As if humanity didn’t have enough problems already, now Europe is seeing a plague of radioactive wild boars. Yes, really.
Encountering a radioactive wild boar in the dark forests of Germany isn’t top of everyone’s bucket list. But, while their populations have been soaring in Europe, it’s not meeting, but rather eating them, that you need to worry about. That’s because they contain unsafe radioactive cesium (a liquid metal).
Their mysteriously high radioactivity levels have been puzzling scientists. Now we know why their radioactivity won’t go away.
The shaggy, tusked pigs roaming around the forests of Germany and Austria were thought to have been made radioactive by the 1986 Chernobyl accident. In fact, scientists from the Vienna University of Technology, in Austria, now show that Oppenheimer-style nuclear weapons testing is responsible for their long-lasting radioactivity.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time hiking in the forests of Bavaria when I was over there in Uncle Sam’s colors and never encountered a wild boar, although I stumbled across signs of them regularly. I am relieved now to learn that I apparently dodged the possibility of radiation exposure from the wild swine. It may be even more fortunate that I didn’t eat any wild boar meat, just domestically raised pork. In Germany, I hasten to note, it’s legal to sell wild game meat at market or in restaurants, so for the time being, it might be best to inquire as to the source of your schnitzel. I would think the accidental ingestion of radioactive pork might result in a ride in a hambulance.
The scientists measured cesium levels in boar meat from southern Germany using a gamma-ray detector. They compared levels of cesium-135 and -137 using a mass spectrometer (a tool used to measure the charge of ions) to find out where the radioactivity came from.
The researchers knew that detecting a higher ratio of -135 than -137 would indicate more fallout from nuclear weapons explosions rather than nuclear reactors – and that’s what they found. Across the samples, between 10 to 68 per cent of the contamination came from nuclear weapons testing.
Eighty-eight per cent of the meat samples exceeded safe levels of radioactivity in food.
Europe isn’t the only place to see this problem. In Japan, after the Fukushima reactor incident, much of the area has been evaluated, and since then, some of the towns have been taken over by wildlife – including boars. It is unclear as to whether the Japanese boars are radioactive, but in an abundance of caution, I should think we can assume the worst. But as for the animals themselves, it seems that in the absence of humans, the swine are living high on the hog.
Human consumption of contaminated pork is one issue, but one also has to wonder about possible genetic effects. A towering Pigzilla storming through Frankfurt seems unlikely, but as for the swine becoming more intelligent, perhaps even gaining more porcine-ality, that could be troublesome. Pigs are already pretty smart, and if one looks around at events around the world today, you have to wonder in which direction human intelligence is going. It would be em-boar-assing to be overtaken by swine; that would be an unexpected twist in the tail.
This seems relevant.
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