When the cows turn into radioactive waste

19 Mar 2011

As part of the work of CODIR-PA(1) aimed at drawing up a post- nuclear-accident doctrine in France, the case of herds producing milk or meat contaminated beyond the maximum admissible norms was examined. Two ideas were considered:

– 1 Slaughter the herds. The Veterinary Services Department recommends burying the carcasses on the spot in pre-selected locations that do not expose groundwater and surface water to radioactivity migration. The VSD has had some experience of this procedure during outbreaks of disease.

– 2 Consider the livestock as a means of eliminating contaminated plant products and slaughter them only after they have fulfilled their role of digesting the radioactivity in the grass and surface soil. This option is difficult to apply as the farmers themselves, along with the other inhabitants, would have to leave the exclusion zone and the cows would have to be supervised and milked only by experienced, protected technicians. Here, too, the slaughtered animals would be buried within the exclusion zone.

The idea of taking the animals or their carcasses to existing knacker’s yards was not considered out of a concern to avoid propagating the radioactivity. These knacker’s yards are generally located outside exclusion zones.

Robin des Bois has suggested to CODIR-PA’s Waste working party that the herds should undergo a preventive transfer to healthy regions, but this option is not favoured by the Veterinary Services Department or the FNSEA – the only agricultural union to be in the working party – for three reasons: the concern of the populations in the animal receiving areas could create extra social tensions; the massive use of means of transport to move the animals is not considered as a priority in this type of crisis situation and, finally, at whatever time of year the accident might occur, farmers in the receiving areas would have a great deal of difficulty in looking after a large number of extra animals.

(1) CODIR-PA: The Steering Committee used to manage the post-accident phase of a nuclear accident or emergency radiological situation, set up by the French Nuclear Safety Authority.

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