Fission Stories #123: Rudolph the Glow-in-the-Dark Reindeer

, former director, Nuclear Safety Project | January 1, 2013, 6:00 am EDT
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About a year after the April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine, the media reported:

Norwegian scientists said yesterday that they have found record high radioactivity in a reindeer shot in eastern Norway, nearly one year after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union. Scientists said tests showed that meat from the animal carried 98,500 becquerels per kilogram (2.2 lbs), far above the safety limits of 6,000 set by health authorities and that it must be destroyed as unfit for human consumption.

Our Takeaway

No wonder Rudolph’s nose glowed so brightly. And no wonder the other reindeer were reluctant to include him in their games.

An accident at a nuclear plant near Kiev in the Ukraine contaminates a reindeer several hundred miles away to more than 15 times safe levels. Were all foodstuffs and water within range of Chernobyl’s fallout also monitored for contamination and prevented from being consumed, or have people unknowingly consumed harmful amounts of radioactivity?

No one knows, not even the Shadow.


“Fission Stories” is a weekly feature by Dave Lochbaum. For more information on nuclear power safety, see the nuclear safety section of UCS’s website and our interactive map, the Nuclear Power Information Tracker.

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  • Martin Trenz

    In my apartment-block lives a hobby-hunter (rare in Germany, among other things due to the strict gun laws). He is mostly going for wild boars and deer. Round about 2005 we talked about hunting for a short while and I asked him about accumulation of cesium 137 in the meat he hunts (and eats, and sells). He looked at me with total incomprehension. I had to remind him of Chernobyl, the radioactive cloud, how children had to be kept inside, how milk had to be destroyed, that picking mushrooms in the forest was banned by law, that hunting was restricted and that C-137 had a half-life of 30 years (so not even down 50% since the accident). How fast people forget…

  • Christian

    Rudolph and his neighbours are still monitored and treated in Norway to reduce the impact of radioactive cesium released by the Chernobyl.

    From the web site of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority:
    “Since the Chernobyl disaster, extensive monitoring of radioactive contamination in foodstuffs such as dairy products, sheep, reindeer, game, wild mushrooms and freshwater fish has been performed. This work is performed as a collaborative venture by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.”

    In addition to restricting areas from use by livestock, salt stones containing prussian blue is placed in the grazing areas by farmers, animals are taken down from the mountain for a period before slaughter to reduce radioactivity in the meat, and foodstuffs are monitored for radioactivity.

    Sources: (Some are in Norwegian, but Google Translate does an ok job)

    Radioactivity in grazing animals (I)

    Radioactivity in grazing animals (II)

    Main site:

    (Note that the major drop in animals requiring “feeding period at the farm before slaughter” between 1988 and 1989 were caused by the introduction of prussian blue salt stones, not a drop in radioactivity)

  • jharragi

    The financial power of industry enables it to maintain a choke-hold on scientific studies in both government and academic settings. It is well known that owners of many of the largest nuclear businesses also own many of the largest media companies. This connection enables the industries to discredit or simply silence studies that substantiate the health consequences of exposure to nuclear materials.

    However, hundreds of thousands of American civilians and servicemen who were exposed to atomic testing or fallout experienced health problems and early deaths as a result of that exposure. The epidemiology became clear to the point where our government reluctantly had to compensate (if you can actually do this for a life) for some those people who came to be known as ‘downwinders’.

    The impacts upon the downwinders was initially denied by both the government and industry. To this day, many nuclear industry advocates will tell you that only 38 deaths and perhaps several thousand cancers resulted from Chernobyl – you don’t need to be an epidemiologist to understand if those minimized numbers are effectively lies. After all, are the Russian people tougher than Americans?