Radioactive reindeer: Mushrooms blamed for Cesium spike in Norway

Radioactive reindeer: Mushrooms blamed for Cesium spike in Norway
​Unexpectedly high levels of radioactivity have been found in Norway’s reindeer this autumn – almost 30 years after a radioactive cloud spread in the atmosphere of the country following the Chernobyl tragedy, say the country’s scientists.

In September, scientists from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA) marked a sudden record in radioactivity levels: up to 8,200 becquerels per kilo of Cesium-137, a radioactive element, were found in reindeer in Jotunheimen a mountainous area in central Norway.

The record “is extreme,” Lavrans Skuterud, a scientist at the NRPA, told science and research newspaper Forskning.

Skuterud compared the amount of the isotope this year with that of 2012, when the highest level of cesium in a similar probe among the local reindeer was 1,500 becquerels.

Not only deer were found to be highly radioactive, the researchers also found high amounts of cesium in the local sheep. Some 4,500 becquerels per kilo of meat from sheep was measured in Valdres district and the Gudbrandsdalen area in southeast Norway.

The limit for safe lamb/mutton consumption is only 600 becquerels.

Skuterud said that the cause of deer and sheep radioactivity might be gypsy mushroom (Cortinarius Caperatus). The mushroom itself is safe to eat, but it can absorb a lot of radioactivity.

“This year, there have been extreme amounts of mushroom. In addition, the mushroom season has lasted for a long time. And the mushroom has grown very high up on the mountains,” Skuterud added.

Skuterud believes that the ‘radioactive reindeer’ problem has deeper roots, but wonders if it can be tracked down to Chernobyl accident happened in 1986, almost 30 years ago. Cesium-137’s physical half-life is actually 30 years.

“The level of [radioactivity] in the environment still decreases faster than this. Some of it is washed out and most of it is bound to the soil,” Skuterud also said as quoted by the Local.

The scientist added that only a small part of the radioactivity is in circulation throughout the food chain.

“When we watch the [radioactive] values in the grazing animals in autumn, it bounces up and down, and it seems to be everlasting. But the winter values in reindeer luckily show a stable decrease.”

The NRPA began measuring radioactive cesium back in 1960-s. After Chernobyl tragedy the levels of radioactivity turned increasingly high, added Skuterud.

The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, at reactor number four of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, which was then a republic of the Soviet Union. As a result of the explosion and fire, a huge radioactive cloud spread into the atmosphere, covering thousands of miles of Soviet and European territories.

Not only was Ukraine affected, but also adjoining areas in Russia and Belarus. Radiation spikes were recorded in Sweden, Norway, Austria and Finland. Approximately 100,000 square kilometers of land was significantly contaminated.