A review of studies conducted before and after the Chernobyl accident is presented, showing that both the duration and the extent of radiocesium contamination of ruminants will be more severe in unimproved ecosystems compared with agricultural areas. Although such unimproved ecosystems provide comparatively small quantities of food for human consumption, the integrated dose from these areas to the human population can be large. Ecological characteristics that make unimproved ecosystems particularly vulnerable to this form of pollution include the presence of (1) soils that do not immobilize radiocesium and therefore allow its uptake into vegetation; (2) vegetation species with high uptake rates of radiocesium; (3) the predominant utilization by small ruminants which attain higher muscle radiocesium levels than cattle. Unimproved ecosystems, which often are located at high altitudes, are predisposed to receiving higher fallout because of high precipitation rates which enhance the likelihood of deposition. Countermeasures have been developed and used successfully to reduce radiocesium levels in ruminants grazing in unimproved ecosystems. Apart from decontamination by altering farming practices and providing uncontaminated feeds, sustained reductions of 50% to 80% in the radiocesium concentrations of both milk and meat have been achieved in many ruminant species when AFCF is given via a sodium chloride lick or as a sustained-release bolus. Food production in unimproved ecosystems must be evaluated separately from that of ordinary agricultural systems. In addition to detailed studies on the behavior of radiocesium, consideration should be given to the collection of aggregated transfer coefficients from various ecosystems which were affected by Chernobyl fallout. By combining bioavailability estimates and aggregated transfer coefficients, based on Chernobyl and nuclear weapons test fallout data, it may in the future be possible to make a rapid assessment of both the immediate and the long-term impact of a future nuclear accident on food production in unimproved ecosystems.
©1991Health Physics Society