Congenital deformities in children in Belarus have risen by 83 percent since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a weekly science magazine said on Wednesday.
The increase in cases of cleft palate, Down's syndrome and deformed limbs and organs is highest in areas hardest hit by the fallout from the world's worst nuclear disaster 12 years ago.But even in lightly contaminated regions of the former Soviet republic doctors have reported a 24 percent rise in deformities, which earlier scientific studies have linked to radiation damage.
"The Chernobyl accident continues to reap a grim harvest," New Scientist said.
The latest statistics resulted from a re-analysis of data collected in 1996 for a national genetic monitoring programme. Rose Goncharova, of the Institute of Genetics and Cytology at the Academy of Science in Minsk, re-examined the data.
"Goncharova's study is the first to quantify what local researchers have believed for years," the magazine said.
Her results contradict the findings of a 1996 World Health Organization meeting in Vienna that concluded there had been no increases in diseases in Belarus, apart from thyroid cancer, because of the the nuclear pollution.
Belarus, now an independent state, bore the brunt of the nuclear fallout when the Soviet reactor in neighboring Ukraine blew up in 1986.