(Photo: Petra Malukas/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany Has a Radioactive Wild Boar Problem—and It's Chernobyl's Fault

The effects of the disaster are still cropping up—and won't go away anytime soon.
Sep 2, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

There’s precipitation on more than 100 days a year in Saxony, the most eastern state in Germany, so there’s nothing odd about the rain that fell there in spring 1986. The nuclear isotope cesium 137 that was carried in the droplets, which drifted more than 700 miles from the exploded nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, gave that year’s rainfall a lasting radioactive legacy.

The latest sign of the disaster’s staying power in Saxon soil might have otherwise ended up being ground and stuffed into sausage casings—wild boar carcasses. But thanks to a 2012 law requiring hunters to have boars they kill tested for radioactive material, a lot of the feral pork that’s hunted in the region is being destroyed rather than consumed. In the first year of testing, more than one in three boars were found to have levels of cesium 137 exceeding the legal limit of 600 becquerels per kilogram. The government has spent more than $650,000 over the course of a year to compensate hunters for contaminated animals.

Boars are prone to harboring higher levels of the radioactive compound owing to their predilection for rooting in the dirt to find food, including mushrooms, which are especially able to store radiation. Germany's legal limit is strict, though it's still beaten by post-Fukushima disaster Japan, where food is tossed if it tests as having more than 100 becquerels of radiation per kilogram. Even at six times the Japanese limit, German wild hogs are testing off the charts. In at least one instance, a boar was found to have 9,800 becquerels per kilogram of cesium 137.

Like news of tuna turned radioactive by contaminated water leaking into the Pacific from the reactor at Fukushima, the not-quite-glowing boars are garnering plenty of headlines today. But while fears of cancer-causing tuna steaks have been wildly overblown, it appears that even 28 years later, Chernobyl is proving to be a far more disastrous nuclear meltdown. Bluefin caught off the West Coast in 2011 and 2012 were found to have just one to three becquerels per kilogram, according to a study funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, unless Saxons are dining on meat from that one fantastically radioactive boar, eating stew made from an animal that contained 650 or 700 becquerels per kilogram won’t make you or your future children grow an extra head or anything. According to NBC, you would have to eat "13 kilograms of contaminated meat to get the same low-level radioactive effects of being on a transatlantic flight."

Shocking as the thought of radioactive boar may be, it’s the data, not the problem, that’s new. With a half-life of 30 years, cesium 137 has been and will continue to be present in Saxony and across Europe—the fallout from Chernobyl reached as far as Scotland—for decades to come.

"The problem will certainly still be around for the next 100 years, and Chernobyl will still be an issue for our children and grandchildren,” Joachim Reddemann, managing director of Bavaria’s hunting association, told The Associated Press in 2011. Similar levels of the isotope are expected to be found in German boars until 2025, he said, with the remnants of what will then be a nearly 40-year-old disaster continuing to slowly dissipate.