Thousands of cows were abandoned in the evacuated zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tōhoku region of Japan and released radioactive materials from the plant.
Now, nearly two years after the disaster, those abandoned cattle were found to be contaminated with radioactive elements. Traces of radioactive cesium, silver and tellurium were found in the 79 cattle analyzed by a scientific team led by Tohoku University engineer Tomokazu Fukuda and published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Fetuses and calves had radioactive materials concentrations up to 1.5 times higher than the adults. The calves had been born, and the fetuses conceived, after the disaster.
In the event of a nuclear Armageddon, don’t eat the steak. Radioactive elements collected most heavily in the cattle’s skeletal muscle.
The cattle showed differences in radioactivity depending on what they had been eating. One group of cows had been kept in a pen and fed grass that hadn’t been contaminated in the Fukushima disaster. These cattle were less radioactive than cattle that had been allowed to graze freely in the area within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant.
None of the cattle showed outward signs of mutation.
The Japanese cattle aren’t the first bovines to be inadvertently irradiated. During some of the very first tests of the atomic bomb at the Trinity site in New Mexico, cattle were accidentally exposed to radioactive fallout. Those cows were also studied to help scientists (and potential nuclear doomsday survivors) understand how the steak and milk suppliers might stand up to radiation.