Unfortunately for the Sami people, the reindeer that are the centerpiece of their culture are still radioactive 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster.
The Chernobyl disaster released large amounts of radioactive contaminants into the atmosphere. These contaminants were then spread by prevailing weather patterns to locations all over the world. Norway happened to be the recipient of a significant amount of contamination, especially by the radioactive isotope Cesium-137.
Though scientists estimate that Norway was contaminated by only 700 grams of Cesium-137, that small amount was more than enough to cause massive damage to the environment there. Of particular concern was the amount of Cesium-137 absorbed by lichen, which is a key component of a reindeer’s diet.
Since the lichen in many parts of Norway absorbed so much Cesium-137, and since reindeer eat so much lichen, many of the reindeer in Norway quickly became highly radioactive. Researchers quickly determined that the radioactive reindeer were unfit for human consumption.
The reindeer is a key piece of Sami culture, so this development understandably caused a significant disruption to their lifestyle.
Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, so the amount of Cesium-137 from the Chernobyl remaining in the environment is approximately half of what it was immediately after the disaster. However, radiation levels in many of the reindeer herds remains at unsafe levels.
It us unknown how much longer the reindeer in Norway will continue to be too radioactive for human consumption. Until that day arrives though, the Sami people will continue to experience massive disruption to their lifestyle.