Two decades after Chernobyl, Scottish sheep get all-clear

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

NEARLY a quarter of a century after the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in the Ukraine
exploded and spewed radioactivity across the world, it has finally stopped making Scottish
sheep too "hot" to eat.

For the first time since the accident, levels of radioactive contamination in sheep on all Scottish farms dropped below safety limits last month, enabling the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to lift restrictions. Controls on the movement and sale of sheep have been in force since after the explosion in 1986.

The Chernobyl reactor near Kiev scattered a massive cloud of radioactivity over Europe after it overheated, caught fire and ripped apart because of errors made by control room staff.

It was the world´s worst nuclear accident, and has been blamed for causing tens of thousands of deaths from cancers.

Peat and grass in upland areas of Scotland were polluted with radioactive caesium-137 released by the reactor, blown across Europe and brought to ground by rain.

This grass was eaten and recycled by sheep, and has persisted in the environment far longer than originally anticipated.

In 1987, the restrictions covered 73 farms across southwest and central Scotland. Animals that contained more than 1,000 becquerels of ­radioactivity per kilo were banned from being slaughtered for food.

In April 2009, there were still 3,000 sheep at five farms in Stirling and Ayrshire under restrictions. But now, according to an announcement from the FSA, there are none.

An FSA spokesperson said: "Since the early 1990s an annual post-Chernobyl sheep monitoring programme has been carried out on restricted areas in Scotland.

"Over time, radioactivity levels have continued to decline, and, as of February 2010, only two areas in Scotland remained under restrictions. Of these, one area has been taken out of agricultural use, so is no longer being used to farm sheep, and the other area was removed from restrictions on 21 June 2010."

Dr Richard Dixon, the director of environmental charity WWF Scotland, pointed out that a whole generation had been born and grown up since the Chernobyl disaster.

"It has taken nearly 25 years for the contamination of Scottish soils to decay to officially safe levels - and we´re 1,400 miles away," he said. "This is a timely reminder of the folly of the UK government´s enthusiasm for a new generation of nuclear reactors.

"Pouring money into nuclear is a huge distraction from making the best of our natural advantages in renewable energy and cracking down on energy waste. We need low-carbon energy but nuclear will be too little, too late, too expensive and at far too much risk to present and future citizens of this country."

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