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Radioactive Boars Rampage Around Fukushima

A boom in the wild boar population is causing problems for farmers near the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster

A wild boar and her little squeakers explore in Duisburg Forest, Germany. (Roland Weihrauch/dpa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011 is one of the worst disasters of the 21st century. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting 30-foot-tall wave killed 18,000 people in Japan and then led to the nuclear plant's meltdown. The area around the plant has since remained devoid of human inhabitants, but at least one species is thriving: wild boars.

According to Travis Andrews at The Washington Post, the lack of hunters and people in the abandoned areas around the plant have produced a baby boom for the boars. The result has been 900,000 dollars in crop damage for local farmers.

“Wild boar along with raccoon have been taking advantage of the evacuation zone, entering vacant houses in areas damaged by the [disaster], and using them as breeding places or burrows,” assistant ecology professor Okuda Keitokunin at the Fukushima University Environmental Radioactivity Institute told a local newspaper, reports RT.

While pork, wild boar meat included, is very popular in Japan, the boar near Fukushima are contaminated with cesium-137, The Sunday Times reports. This means that they are not edible, which has discouraged would be hunters from chasing the animals.

But to keep populations in check, the government offered a bounty for killed boar each of the last three years. Though this has helped control population numbers, it has also caused another headache: how to dispose of the contaminated boar carcasses after they are shot.

The current solution is disposing of the boars in three mass graves in the city of Nihonmatsu, 35 miles from Fukushima. But those pits, which hold 600 carcasses apiece, are already close to capacity. “Sooner or later, we’re going to have to ask local people to give us their land to use,” Tsuneo Saito, a local boar hunter, tells The Sunday Times. “The city doesn’t own land which isn’t occupied by houses.”

The other solution is incinerating the boars, but the radioactive contamination means they need to be handled by a special facility. That incinerator can only handle three boars per day, Andrews reports, which is nowhere near efficient enough to handle all the carcasses.

Despite the pigs, the Fukushima area may become an accidental nature reserve like Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear meltdown which over the last 30 years has become a haven for wildlife.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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