Waste Nothing: Scientists Study Nuclear Cows as Farmers Tend Them

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牛の熱視線 / tetu

September 28, 2016; CNN and the Columbian

More than five years after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident, a local nonprofit continues to protect and study once-prized livestock in the name of science despite government orders to kill these infamous “nuclear cows.”

Local researchers formed a nonprofit organization in 2012 to conduct research on the fallout of this century’s largest nuclear disaster. They hope to finalize findings of the area’s safety next spring.

Their work would be the first study of the impact on large mammals of extended exposure to low-level radiation. But the work has hinged on a partnership with the tenacious local farmers who bravely return to the “exclusion zone” a few times each week to take care of their cattle. As Filmmaker Tamotsu Matsubara, whose documentary about the farmers’ plight recently premiered in Osaka, told CNN:

The farmers think of these cows as family. They know that these cows can’t be sold, but they don’t want to kill them just because they’re not worth anything. [The farmers] really want them to serve a greater purpose for humans and for science.

Veterinary and radiation experts from Iwate University, Tokai University, and Kitasato University—who formed the Society for Animal Refugee & Environment Post Nuclear Disaster—visit every three months to test livestock within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima plant, where three reactors had core meltdowns after the facility was hit by a tsunami in 2011. Keiji Okada, associate professor of veterinary medicine and agriculture at Iwate University, told the AP the data would help researchers learn whether farmers might eventually be able to work in affected zones.

Once one of the world’s biggest donors of aid to other countries, Japan became a donation destination after the 2011 tsunami, earthquake, and resulting nuclear meltdown, with billions estimated as needed for the recovery. The scientific findings could serve as a silver lining to the catastrophe—and that hope keeps the farmers committed to the cause.—Anna Berry