Fukushima, chernobyl and the consequences for foodstuffs

On 26. April 1986, there was a meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. 10 years ago, on 11. March 2011, the equally serious reactor catastrophe happened in Fukushima. Large amounts of radioactivity were always released. In Fukushima, the wind was fortunately such that most of the radioactive particles were blown out to sea. The fallout from Chernobyl also reached Germany.

The long-term consequences are still being felt not only there, but also in this country. Some foodstuffs are still contaminated with radioactivity today. The radioactive cloud that passed over Europe in April and May 1986 contaminated large parts of Germany. At that time, the regions of Bavaria, southern Thuringia and areas in Baden-Wurttemberg were particularly affected. Soils in many regions, especially in southern Germany, and some foodstuffs are still contaminated with caesium 137 and, to a lesser extent, strontium 90 today.


VOA Photo / D. Markosian

What is the situation today with regard to food contamination?

Especially some Wild mushroom species still occasionally show a strongly increased radioactivity.

Game meat from some regions of Germany may still show elevated levels of radioactivity. This is especially true for wild boar. Therefore, eat comparatively highly contaminated foods such as (self-collected) wild mushrooms and wild boar only occasionally or not at all.

Commercially available wild mushrooms, which are imported in our country mainly from Eastern Europe, are tested separately for radiation. Some importers have even invested in expensive measuring technology in order to be able to offer well-tested products.

In agricultural products such as cereals the concentration of artificial radionuclides has meanwhile fallen back to levels seen before the reactor accident. The reason for this is the different composition of arable soils compared to forest soils and their regular processing by farmers.

Japanese food from the area around Fukushima were regularly tested when imported to Europe. recent years, however, no more limit violations have been detected. consumer goods from Japan are not critical, since the raw materials for them are not mined or processed in the affected areas. Only a small region of the country is still heavily contaminated. Since a large part of the radioactivity was blown onto the sea, many marine animals are likely to have been contaminated with radioactivity. No safe monitoring can take place here, as fish travel long distances and could be fished in completely different parts of the oceans without then being tested.

Geiger counters for home use are nonsense

Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, many consumers have been considering buying a Geiger counter for home use. However, the investment of about 300 Euro per device is unnecessary. To measure radioactive contamination of foodstuffs, very sensitive and complex measuring devices are required, which these Geiger counters do not have. In addition, you need well-founded expertise to evaluate the measurement results. As a rule, laymen do not have this.

Radioactivity will continue to be an issue

The subject of radioactivity remains present. On the one hand, because some regions and some foods remain contaminated even many years after the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents. Caesium and strontium have a half-life of about 30 years. The radioactive contamination of plutonium has only been detected in about 24.000 years halved.

On the other hand, there are currently still three nuclear power plants on the grid in Germany. All to be off the grid by the end of 2022. Worldwide, according to the World Nuclear Report, 412 reactors were still in operation in January 2022. Even in the immediate European foreign countries are still very old reactors operated. Examples are Tihange and Doel in Belgium as well as Cattenom/France. In possibly affected regions there are therefore emergency plans. In some cases, iodine tablets have already been distributed to the population as a precautionary measure, z.B. in Aachen. In Saarland, iodine tablets are stored in the counties and the state capital, from where they are brought to central distribution points in case of emergency.

Although Germany has decided to phase out nuclear power, nuclear plants and reactors continue to operate. The phase-out only applies to reactors used to generate electricity, not to those used for research purposes. The same applies to processing plants such as the uranium enrichment plant in Gronau. The transport of nuclear waste also continues to pose a risk. Even in Japan, despite the devastating disaster at Fukushima, nine reactors are still on line.

For further reading:

Bavarian State Office for Health and Food (as of 21.08.2019): Radioactivity in food

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