Caesium-137 in Austria's environment
The nuclear power plant accident in Chernobyl marked its 35th anniversary in 2021. We continue to monitor the environment, food and imports in order to monitor the effects of this disaster and protect the Austrian population. This is done in accordance with legal requirements(Radiation Protection Act 2020) on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK) and the Federal Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection (BMSGPK).
The reactor disaster in Chernobyl on April 26, 1986, resulted in the release of large quantities of radioactive substances. Austria was severely affected by the radioactive fallout - due to precipitation in the days following the release - and the after-effects are still measurable. However, only the long-lived caesium-137 with a half-life of about 30 years is still of some importance for radiation exposure in Central Europe. In arable and meadow soils, however, the cesium is bound to existing clay constituents and is thus no longer available to plants. Cesium-137 therefore no longer plays a role in agricultural products. In forest soils, on the other hand, cesium-137 is available to plants in the humus layer and can thus be absorbed into the plants via the roots. As a result, wild animals, especially wild boars, ingest cesium-137.
Monitoring of game meat and mushrooms in Austria 2021
In the past two decades, we have repeatedly carried out projects on the subject of caesium-137 in forest products:
- 2007 and 2008: focus project "Survey of radioactive contamination of game meat".
- 2012: Focus project "Wild boar meat in the trade".
- 2016: project on caesium-137 in the environment "Radioecological evaluation of radionuclide contamination in forest ecosystems 30 years after Chernobyl" together with the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences
- 2018: priority action "Wild game and products: Control for heavy metals and radioactivity"
Further information on selected projects can be found here or at the bottom of this page under Downloads.
We test almost 1,000 food samples for radioactivity every year. In agriculturally produced products, the caesium-137 levels are back to the level they were before the Chernobyl accident, but higher caesium-137 levels can still occur in wild mushrooms and game. Therefore, we regularly monitor wild meat and mushrooms for cesium-137. In addition, imports of mushrooms from third countries are also monitored for cesium-137.
In the approximately 250 samples of game meat we have measured since 2019, there were only six samples with activity concentrations above the 600 Bq/kg limit. These six samples all came from private individuals (hunters) who had shot animals in the wild. Therefore, they were not game meat that was commercially available. Among the wild mushrooms checked, all measurement results of chanterelles and porcini were far below this limit. Only one semolina stubble mushroom sample showed a value above 600 Bq/kg. The activity concentration of the sample was approx. 23,000 Bq/kg. This sample originated from a project of the province of Carinthia for the creation of a caesium-137 mushroom map.
Caesium-137 - Risk
The effects of Chernobyl contribute only to a very small extent to the average radiation exposure of the population in Austria (see graph below).
The measure of exposure to radioactivity is the dose and is expressed in milli-Sievert (mSv). If one consumes ten portions of wild boar meat (1 portion = 250 g) per year from the maximum contaminated wild boar (4,710 Bq/kg) from the project "Radioecological evaluation of radionuclide contamination in forest ecosystems 30 years after Chernobyl", the absorbed dose is thus 0.15 mSv per year. This corresponds to about half of the annual dose received from the intake of natural radionuclides with food (0.3 to 0.4 mSv per year).
For comparison, a transatlantic flight or a lung X-ray corresponds to a dose of about 0.05 - 0.09 mSv, a mammography examination to about 0.2 to 0.3 mSv. The natural radiation exposure in Austria is about 2 to 3 mSv per year. The total annual radiation dose of an average Austrian is about 4.5 mSv.
The consumption of wild meat and wild mushrooms is usually so low that the resulting dose does not play a relevant role, even if some mushrooms (such as the Semmelstoppel mushroom from the project on the cesium-137 mushroom map) are above the limit. However, those who want to keep exposure as low as possible for themselves personally can switch to cultivated mushrooms and to mushrooms from regions with lower levels of cesium-137 in the soil. The concentration of cesium-137 in the soils in Austria can be looked up on themap of the Federal Environment Agency on cesium-137 in the soil. In the red areas, there is a higher probability of finding mushrooms with cesium-137 levels above the limit.
Last updated: 10.10.2023