(NaturalNews) Three decades ago this month, a massive explosion at the Soviet-era Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Pripyat, Ukraine – part of the USSR at the time – spewed record amounts of radioactive fuel and core materials into the atmosphere.
It was the worst nuclear disaster in the atomic age (to be eclipsed just a few short years ago by the tsunami-caused catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northern Japan).
In addition to releasing a plume of dangerous radioactivity, the explosion also irradiated large swaths of land surrounding the plant.
As reported by VICE, residents of contaminated areas around the disaster site are stilling being exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation, and it has also permeated the food they are eating.
Researchers who continue to study the effects of the radioactive fallout have been examining locally produced food and forest products, both in Ukraine and Russia; they have discovered radioactive isotopes that are dramatically higher than what is permissible for human ingestion – 16 times as much, in fact, in some cases, according to findings released recently by Greenpeace.
’16 times the limit’
“These disasters go on for not only for decades or centuries, but perhaps millennium,” said Shawn-Patrick Stensil, a senior energy analyst with Greenpeace, and a co-author of the report, as quoted by VICE. “We are still seeing contamination levels that are way higher than permissible limits.”
The accident, which took place April 26, 1986, released some 200 times more radioactivity than was released by the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima to end World War II, the World Health Organization (WHO) says, as reported by VICE.
As the site reported further:
Researchers identified nuclear isotopes caesium-137 as a particular concern because it is easily absorbed by plants. High levels of the isotope were detected in milk, wild mushrooms, berries, and meat.
Of the 50 milk samples collected from the Rivne region, located 200km (124 miles) from the Chernobyl site, “all contained cesium-137 at levels above the limit value set for consumption by adults in Ukraine, and all were substantially above the lower limit set for children,” according to the report.
Samples of grain that were collected from fields in the Kiev area, which is located about 31 miles from Chernobyl, also contained levels of radioactive isotopes that, in some cases, were more than double the limit for human consumption.
And dried mushrooms that were gathered from a forest in the Rivne area, and then stored by families, were found to contain levels of cesium-137 at 16 times the allowable limit.
‘Clearly the radiation has infiltrated the local ecosystem’
The isotope has a half-life of 30 years, but it will take several centuries for it to decay to a level that is not a risk for humans. Exposure to cesium-137 can boost the risk of cancer, particularly if it is being ingested, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted.
“These isotopes are circulating through the ecosystem in ways that we never imagined,” Stensil said. “If you live next to the forest, it’s part of your way of life. These communities will have to be continually decontaminated.”
In addition to the initial poisoning of the environment caused by the accident, IFL Science reports that radioactivity is being continually redistributed via natural occurrence.
“Clearly, the radiation from the disaster has infiltrated the local ecosystem in a fairly comprehensive way, and not just in terms of edible crops,” the site noted. “The report mentions that more than 1,100 wildfires occurred between 1993 and 2013 in the area, meaning that radiation from the blast, initially absorbed by vegetation, has been re-released and redistributed.”
Ukraine was considered the “breadbasket” of the former Soviet Union, but the country has suffered economically since the breakup of the USSR in 1991, making it difficult for the nation’s citizens to avoid consuming contaminated food.