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28 October 2014

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You are in: Cumbria > History > History features > Radioactive Cumbria - 20 years after Chernobyl

Chernobyl nuclear power station

Chernobyl nuclear power station

Radioactive Cumbria - 20 years after Chernobyl

The spring of 1986 was cold and wet – much like the spring of 2006. As April turned into May it rained and rained. And that rain was radioactive, falling from clouds that had blown west from Chernobyl in Ukraine.

Adrian Pitches, Environment Correspondent

Adrian Pitches, Environment Correspondent

The Chernobyl nuclear reactor number 4 blew up on April 26th 1986 after a test overload went disastrously wrong. Chernobyl is 1,500 miles away but Cumbria soon felt its effects.

Alistair Mackintosh farms at Muncaster on the southwest coast of Cumbria. He recalls: “We saw the news coverage about Chernobyl but it seemed so far away…”
But within days, monitoring of air and water in the UK showed much of northern Britain had experienced fall-out from Chernobyl.

The Ministry of Agriculture halted all stock movements. Nine thousand farms were affected of which 1,600 were in Cumbria.

"This monitoring has maintained consumer confidence: we’ve proved that Cumbrian lamb has always been safe to eat."

Alistair Mackintosh, Farmer

The soggy uplands had soaked up radioactive caesium like a sponge. The grass took it up and this was then eaten by the millions of sheep farmed on the fells.
But sheep moved to lower pastures soon acquired a lower radioactivity reading and ministry monitors armed with Geiger counters could clear the animals for sale at market.

It was a long process with farmers under “Chernobyl restrictions” for many years.

Alistair Mackintosh, Farmer

Alistair Mackintosh, Farmer

Twenty years after Chernobyl there are still 375 farms with radioactive ‘hot spots’ including nine in Cumbria in south Lakeland.

But the ongoing monitoring has had a positive legacy. Alistair Mackintosh says: “I feel sorry for the guys still under restrictions but this monitoring has maintained consumer confidence: we’ve proved that Cumbrian lamb has always been safe to eat.”

last updated: 13/05/2008 at 14:04
created: 26/04/2006

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