RADIOACTIVE SUNDAY LUNCH; EXCLUSIVE: Even after Two Decades, Nuclear Fallout from the Chernobyl Power Station Disaster Still Lurks within Lambs Destined for Scots Tables

Daily Mail (London), November 26, 2005 | Go to article overview

RADIOACTIVE SUNDAY LUNCH; EXCLUSIVE: Even after Two Decades, Nuclear Fallout from the Chernobyl Power Station Disaster Still Lurks within Lambs Destined for Scots Tables


Byline: KATE GINN

APART from the bright blue dye, there is little to distinguish the flock of upland sheep from any other. Yet, as they graze contentedly on a windswept Scottish hillside, they carry a deadly legacy from one of the world's worst environmental disasters.

These are the Chernobyl sheep - animals still carrying traces of radiation from the catastrophic explosion two decades ago at the nuclear power station in the old Soviet Union.

Astonishingly, despite the fact that the flock is deemed to be 'contaminated', meat from some of these sheep will end up on dinner plates and restaurant menus the length and breadth of Scotland.

The picture-postcard countryside and lush fields in East Ayrshire in which the animals graze hides a deadly secret within the soil. The shadow of Chernobyl still hangs darkly over Scotland.

A Scottish Daily Mail investigation has uncovered the extent to which radioactive pollution and fallout from the accident still affects the country and the livelihoods of farmers.

Even now, 11 farms in Scotland with 28,000 acres of land remain so contaminated by Chernobyl that their sheep are considered 'unsafe' to eat, with the farmers forced to live and work under restrictions imposed back in 1987.

After a spell eating uncontaminated grass, many of these 'Chernobyl sheep' are deemed fit for human consumption and you could be eating one this weekend for Sunday lunch.

But Dr John Large, an independent nuclear consultant, says: 'There is a view that with every bit of radiation you take into the body, no matter how low, the risk increases, and that's what the public might not be aware of.' When radiative material from Chernobyl rained from the skies over Scotland, it fell mainly on high ground in rural areas. For years, sheep on farms affected by the fallout have been grazing on contaminated grass and have been banned from being sold because of high radioactive readings.

But some farmers have got round the problem by moving the sheep to lower, uncontaminated ground, to allow the radioactive reading to fall to an acceptable level before selling the sheep on and into the food chain.

While many may think of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl as an event consigned to history, the truth is far different.

'People will no doubt be surprised and a little shocked to learn that Scottish farms are still restricted from the fallout of Chernobyl,' says Duncan McLaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

'Chernobyl has been forgotten by many. Quite a few couldn't tell you what Chernobyl was or what happened.

'But we believe that what's happening in Scotland is a very important reminder to the public about the dangers of dealing with nuclear power.' So why has the Chernobyl effect lingered for so long, and what are the lasting repercussions?

Is there a risk to the public from eating ' contaminated' meat? And when will Scotland finally be free of a terrible legacy which has cost almost [pounds sterling]3million so far in compensation payments to farmers?

In the early hours of April 26, 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor four of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine. A second hydrogen explosion hurled radioactive material a mile into the sky, sending a cloud of dust spreading across Europe.

When the heavens opened, the dust came raining down, spreading a blanket of the poisonous element caesium over England, Wales and the south and west of Scotland.

On May 3, 1986, the radiation cloud made its main pass over Scotland as it swept across the UK. With each drop of rain, deadly radiation was deposited onto the land.

Wherever the rain fell, the marks of Chernobyl were to be found. Rain collected at the time from Glasgow's Govan district was analysed and found to contain levels of radiation 160 times higher than normal, along with traces of plutonium. …

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