another usable form of energy, which may enhance the growth of melanised fungi.
Research is underway.
What happens when radioactive caesium gets into a non-radiotrophic body, such as a human’s?
Caesium-137 reacts with water, producing a water-soluble compound (caesium hydroxide), and upon entering the body, it is sometimes said that caesium gets more or less uniformly distributed throughout the body, with the highest concentrations in soft tissue. ( Link ) This is most likey untrue in humans as data shows radioactive cesium targets certain organs more than others (pdf) in deer. Furthermore, there is human data showing specific damage to the endocrine glands such as the pancreas and also the heart.
“Research done by Dr. Yuri Bandazhevsky, and his colleagues and students, in Belarus during the period 1991 through 1999, correlated whole body radiation levels of 10 to 30 Becquerels per kilogram of whole body weight with abnormal heart rhythms and levels of 50 Becquerels per kilogram of body weight with irreversible damage to the tissues of the heart and other vital organs.
One of the key discoveries made by Bandazhevsky was that Cesium-137 bioconcentrates in the endocrine and heart tissues, as well as the pancreas, kidneys and intestines. This goes completely against one of the primary assumptions used by the ICRP to calculate “effective dose” as measured by milliseiverts: that Cesium-137 is uniformly distributed in human tissues.
Let me restate that. The current ICRP methodology is to assume that the absorbed dose is uniformly distributed in human tissues. This is, in fact, not the case…It was never previously translated in large part because shortly after Dr. Bandazhevsky presented it to the Parliament and the President of Belarus, he was summarily arrested and imprisoned.”
Cesium-137 concentrates up the food chain because it bioaccumulates, that is, above a certain dose, it concentrates faster than it can be excreted. Its biological half-life of 110 days means that if all consumption of it stops, it will take about three years to fall to 1/1000th of the starting level.
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.
There are differences in regulating radiation levels. The EU threshold for common foodstuffs is 600 becquerels per kilogram, but it was once only 100 becquerels in Japan. The differences in limits seem to be political. As you should know, we live in a world where political decisions, regulations and laws are typically based more on financial concerns than on health concerns. Some people make a living from selling what are now contaminated foods. (Link). One trick when there is a disaster is to arbitrarily change the safe limits, so people won’t worry. This will save lives and money according to one EPA apologist.
You will find some nuclear apologists dismissing the effects of Cesium-137 by comparing it to the radioactive Potassium-40 in a banana. Unfortunately, Cesium-137 is about 10 million times more radioactive than Potassium-40. (Link)
With daily ingestion at 1 Becquerel, Cesium-137 tends to pass out of the body as fast as it accumulates, flatlining at 200 Becquerels. However at 10 Becquerels daily, levels rise, flatlining at 1400 Becquerels.
This can be confirmed by having patients sit in the chair of a Whole-Body Counter to determine the number of Becquerels per Kilogram of body weight. The ICRP classifies these as safe levels even up to a daily consumption of 100 Becquerels daily.
Domestic reindeer are not long lived, so they don’t have time to develop cancers they way we long lived humans do. The longest lived reindeer reached only 21.8 years. (Link) Twenty years after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, thousands had cancer.
A report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation found that 6,000 individuals who were under the age of 18 in Ukraine, Belarus or Russia at the time of the disaster had by 2006 contracted thyroid cancer, “a substantial fraction” of whom likely contracted the disease due to radiation exposure.
You can take steps against thyroid cancer such as avoiding CT scans and other sources of radiation, and taking iodine pills as recommended.
“The government often keeps iodine tablets (potassium iodide) on hand for these events,” Dr. Isaacs says. “Flooding the body with non-radioactive iodine will prevent the gland from taking in the harmful radioactive iodine.” One dose protects for about 24 hours, and is usually enough to halt the uptake of radiation. Never take more than instructed.
By about the year 2287, the environment in Europe should be nicely recovering from Chernobyl, but there is another source of Cesium-137 to consider: Fukushima.
TEPCO … estimates suggest that its Fukushima reactor has released more than quadruple the amount of radioactive cesium-137 leaked during the Chernobyl disaster. But the method used to measure the damage may undervalue the hazard even further.
