Feeds

Is Chernobyl behind academic slump in Sweden?

Boffins demonstrate statistical link

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

It is 21 years since the nuclear plant at Chernobyl went bang, and the extent of the damage wrought by the radioactive fallout is still becoming clear.

According to a report in Chemistry World, US researchers have discovered that Swedish children who were in the womb at the time of the accident might have been mentally damaged by their exposure.

The findings, which suggest the developing foetus may be more sensitive to radioactivity than previously thought, are based on a survey of the academic achievements of more than 560,000 Swedish children born between 1983 and 1988. 

The researchers, economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund from Columbia University, New York, US, and their Stockholm University colleague Mårten Palme, found that foetuses of between eight and 25 weeks post-conception at the time of the accident were most affected, academically.

Locations counts too, with children born in the regions worst affected by the radioactive fallout faring worst of all.

Interesting as the data are, there are plenty of questions still to be answered. The levels of exposure were lower than those thought to be "safe", based on studies of Japanese children affected by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs in 1945. So how such a relatively low dose could cause significant impairment remains to be explained.

However, the researchers are clear that they have done no more than demonstrated a statistical link: they have not proven that the fallout from the explosion has directly caused mental impairment.

David Brenner, professor of radiation oncology at Columbia University described the work as "suggestive", while Jim Smith, an environmental scientist specialising in the effects of the Chernobyl disaster at the University of Portsmouth, told Chemistry World that the study seemed to have done a good job at controlling "unknown factors" that often confound such research.

The nuclear power plant at Chernobyl exploded on 26th April 1986. Safety systems were switched off to allow the crew to run a series of tests, but things didn't go quite according to plan.

The reactor's power was supposed to be switched to a quarter of its normal output for the test but instead fell to just one percent. When the engineers tried to ramp up the power, there was an unexpected surge. Then the emergency shutdown failed, and the reactor was out of control.

Most of the radiation from the explosion was released in the first ten days, when the prevailing winds were northerly and north-westerly. By the end of April, the winds had shifted to the south, meaning the fallout was spread far and wide. The reactor was finally capped with a concrete "sarcophagus" in November 1986. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Ex-Soviet engines fingered after Antares ROCKET launch BLAST
Speculation rife, but Orbital claims it's too early to tell
Voyager 1 now EIGHTEEN LIGHT HOURS from home
Almost 20 BEEELION kilometres from Sol
MEN: For pity's sake SLEEP with LOTS of WOMEN - and avoid Prostate Cancer
And, um, don't sleep with other men. If that's what worries you
Jim Beam me up, Scotty! WHISKY from SPAAACE returns to Earth
They're insured for $1m, before you thirsty folks make plans
ROGUE SAIL BOAT blocks SPACE STATION PODULE blastoff
Er, we think our ISS launch beats your fishing expedition
NASA: Spacecraft crash site FOUND ON MOON RIM
'What fun!' exlaims NASA boffin who found the LADEE
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
BAE points electromagnetic projectile at US Army
Railguns for 'Future fighting vehicle'
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile
Data demand and the rise of virtualization is challenging IT teams to deliver storage performance, scalability and capacity that can keep up, while maximizing efficiency.
How to simplify SSL certificate management
Simple steps to take control of SSL certificates across the enterprise, and recommendations centralizing certificate management throughout their lifecycle.