One of the most disturbing predictions following the near meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, was that cancer cases would eventually begin to rise in areas where fallout from the accident landed.

What no one suspected was that it would happen so soon, or that many of the first victims would be children. Two reports in Nature, one by the World Health Organisation and one by health officials in Belarus, the ex-Soviet Republic immediately downwind from Chernobyl, indicate that childhood thyroid cancer has jumped from an average of four cases a year to about 50.

In the Gomel region, hit first by the radiation, the thyroid cancer rate is now about 80 times the world average. “The only reasonable explanation,” write the Belarus officials, “is that it is a direct consequence of the accident at Chernobyl.”

In retrospect, the phenomenon makes sense: the thyroid gland tends to concentrate iodine ingested by the body, and radioactive iodine was released in bulk during the accident. Moreover, radiation is known to cause thyroid cancer, and children are especially susceptible. But previous studies of nuclear accidents in Britain and the U.S. and studies of nuclear-weapons testing in Japan and the South Pacific failed to prove a conclusive fallout-cancer correlation. The probable difference this time: the radiation was more highly concentrated and hit a heavily populated area.



Mark the best choice.
1. Which of the following statements is true?
a) In Belarus, childhood thyroid cancer cases increased ten times after the
Chernobyl accident.
b) In Gomel, the thyroid cancer rate now is 80 times higher than it used to be.
c) It was known that the first cancer cases would appear in about six years.
d) Nobody could predict that the first cancer cases would be children.
2. Which of the following statements is not true?
a) The radioactive fallout from Chernobyl contained iodine.
b) Previous nuclear studies by the British and the Americans proved that
nuclear fallout caused cancer.
c) Thyroid glands are responsible for absorbing the iodine in the body.
d) The present high rate of cancer is due to the highly crowded areas being
exposed to intense radiation.


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