Anyone fancy Chernobyl lamb chops?

Chernobyl restrictions in Wales finally lifted

“Sheep may safely graze”

There was a joke in Wales that ran for many years: life had become easy for Welsh shepherds and farmers – they no longer needed to worry about tracking their flocks at night, as all the sheep glowed green in the dark.

But there was a sombre reality behind that topical humour; in the UK, radioactive fallout from Chernobyl in 1986 had heavily contaminated North Wales and parts of Cumbria.

In Bulgaria, there was (apparently) a similar situation. I say  ‘apparently’ because, from what I have read, the authorities covered up the effects of fallout over the territory, even after the then USSR had belatedly announced what had happened at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor complex.

Bulgaria fallout

The explosion occurred on 26th. April, 1986. An article published in Sofia in 2011 states:

“On May 7, to the consternation of many, Bulgarian National Television announced, briefly, that the radiation situation in the country had returned to normal. The reason for the consternation was that no one outside the ruling circle had been told that it had been anything other than normal.” [1]

Recently, Stiliyan Petrov, captain of Aston Villa and Bulgaria’s national football team, was diagnosed with acute leukaemia.One of the Bulgarian team doctors suggested that Petrov may well have been a childhood victim of the radiation that enveloped Bulgaria, particularly the region of Montana where he lived, which was subjected to radiation levels 1,000-1,300 time the norm.

Wales fallout

I remember my brother phoning Cardiff from Germany in some alarm, a few days after the 26th. April, to ask whether our family was alright. Why? He’d seen a report on German TV claiming that Wales had been particularly hard-hit by radioactivity, as the cloud drifting west from Ukraine deposited its poisonous load, mainly Radiocaesium- 137. We were shocked: at that time, there had been nothing about this on the UK media. (A sorry example of the persistent attitude that nothing of importance happens beyond the UK’s shores.)  As with Bulgaria, we in UK eventually caught up with some of what had been going on.

26 years later

The same Bulgarian article continues:

“A 1988 report by the Bulgarian Veterinary Service is typical of the official line. It writes of the “stringent testing procedures” to safeguard animal products for home consumption and for export.

“Samples of a variety of foodstuffs were taken regularly from April 26 until September 1 1986, according to the report.

“The results obtained showed that the radioactivity of animal products remained within the limits permissible for Bulgaria.”

“There were, the report said, 16 cases where norms were exceeded. Five involving lamb meat, seven involving mutton and four involving kashkaval (yellow) cheese.

“By the end of May 1987 the radiological situation in Bulgaria had returned to normal.” [1]

The above statements are, frankly, difficult to believe. Sofia lies less than 1,100 kms from Chernobyl; Wales is 2,500 kms away.Monitoring of animal products for a mere 13 months was enough? (I do not know anything at present about any monitoring of the Bulgarian population – another facet of this story.)

Why do I say this? Because, on 1st. June, 2012, fully twenty-six years later, Emergency Order restrictions were finally removed in the UK. These orders were imposed by the Food Standard Agency shortly after the nuclear accident. They originally applied to 9,700 farms and 4 million sheep in areas of Wales, Cumbria and Scotland (see map below); the animals could not be freely moved, and certainly not sold. In the past ten years, the restrictions have been progressively eased, as testing of individual animals resulted in diminished (and, ultimately, safe) limits of radioactivity to be present in sheep.

UK restricted zones

And so, at long last, the last 334 farms in Wales (and 8 in Cumbria) have been liberated, and can now return to normal.

“We can now move our sheep freely, and we can sell our lambs at whatever time we want. Before, government officials would have to see the lambs and if they were over 1,000 Becquerel per kilo you wouldn’t be able to sell them. Now we can sell them at the best price,” a Welsh official stated.[2] Good news, indeed for sheep farmers – even if they are now forced back on night-duty!

So, Welsh lamb for lunch next Sunday? Well, maybe not, at over €20 per kilo for loin chops! [3]

Source 1: Sofia Echo

Source 2: The Independent

Source 3: Additional archive story, March 2012: BBC online: includes a short video

Image source:

Map source: FSA


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