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Swedish Study: Nuclear Fallout From Chernobyl Resulted in 800 Cases of Cancer

November 22, 2004

More the 800 people in northern Sweden may have cancer as a result of the radiation that fell from the skies over the region after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, according to a new study by Swedish scientists.

The figure is significantly higher than any previous estimate, and the study drew immediate fire from critics who said they doubted the accuracy of the results.

The radiation was released on April 26, 1986. When reactor No. 4 at Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded and caught fire, contaminating an area roughly half the size of Colorado, forcing the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people and ruining some of Europe's most fertile farmland.

The study monitored concer cases among the more than 1.1 million people in the northern parts of Sweden who were exposed to the radioactive fallout between 1988-1996, and found that the cancer risk increased in areas with higher levels of fallout, which was spread by winds.

Of the 22,400 cancer cases among the group, 849 can be statistically attributed to Chernobyl, said Martin Tondel, a researcher at Linkoeping University who headed the study. The findings were first published in this month's issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a science magazine.

But Leif Moberg, a radiation expert with the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority, questioned the findings.

"The radiation dosage that we in Sweden got after the accident was too low to produce this many cancer cases," Moberg said, adding it was probably too early to see any definite results of Chernobyl.

Tondel, however, said that although the increases of cases can't directly be attributed to Chernobyl, he could not see any other explanation.

"We've tried our best to explain it in other ways, but we can't, Tondel said. "So then you have to believe your data."

Tondel said factors like increased smoking, population density and age had all been taken into account in the study.

"With every statistical method we used to look at it, we see an increase (in cases) across the board," he said. "That indicates that it's a Chernobyl effect."

The Swedish Radiation Protection Authority has previously estimated that the fallout will produce about 300 cancer deaths in 50 years.