How were lichens and the food chain affected following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster?
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In 1986, following the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster in Ukraine, arctic lichens as far away as Lapland were tested and showed levels of radioactive dust that were as much as 165 times higher than had been previously recorded. In addition, a human connection was found between the nuclear disaster and lichens: The lichens—being efficient absorbers of air-borne particles—are a primary winter food source for reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in Scandinavia, and reindeer meat is commonly consumed by humans who live in those regions of tundra. The accumulated level of radioactive dust containing radiocesium became so high in the lichens that the reindeer meat became unsuitable for human consumption—and tragically, hundreds of tons of reindeer carcasses were disposed of as toxic waste.