BERLIN – It was a big shot. A big hog. And a big disappointment.
When Georg van Bebber hauled back his wild boar from Ebersberg forest near Munich after a day of hunting, he was exhilarated about his impressive prey.
But before he could take it home, a Geiger counter showed a problem: The boar’s meat was radioactive to an extent considered potentially dangerous for consumption. It needed to be thrown out and burned.
“I really would have liked to have this boar,” van Bebber said when he recounted the incident in a telephone interview from Bavaria.
Almost a quarter century after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Ukraine, its fallout is still a hot topic in some German regions, where thousands of boars shot by hunters still turn up with excessive levels of radioactivity. In fact, the numbers are higher than ever.
The total compensation the German government paid last year for the discarded contaminated meat shot up to a record sum of euro425,000 (about $558,000), from only about euro25,000 10 years ago, according to the Federal Environment Ministry in Berlin.
“The reason is that there are more and more boars in Germany, and more are being shot and hunted, that is why more contaminated meat turns up,” spokesman Thomas Hagbeck told the Associated Press.
“But this also shows how long radioactive fallout remains a problem in the environment,” he said.
Last season, hunters brought home a record 640,000 boars, and following that trend, the amount of contaminated meat also went off the charts. Judging from the total compensation paid out in 2009, about 2,000 to 4,000 boars were found to have levels above the 600 becquerels of radioactivity per kilogram allowed for human consumption. That compares to about 125 to 250 a decade ago.
“The impact of the Chernobyl fallout in Germany, in general, has decreased,” said Florian Emrich, spokesman for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection.
For example, radiation has ceased to be a problem on fields cultivated with commercial crops, he said.
But forest soil in specific regions that were hit hardest after Chernobyl – parts of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg in southern Germany – still harbors high amounts of radioactive cesium-137, which has a half life of roughly 30 years.
In fact, the cesium from the Chernobyl fallout is moving deeper into the ground and has now reached exactly the layer where the boars’ favorite truffles grow, the Hunting Association’s Reinwald said. Therefore, the season for such truffles – a variety not eaten by humans – usually means a rising number of radioactive boars.