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The Rise of the Radioactive Boars

28 Jan

Boars are booming in Germany.

The lack of natural predators combined with warmer winters have allowed boar populations to increase dramatically. Bumper crops of corn, easily raided, have not helped the situation. Normally hunters keep the population in check.. As numbers rise, personal kill limits follow suit, effectively keeping the numbers stable. Over 650,000 German boar were shot in 2009. However, a unique complication has inserted itself into this system.

The meat is radioactive.

To understand why, we actually have to look back twenty-five years to 1986 and the Chernobyl disaster. At its height Chernobyl released radioactive Cesium-137 fallout across more than 100,000 square kilometers of European soil. Ukraine, Germany, Austria, even all the way to France received a good dose. Today, most of it has disappeared, sunk into the ground; you’d be hard-pressed to find significant levels of soil radiation beyond the immediate disaster area.

However, the cesium is still present, deep in the soil. And it just so happens that mushrooms and truffles (one of wild boars’ favorite foods) happen to be very good at absorbing it from the soil. And boars can eat a lot of truffles.

Normally, the German government disallows the consumption of any food with more than 600 becquerels/kg of radioactivity. In certain southern forests, some of the boars carry with them over 7000 becquerels worth of that Cesium-137.
To put this in perspective, eating three pounds of this meat would equal an entire lifetime’s exposure from food.

This amount of radiation is nowhere near enough to endanger the hunters through simple exposure (the boars absolutely do not glow in the dark), but consumption is ill-advised since cesium can incorporate into human tissues just as easily as pig. Governmental oversight of affected areas has limited exposure and luckily nobody has fallen ill. The German government has also been compensating hunters for lost income (to the tune of over $600,000 in 2009) since otherwise palatable meat is verboten. Only about one in fifty boars is dangerously radioactive, nowhere near a majority but still high enough to require vigilance.

The problem is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Cesium has a half-life of roughly thirty years which means that radioactivity should stay strong for atleast the next century. There is some hope for a quick solution, however. Researchers have shown that feeding boars a compound known as Giese salt can decrease the radioactivity, plans are in effect to spread it throughout the forest. The long term effectiveness of this technique is yet to be seen.

Whether the recent disaster in Fukushima will also create radioactive wildlife is currently unknown, although likely.

Sources: NPR, Discovery, CSMonitor, Spiegel.de, Wiki: Chernobyl

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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