Japanese nuclear reactor failure imperils hooved animals even more than pets
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2011:
OSAKA–Difficult as was the plight of dogs and cats in the
no-go zone surrounding the Fukushima nuclear reactor complex, it was
worse for large animals, who are not easily moved, and in most
cases had nowhere to go.
“According to government figures about 3,400 cows, 31,000
pigs and 630,000 chickens were left in the zone, assumed to have died
by now,” reported Animal Refuge Kansai founder Elizabeth Oliver.
“There were around 370 horses in Minami Sohma,” Oliver continued,
“at least 100 of whom died in the disaster. Around 140 horses are
A small city in Fukushima Prefecture, Minami Sohma is
located at the mouth of the Manogawa river. Oliver and other ARK
team members made their way there on April 7, looking for dogs and
cats who had survived the tsunami.
“Negotiating the tree-strewn road, we came across a barn
with horses,” Oliver wrote. Their keeper “was feeding them with hay
and grain as best he could, but was limiting rations. These poor
creatures were thin, hungry, with wounds all over their legs and
bodies, standing in the mud and rubbish left by the tsunami,”
The keeper and his family fled to Niigata, ahead of the
tsunami, Oliver learned “but were then prohibited from coming back
for two weeks, since it is within the no-go area. So the horses
were left without food or water for two whole weeks. When he
returned, six horses were dead and the other 37 were very weak. He
didn’t know what to do. Nobody wanted to take animals who were
possibly irradiated. He said he was depressed at the thought that he
would have to kill the remaining horses.
“Behind the barn a bit up the hill,” Oliver continued, “we
found five steers, also belonging to him, one of them dead. This
one person has to carry water from a distance every day and food for
the horses when he can find it. He has no energy left to clear the
mud and debris in the barn. We asked him to hold on and we would try
to help. The next day we made contact with two horse rescue
Representatives of Intaiba Kyokai, “which runs a foster
program for rescued and retired horses, visited the farm on April 9,”
Oliver said, relaying information from Amie Nagano of The Economist.
Intaiba Kyokai “arranged to move the horses to a temporary shelter in
Soma, outside the no-go zone,” Oliver learned. “Unfortunately two
more horses had died, and two more were too weak to be transported,
so they were left with the keeper.
“The area where that farm is was just sand and mud,” Oliver
noted, “with not a blade of grass anywhere. In unaffected hilly
areas, horses and cows have been let loose to forage, and now that
it’s spring, there will be enough grass for them to survive on.”
But the grazing animals are likely to ingest a great many
radioactive particles. Harmful as their exposure to external
radiation coming directly from the Fukushima reactors may be, the
animals’ cumulative exposure to internal radiation may be more
harmful over time–though it might also prevent them from being eaten
by humans, and could even lead to the establishment of small
irradiated feral herds of hooved animals within the no-go zone.
External radiation “is what populations were exposed to when
the atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945,”
explained Australian pediatrician and longtime anti-nuclear activist
“Internal radiation, on the other hand, emanates from
radioactive elements which enter the body by inhalation, ingestion,
or skin absorption,” Caldecott continued. “Hazardous radionuclides
such as iodine-131, caesium 137, and other isotopes currently being
released in the sea and air around Fukushima bio-concentrate at each
step of various food chains–for example, into algae, crustaceans,
small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow’s meat
and milk, then humans. After they enter the body [of any living
being], these elements–called internal emitters–migrate to
specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain,”
Caldecott said, “where they continuously irradiate small numbers of
cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and
over many years, can induce cancer. Many of the nuclides remain
radioactive in the environment for generations.”
Added Juergen Baetz of Associated Press, “For a look at just
how long radioactivity can hang around, consider Germany’s wild
boars. A quarter century after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the
Soviet Union carried a cloud of radiation across Europe, these
animals are radioactive enough that people are urged not to eat them.
And the mushrooms the pigs dine on are not fit for consumption either.
“The German boars roam in forests nearly 950 miles from
Chernobyl,” Baetz noted. “Yet, the amount of radioactive cesium-137
within their tissue often registers dozens of times beyond the
recommended limit for consumption and thousands of times above
normal. Cesium accumulates over time in the soil, which makes boars
most susceptible. They snuffle through forest soil with their snouts
and feed on the kinds of mushroom that tend to store radioactivity.
The problem is so common that now all wild boars bagged by hunters in
the affected regions have to be checked for radiation.”
German hunters shoot about 50,000 boars per year. About
1,000 of them are found to be dangerously irradiated.
“In Austria, too, traces of radioactive cesium remain in the
soil. Along with boars and mushrooms, deer have been affected–some
testing at five times the legal limit,” Baetz wrote. “Even farther
away in France, there is still soil contamination,” though levels
have dropped enough that French boars and mushrooms are now rarely
found to contain unsafe amounts of of cesium.