Decades Later and Far Away, Chernobyl Disaster Still Contaminates Milk

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“These people know that the milk is unsafe, but they tell us, `We don’t have a choice, we have to feed our families,’ ” said Iryna Labunska, a researcher at the University of Exeter who was the principal author of the study. “These are rural communities and the people are poor.”

The result, she said, is that “children are still drinking contaminated milk, which is heartbreaking.”

A steam explosion and fire in 1986 at the plant, north of Kiev, pumped a toxic cloud into the atmosphere, in what is generally regarded as the worst nuclear disaster in history. Radioactive fallout from the accident was detected worldwide, but the worst of it fell in Ukraine and Belarus, just to the north. People are still officially prohibited from living within a 1,000-square-mile “exclusion zone” around the site, though a few remain.

Other scientists have discovered radiation in milk from northern Ukraine over the years, but the new study shows that it remains at high levels, and far outside the area most affected by Chernobyl.

Much of the radioactive material released from the Chernobyl power plant has broken down and no longer poses a threat. The primary danger now comes from an isotope, cesium-137, that persists longer, remaining in the soil and collecting in vegetation that is consumed by cows.

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