Capel Curig

Contaminated Site


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The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in Russia was the site of a massive explosion in 1986. Radiation from the accident killed people and animals from the local area, including six firemen who put out the fires following the explosion. The effect and spread of the disaster can't be accurately predicted after a nuclear accident because radioactive particles can be carried by the wind and deposited on the mountain sheep pastures of North Wales where the radioactive element caecium entered the soil/water/grass cycle.

Restrictions on hundreds of Welsh and Cumbrian sheep farms dating back to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster were lifted on 1st June 2012 - 26 years on. Farmer Peter Jones, from Capel Curig, in Conwy, has around 1,000 sheep. In 2011, 60 of his sheep exceeded radiation levels and had to be moved to lower ground. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the controls were not "proportionate" to the "very low risk" and removing them would not compromise the consumer.

The disaster in 1986 affected 10,000 UK farms, including 334 in north Wales. The movement of sheep was heavily restricted after the nuclear disaster.
Before farmers could sell livestock, the animals' radiation levels had to be monitored. If they were above a certain level, the sheep were moved to another area and the levels had to subside before they could be sold and consumed.

The Chernobyl disaster was one of the motivations for the policy of 'glasnost', proposed and developed by the Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. Glasnost translates as 'openness' and the policy supported the freedom of information. Gorbachev saw a need for openness because Chernobyl residents were not evacuated immediately after the disaster due to the Russian administration's concern to cover up their faults.

Gillian Clarke is a Welsh poet whose writing often uses natural and rural settings to explore larger themes and ideas, particularly political ideas. She draws on the Welsh landscape and her experience of sheep-farming on the smallholding where she lives in West Wales.

This spring a lamb sips caesium on a Welsh hill.
A child, lifting her head to drink the rain,
takes into her blood the poisoned arrow.
Now we are all neighbourly, each little town
in Europe twinned to Chernobyl, each heart
with the burnt firemen, the child on the Moscow train.
In the democracy of the virus and the toxin
we wait. We watch for spring migrations,
one bird returning with green in its voice


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