As of today, December 25, 2016, the three Fukushima nuclear melt downs, melt-throughs and melt-ours are still emitting Cesium-137 among other radioactive contaminants, and will continue to do so for decades, centuries or millennia since the amount of radioactive material at Fukishima dwarfed the amount at Chernobyl.
Ocean simulations showed that the plume of radioactive cesium-137 released by the Fukushima disaster in 2011 could begin flowing into U.S. coastal waters starting in early 2014 and peak in 2016.
About 10 to 30 becquerels (units of radioactivity representing decay per second) per cubic meter of cesium-137 could reach U.S. and Canadian coastal waters north of Oregon between 2014 and 2020. (Such levels are far below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for drinking water.)
By comparison, California’s coast may receive just 10 to 20 becquerels per cubic meter from 2016 to 2025. That slower, lesser impact comes from Pacific currents taking part of the radioactive plume down below the ocean surface on a slower journey toward the Californian coast, Rossi explained.
… the majority of the cesium-137 will remain in the North Pacific gyre — a region of ocean that circulates slowly clockwise and has trapped debris in its center to form the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”
What is in a nuclear reactor core? It depends, some are worse than others, and one of the meltdowns happened to a core with the most dangerous fuel, MOX.
Reactor No. 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi station runs on so-called mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, in which uranium is mixed with other fissile materials such as plutonium from spent reactor fuel or from decommissioned nuclear weapons.
However nasty the other materials are in the Fukishima cores, Plutonium, with a half-life of 24,000 years, is arguably the worst.
How much radioactive material was involved? Marvin Resnikoff, a radioactive waste management consultant said:
the pools at each reactor are thought to have contained the following amounts of spent fuel:
• Reactor No. 1: 50 tons of nuclear fuel
• Reactor No. 2: 81 tons
• Reactor No. 3: 88 tons
• Reactor No. 4: 135 tons
• Reactor No. 5: 142 tons
• Reactor No. 6: 151 tons
• Also, a separate ground-level fuel pool contains 1,097 tons of fuel; and some 70 tons of nuclear materials are kept on the grounds in dry storage.
The reactor cores themselves contain less than 100 tons of fuel.
Cover-up of massive explosion at Fukushima Reactor 3 fueled with plutonium? US government’s “worst case” scenario likely a reality… Entire nuclear core ejected into environment — Experts: It seems blast wasn’t from hydrogen — “Ejection of fuel parts… Exploding vortices suggest a steam explosion” (PHOTO)
So, there is reactor three exploding and potentially releasing tons of radioactive waste into the environment.
Ralph Nader, noted activist and lawyer, once claimed that plutonium was “the most toxic substance known to mankind.”
It is interesting to note that there are differences of opinion on the lethal dose of plutonium.
During the Manhattan Project in 1944 and 1945, 26 men accidentally ingested plutonium in quantities that far exceeded what is now considered to be a lethal dose. … four decades later, only four of the workers had died and only one death was caused by cancer.
Hmm. That may not be so comforting when you know that plutonium is mostly excreted if eaten.
The radiotoxic effect of plutonium is very serious in the case of inhalation of the finest Pu aerosols; ingestion of plutonium is about 10,000 times less dangerous, since only 1/100 percent of plutonium is absorbed by the intestinal mucosa, 99.99% is excreted immediately.
How much plutonium was released from Fukishima? I’ve seen many different figures.
New report estimates 278 trillion Bq of plutonium released from Fukushima reactors.
What can you do?
Some people since Fukishima will check food they buy with a Geiger counter. Here is a guide that may help if you choose to do that.
In a connected and interdependent world, this ongoing unfolding world class nuclear disaster will be an issue for the rest of your life. It isn’t going away because the news has stopped reporting it. Nothing in the history of humanity can compare to the Fukishima event.
Rudolph the radioactive reindeer reminds you to keep an eye on your environment.
… scientists released a map showing what the world would look like if we could see all the billions upon billions of neutrinos that emanate from the surface of the planet each second. It turns out that neutrinos’ uncontainable nature is potentially bad if you’re trying to hide something going on at a nuclear plant, but good if you want to monitor other people’s nuclear activities. Dark spots on the map indicate nuclear reactors and parts of the earth’s crust rich with radioactive uranium and thorium, which emit neutrinos when they decay.