Chernobyl effects still showing up

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A new study suggests that babies exposed to radioactive fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster when they were still in the womb have subsequently scored lower than other youth on IQ tests. The findings of the study, though, are controversial.

The Chernobyl accident sent clouds of radioactive fallout via the winds northwest to Norway. The country, especially its mountainous areas in the central part of Norway, became the hardest-hit outside the former Soviet Union.

Reindeer herds were contaminated, for example, along with agriculture. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Wednesday that a new study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology suggests the radiation also may have affected unborn children.

“Our research indicates that even low doses of radiation can have consequences on the development of the brain during the most sensitive portions of a pregnancy,” Bjørn Rishovd Rund, a professor at the University of Oslo, told Aftenposten

He and associate Kristin Sverdvik Heiervang tested 84 18-year-olds in Oppland and Nord-Trøndelag counties who were still in the womb when the radiation hit hardest. Another group of 18-year-olds from another part of Norway were tested separately, as a control group.

Those exposed to the radiation scored lower in intelligence, memory, attention spans, ability to solve problems and abstract thought, concluded the researchers.

The study didn’t measure how much radiation to which the teenagers may have been exposed. Its results have surprised officials charged with nuclear safety in Norway.

“There has been some research that indicates radiation can result in lower IQs, but only at doses a hundred times greater than what occurred in Norway,” said Astrid Liland of the state nuclear safety agency Statens strålevern. She’s skeptical, as are health officials.

“This is just one study involving a limited number of people,” she said. “You can’t be sure based on that.” Others worried that youth born in 1986 may be stigmatized.

Roger Ingebrigtsen, state secretary in the health ministry, told Aftenposten that he expects the study’s findings to be “thoroughly evaluated.” He cautioned against “being critical as soon as researchers come with conclusions you don’t like.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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