Radioactive Wild Boar Roam Central Europe

According to a recent study published in the ACS’s Environmental Science and Technology journal, radioactive wild boar are roaming Central Europe as a result of nuclear blasts from the mid-twentieth century.

Cesium-soaked truffles from post-World War II weapons tests in Central Europe, as well as the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, have resulted in an unexpected result: radioactive wild boar roaming forests and fields, rendering them unsafe for human consumption.

According to a recent study published in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Environmental Science and Technology journal, Europe was drenched with radioactive cesium contamination following the Chernobyl power plant tragedy four decades ago. The majority of the radioactivity was cesium-137, but there was also cesium-135, a significantly longer-lived form produced by nuclear fission. Most wild animals’ cesium-137 levels have decreased over time, but what caught researchers’ interest was why wild boars’ radioactivity remained unchanged.

In a press release, ACS detailed how the researchers were able to verify nuclear blasts from the mid-twentieth century were responsible for today’s radioactive boar in Germany:

The researchers worked with hunters to collect wild boar meat from across Southern Germany and then measured the samples’ cesium-137 levels with a gamma-ray detector. To determine the origin of the radioactivity, the team compared the amount of cesium-135 to cesium-137 with a sophisticated mass spectrometer. Previous studies showed that this ratio clearly indicates sources: A high ratio points to nuclear weapons explosions, whereas a low ratio implicates nuclear reactors.

The findings are summarized below:

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The team observed that 88% of the 48 meat samples exceeded German regulatory limits for radioactive cesium in food. For the samples with elevated levels, the researchers calculated the ratios of cesium-135 to cesium-137, and found that nuclear weapons testing supplied between 10 and 68% of the contamination. And in some samples, the amount of cesium from weapons alone exceeded regulatory limits.

The nuclear fallout from the nuclear testing, according to researchers, tainted the soil absorbed by underground mushrooms. Because these mushrooms are largely consumed by wild boars, radioactivity levels in these animals were higher than in others.

“This is one of the ultimate case studies showing how legacy soil pollution can haunt generations to come,” said James Kaste, a geochemist from the College of William & Mary who was not involved in the study.

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