Category Archives: Chernobyl

Radiation and food safety: A story of standards

April 26th marked the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The ~2600 sq km (~1000 sq mi) exclusion zone remains in place around the power plant and wildlife are reclaiming the habitat. Just outside the exclusion zone, the Associated Press reports that dairy farms are operating and selling milk and dairy products around Belarus and Russia. The author obtained a milk sample from one of these farms, had it tested, and found it to be contaminated with levels of strontium-90 (90Sr) that are 10 times higher than the nation’s food safety limits. At first I was alarmed that this could make it to market, however, since working for the InFORM project I’ve learned that not all limits are equal. Let’s take a gander at how this milk would fare under standards from around the world.

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Screening truffles for radioactivity 30 years from Chernobyl

Miro is a trained truffle dog that belongs to Simon Egli, a co-author of the Biogeosciences paper based at Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL. He’s pictured here with a Burgundy truffle he found in Switzerland. Credit: Simon Egli, WSL

by European Geosciences Union
Published 25 Feb 2016

Some forest mushrooms, such as wild porcini, can accumulate dangerous levels of radioactivity from the soils they grow in. But until now it was unclear if the same was true for truffles, fungi that range among the most expensive foods in the world. Swiss and German researchers have analysed Burgundy truffles collected in central Europe and found they contain only negligible amounts of radioactive caesium, being safe for consumption. The results are published today (25 February) in Biogeosciences, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

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External ionizing radiation doses of high school students in Japan, France, Poland and Belarus

By Jay T. Cullen

Third-year science students H. Onodera and R. Suzuki, both 18, and second-year students M. Saito, Y. Fujiwara, both 17, and S. Anzai, 16 and their supervising teacher T. Hara, 57, took part in compiling the study.  They used citizen science deployed dosimeters to compare external radiation dose experience by students in different countries.
The purpose of this post to report on a peer-reviewed, open access study published in the Journal of Radiological Protection where high-school aged citizen scientists measured and compared the external ionizing radiation doses experienced by students in Japan, Belarus, France, and Poland. Adachi and colleagues equipped 216 high-school students in Japan (inside and outside Fukushima Prefecture), Belarus, France and Poland with an electronic dosimeter to estimate and compare annual external ionizing radiation doses in 2014.  The distribution of doses experienced in each region overlapped with each other indicating that personal external ionizing radiation exposure in Fukushima Prefecture and Belarus are within the range of annual doses from terrestrial background radiation in other locations.

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Comparing the Environmental Impacts of the Chernobyl and Fukushima Disasters

Estimated total atmospheric source term for Fukushima compared to Chernobyl in PBq (PBq = 10^15 Bq). From Steinhauser et al. (2014) SciToTEnviron

By Jay T. Cullen

This post reports on a recently published peer reviewed study by Steinhauser and colleagues in the journal Science of the Total Environment (behind pay wall) comparing the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents. The post is part of an ongoing effort to communicate the results of scientific studies into the impact of the Fukushima disaster on the environment. A majority of the radioactivity released from both Chernobyl and Fukushima can be attributed to volatile radionuclides (noble gases, iodine, cesium, tellurium). In contrast, the amounts of more refractory elements (including actinides like plutonium), released by Chernobyl was ~four orders of magnitude (10,000 fold) higher than releases from Fukushima. The most cited source term for Chernobyl is 5300 PBq (excluding noble gases) while a review of published studies of Fukushima carried out by the authors above allow an estimate for the total atmospheric source term of 520 (a range of 340–800) PBq. Monitoring of air, soil and water for radionuclides after the respective accidents indicate that the environmental impact of Chernobyl is likely to be much greater than the Fukushima accident. The post is relatively information dense as I have provided data tables for those who are interested in the estimates and the peer-reviewed studies from which they come. Apologies up front to those who find such information tedious. Continue reading Comparing the Environmental Impacts of the Chernobyl and Fukushima Disasters