Painful Truth: the nuclear mushroom feast idea

Langley Advance columnist Matthew Claxton looks at how people around the world have tried to clean up nuclear waste.

You may have heard about atomic bombs, atomic power plants, even the atomic boy scout and the giant atomic ants that threatened New Mexico.

But have you heard about the radioactive reindeer, the atomic wild boars, and the amazing nuclear mushrooms?

In 1986, an extremely ill-advised experiment caused the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the then-Soviet Union to melt down. Radioactive material drifted west across Europe, from Norway to Germany.

One of the problems here was bioaccumulation. Plants can absorb chemicals or radioactive particles or radiation directly, and then the herbivore that eats the plants absorbs more. Carnivores can absorb and concentrate even more.

Which means that there are still plenty of reindeer that are too dangerous to eat, and too radioactive to kill and dump. Northern Europe has an excess of atomic Rudolphs, even 30 years after Chernobyl went boom.

Farther south, in the German state of Saxony, it’s the boars that are a problem. Boars will eat carrion, small animals, and mushrooms. And mushrooms already naturally concentrate radioactive particles from the wood waste they break down.

This means that German hunters out for a nice day of shooting wild pig have to test their catch for radiation, and safely dispose of one in three carcasses.

The situation is similar around the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, where boars are also common. The same problem exists – the boars eat the mushrooms, they become unsafe to eat, but they keep making more little boars.

The exclusion zone around the damaged Japanese reactor has become boar heaven. Even if you could hunt and kill all the atomic porkers, you’d have no room to bury them all. There are an estimated 13,000 in the woods.

Which brings us back to mushrooms, those natural absorbers of nasty particles.

One American mycologist has suggested a novel cleanup procedure for Fukushima. Paul Stamets suggests reducing the wooden buildings in the exclusion zone to mulch, seeding it with trees and mushrooms, and then harvesting the mushrooms using hazmat and radiation protected workers.

Incinerating the mushrooms to ash would reduce their volume, and over multiple harvests, reduce the volume of dangerous particles around Fukushima.

Read Bob Groeneveld’s Odd Thoughts at