World briefs: Chernobyl's radiation toll

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NOVOSHEPELYCHI, Ukraine -- The clicking sound from Timothy Mousseau's radiation detector slowly increased as he walked through the forest a few miles west of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The display showed 25 microsieverts an hour. Mr. Mousseau, a biologist at the University of South Carolina, said that is typical for this area, near one of hundreds of villages abandoned after radioactive fallout from the 1986 reactor explosion rendered a large part of this region uninhabitable.

Radioactivity at this site is far below that found in parts of the deteriorating shelter that covers the destroyed reactor, a shelter that by 2017 will itself be covered by a huge arch that is intended to eliminate the threat of further contamination.

But the levels in this lowland glade are higher than normal. In 10 days, a person would be exposed to as much background radiation as a typical resident of the U.S. receives from all sources in a year. That makes it off-limits except for short forays, but a good place to study the long-term effects of radiation on organisms.

In dozens of papers over the years Mr. Mousseau -- who has been coming to the area around Chernobyl known as the exclusion zone since 1999 -- and his collaborator, Anders Pape Moller of the National Center for Scientific Research in France, and colleagues have reported evidence of radiation's toll: higher frequencies of tumors and physical abnormalities like deformed beaks among birds, for example, and a decline in the populations of insects and spiders.

Vatican queried on abuse

GENEVA -- The Vatican faced sharp questioning by a United Nations panel Monday about whether it had failed to abide by an international treaty against torture in its response to the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's representative in Geneva, found himself at odds with members of the panel, the Committee Against Torture, over the Holy See's view that it is responsible for applying the treaty only to the few hundred inhabitants of the Vatican City state.

Felice D. Gaer, vice chairwoman of the panel, said the convention against torture was signed by the Holy See, which represents more than just the Vatican City state. Never before, she said, had a party to the convention tried to limit its application to just one part of itself.

Pistorius looked 'broken'

JOHANNESBURG -- A friend of Oscar Pistorius testified Monday that the South African Olympian appeared "broken" as he wept, prayed and begged his girlfriend not to die in the minutes after he fatally shot her on Valentine's Day last year.

Johan Stander, former manager at the secure estate where Mr. Pistorius lived, and his daughter Carice Viljoen were among the first to arrive there after the shooting. Both testified Monday.

Mr. Pistorius' murder trial resumed after a two-week break, with the defense calling more witnesses. The prosecution accuses Mr. Pistorius of killing Reeva Steenkamp in a rage after an argument. He says he mistook her for one or more intruders but was not conscious of pulling the trigger when he opened fire through a door.

Also in the world ...

Investigators hunting for Flight 370 are seeking more sophisticated submarines to dive deeper into the Indian Ocean as private companies take a greater role in the search for the missing Malaysian plane, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said Monday. ... Slovenian Premier Alenka Bratusek, 44, the first female leader of the republic that broke from Yugoslavia in 1991, resigned after 15 months in power Monday.


-- Compiled from news services


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