Radioactive boars run hog-wild over nuclear wasteland!
That’s not a poster for a 1950s monster movie. It’s really happening in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, whose nuclear power plant melted down after the 2011 tsunami. The boars are contaminated with 300 times the “safe” level of cesium-137. The combination of boar-borne radioactivity and their boorish behavior has discouraged former human residents from returning. Hunters trying to reduce the population have killed 13,000 boars since 2014 but they are still on the increase. Radiated boars cannot be eaten so they are being buried, though the corpses’ radiation will continue to poison ground and water for a long time.
The half-life of cesium-137 is 30 years, after which 50% of the original radioactivity remains. However, if Fukushima’s cesium behaves like the cesium released by the 1986 Chernobyl accident, 30 years won’t alleviate the problem. Like Fukushima’s boars, Chernobyl’s cesium seems hyper-radiated – it is not disappearing at the 30-year rate, which puzzles scientists and may make the land toxic for another 200-300 years. A report published by the New York Academy of Scientists (available online) estimated that between 1986 and 2004, 985,000 people died from Chernobyl’s radiation release (mostly from cancer), and predicted that many more would die after 2004. The toll from Fukushima is just getting started.
Boars are more contaminated than most mammals because they dig their food out of the soil, where radioactive fallout collects and concentrates. The Fukushima boars, or 1,800 of them, are being buried in the city of Nihonmatsu, 25 miles from the plant but Nihonmatsu has no room for any more bodies. Wild boars in Germany, 700 miles from Chernobyl, are still radioactive from the 1986 fall-out. Boar meat is eaten throughout Germany and only in the past few years have hunters had their kills tested for radioactivity. While the numbers for Germany’s boars are not as glowing as Japan’s, about 40% test over the ‘safe” limit.
It also appears that 600 tons of molten “hot” uranium has disappeared from the Fukushima plant. The only place it could have gone is through the sub-basement floor into the earth where it will continue to bore through – the ultimate radioactive bore. In Chernobyl, the giant “elephant’s foot” mass of uranium, once the most dangerous chunk of matter on the planet, was contained just before it melted through its final containment level. Fukushima’s molten core is much bigger than Chernobyl’s, though.
It is grotesquely ironic that Japan is suffering a nuclear disaster worse than any since the United States dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945. In Japan’s 1954 monster hit movie Godzilla, the creature is spawned by a nuclear blast, and the movie’s characters speak out against nuclear weapons testing. Godzilla is not only the spawn of radiation, but a symbol of its destructive power, ravaging Tokyo on screen less than ten years after the nuclear bombing of Japan and the fire-bombing of Tokyo.
In scenes reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, many of Japan’s boars have taken up residence in abandoned homes. Occasionally they attack humans and turf battles will intensify if the former residents return with the boars still there, as Japan’s Prime Minister Abe is urging them to do.
Meanwhile, in the United States, wild boars are proliferating in the “red” states and up the west coast to the point where they now outnumber the membership of major religious denominations. In the past few years, the boar population has increased from about one million to six million. Many are descended from farm pigs which, in a few brief pig-generations, become bigger, stronger, more ferocious, and smarter as they revert from a penned-up existence to being “born free”. Attacks on humans are still rare, though they have threatened homeowners. Fortunately, our porkers are not radioactive though they do cause significant agricultural damage.
There is another irony here: in a year when Orwell’s 1984 tops some bestseller lists because of its heightened relevance to U.S. politics, Animal Farm is proving to be literally prescient. Instead of the cadre of bureaucrats symbolized by Orwell’s original pigs, it’s the pigs themselves that are taking over.
Radioactive wild boars setting down truffles and roots in an area devastated by human stupidity would make an interesting sci-fi film. “Planet of the Boars”. We’d better be on our guard. All that radiation could cause boars’ brains to mutate and they’ll grow smarter just as humans are becoming dumber. Building a power plant for which there is no way to safely dispose of its millions of tons of radioactive waste; siting it on land prone to earthquakes and floods; using a technology for which there is no fix for serious accidents; and risking consequences such as poisoning the world’s largest ocean – I’m not sure the pigs have far to go to outsmart us.
For centuries, pigs have been gainfully employed in hunting truffles, fungal delicacies that grow buried in soil beside certain trees. Pigs dig up truffles with their snouts because the smell reminds male pigs of female pigs in heat. (Don’t let that deter you, though, they are delicious). Radioactive pigs could conceivably mutate into a superior form of truffle hunter which would cause the global market in truffles to crash, not nearly the disaster that is Fukushima but worth contemplating nonetheless.
I’m sure they serve truffles at Mar del Lago when Donald Trump’s guests, transfixed by the scent of deals being made, gather to gorge at Trump’s over-built trough. The chance to bury their snouts in the carcass of a dying economic and ecological system drives them crazy as pigs in heat. The weekend White House indeed.
George Orwell is not the only journalist to turn iconoclastic prophet. America has its parallel hero in Hunter S. Thompson, whose “Generation of Swine” took apart the celebration of greed that was Ronald Reagan’s America. The book’s subtitle is “Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ‘80s”. We can only imagine what Thompson would have done with a President Trump. Were he still with us and looking for an apt title for his Trump-themed book, “Generation of Radioactive Swine” might do. Trump represents America’s shame and degradation to a radioactive degree. His delusional tweets; his administration’s dangerous lurch into foreign policy; the Bannon-de Vos-Sessions-Erik Prince gang of sociopaths; the resurgence in racism and anti-Semitism that Trump has incited; and the viciousness of the Republican majority in Congress, well, it makes me wonder. Are the radioactive hogs in Japan and Germany the only ones on the planet? And if there are others, do any of them have orange hair and a penchant for golden shower faucets?