Stunning Photos Of Norway's Reindeer Hide A Radioactive Secret

This is the lasting fallout from the Chernobyl disaster.

27/02/2016 10:41 AM AEDT | Updated 28/02/2016 1:34 AM AEDT
Amos Chapple
A herd of reindeer swirl around young Sami men of Norway's central Snasa village. High levels of radiation have been detected in reindeer meat as a result of lasting effects from Ukraine's Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Nearly three decades have passed since the devastating meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. Yet, all these years later the fallout from the disaster continues to have a detrimental environmental effect.

The deadly 1986 explosion at Chernobyl resulted in a mass evacuation and the relocation of hundreds of thousands of people living in surrounding areas. Radiation spread across the region.

Today, more than 1,000 miles away from the disaster site, residual poisons linger in the quiet pastures of central Norway in an unsuspecting host: radioactive reindeer. 

Norwegian scientists point to the reindeer's diet as the reason for their contamination, according to Norway's The Local news site. Gypsy mushrooms, which the reindeer eat, absorb radioactive caesium-137 particles that have drifted north over time and accumulated in Norwegian soil.

This poses a problem for Norway's indigenous Sami people. They brave the country's harsh climate to herd the reindeer as a means of economic survival and cultural tradition, but this has become dangerous. The Sami harvest the animals for meat production, but as a result of the recent rise in radioactivity levels, many are not safe for consumption, which is impacting their livelihood.

In 2014, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority reported that they detected radioactivity in the reindeer. Radiation levels in meat can be found by analyzing the amount of becquerels -- a unit for measuring radioactivity-- of caesium-137 per kilogram, and the numbers they detected were as high as 8,200 becquerels per kilogram in reindeer, according to The Local.

In comparison, the Japanese Ministry of Health set the safe consumption limit of caesium-137 at 500 becquerels per kilogram following the country's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Take a look at the photos below of the Sami people in Norway's central Snasa village herding the reindeer and testing their radioactivity, which also appear on Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty:

  • Aina Bye
    A Sami riding his snowmobile through the mountains as the herd is driven toward the corral.
  • Amos Chapple
    Reindeer run to avoid the herders’ lasso inside the corral. The very young reindeer are snared and have their ears tagged with a unique family mark.
  • Amos Chapple
    Reindeer chew on lichen, fed to them by the herders.
  • Amos Chapple
    A young reindeer is selected for tagging.
  • Amos Chapple
    A vet’s assistant reads from a device measuring the radiation in a reindeer selected for slaughter.
  • Amos Chapple
    The herd swirls around young Sami men inside the corral.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article stated that the 1986 Chernobyl explosion happened in 1996.