Living in the Shadow of Chornobyl

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Science  20 Apr 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5516, pp. 420-426
DOI: 10.1126/science.292.5516.420

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MINSK, BELARUS, AND KYIV, UKRAINE-- Fifteen years after the world's worst nuclear accident, the entire population of Ukraine and Belarus--human and animal (see p. 421)--is involuntarily taking part in a decades-long experiment on the effects of radiation. Whether people living in the shadow of Chornobyl remain at risk for health problems is a subject now under intense scrutiny. One scientist claims that the cesium-137 accumulating in the Belarus population poses a serious health threat (see p. 424); another scientist has spent the last 5 years proving that the explosion of cases of childhood thyroid cancer in Belarus is attributable to massive exposure to radioactive iodine (see p. 425). And at Chornobyl's epicenter, an international effort is about to embark on an unprecedented engineering project that aims to prevent further release of radionuclides from the sarcophagus that was built to contain the lethal remnants of the ruined reactor (see p. 422).