Sheep in Wales still affected by Chernobyl

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The Independent Online


Hundreds of Welsh sheep are still failing radioactivity tests a decade after the Chernobyl disaster, it emerged yesterday, following claims that the nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union may also be responsible for a sharp rise in cancers on a Scottish island.

Ten years on from the Ukrainian nuclear power station disaster, sheep on more than 200 square miles of north Wales and 13 farms in Cumbria are still subject to controls and testing which were originally expected only to last a matter of months.

Around 400 farms with 220,000 sheep are subject to controls introduced in June 1986. Latest figures show that 672 sheep failed the monitoring test and that the highest radioactivity level is still over half the peak of 1987.

Monitoring is compulsory for all animals leaving the restricted areas and sheep which leave after failing a test are marked with apricot, green or blue paint. Radioactivity levels fall when the sheep leave the restricted area and buyers of marked sheep can have them re-monitored.

Huw Jones, of the Farmers' Union of Wales, said: "The controls were really not expected to last so long, just a very short time. But they have continued and farmers have got used to them. They get pounds 1.30 compensation for each scan carried out, and they have learned to live with it.

He added: There is no doubt that the controls helped to protect Welsh lamb against big losses in sales and people do have confidence in lamb. Some sheep are still failing the test, but it is a relatively small number."

At the peak in 1987, nearly 23,000 sheep in Wales failed the radioactivity test.

The news came as doctors on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides called for an urgent investigation into why the number of cancers there has tripled in the last 18 months. They believe the sharp increase may be the result of the island's population eating vegetables, seafood and meat contaminated by fallout.

The cancers being reported are largely of the digestive tract, with some lung tumours.

The Western Isles Health Board has said it will investigate the rise in cases, and the Government yesterday offered to support any inquiry. But Scotland's chief medical officer, Dr Robert Kendell, said it was "exceedingly unlikely" that Chernobyl was responsible, and he cited the following reasons:

t The radioactive plume from Chernobyl spread over millions of square miles, and regardless of local rainfall differences, it could never have "selectively contaminated" so small an area so far away.

tRadioactive fallout did not cause cancers of the digestive tract in isolation. It mainly caused thyroid cancers and leukaemias.

t As Chernobyl happened in 1986, cancers related to it would be spread over many years, as happened with thyroid cancers in the Ukraine.

The explosion at Chernobyl happened on 26 April 1986 and released 150 million curies of radioactivity. The radioactive cloud passed over parts of Britain just over a week later.