The radiation resulting from the explosion in 1986 of reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, on the border between Belarus and Ukraine, continues to be monitored, both in wildlife and in forests and on the land nearby. Even after 34 years, the region produces food contaminated with radioactive elements.
Scientists at Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter and the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology measured levels of strontium 90 and cesium 137 radioactive isotopes in crops grown near the plant (such as wheat, rye, oats and barley) and found that they continue beyond the limits considered safe by the Ukrainian government.
“We focus on strontium 90 because it is known to be currently present in the soil, mainly in bioavailable form, which means that it can be absorbed by plants,” said chemist Iryna Labunska, lead author of the study now published in the journal Environment International .
Not only were the harvests analyzed; 75% of the wood, used by the local population in the kitchen and in fireplaces, still has strontium 90 concentrations above the limits considered safe.
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“The Ukrainian government’s monitoring of products containing strontium 90 has to be aware of the continued contamination of soil and plants, and needs to be advised on the safest agricultural and recovery methods. We found very high levels of this isotope in the ashes of the wood – many people use them as fertilizer for plantations ”, says the scientist.
116 grain samples collected between the years 2011 and 2019 from 13 settlements throughout the Ivankiv district, a region about 50 kilometers south of the Chernobyl plant and outside the so-called exclusion zone (where entry is prohibited and subject to prison terms). Wood samples (mainly pine) came from twelve locations in the same district, collected between 2015 and 2019.