NMBU’s Professor emerita Brit Salbu knighted

Photo: Håkon Sparre, NMBU

“The knighthood is a major recognition of Salbu’s fantastic effort in the service of science over several decades. Salbu’s research has been decisive in shaping better risk assessments tied to radioactive radiation and environmental toxins,” says NMBU Rector Sjur Baardsen.

His Majesty The King has awarded Professor emerita Brit Salbu the title Knight 1st Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Saint Olav for her work benefitting society.  

“She has been a pioneer, both nationally and internationally, within the field of radiochemistry. We are very proud that one of our researchers has received such a distinction, and we can only congratulate Salbu on yet another well-deserved acknowledgement of outstanding research,” says Baardsen.

The decoration was bestowed at an event in the Clock Building, at NMBU Campus Ås, Monday 5 October.

“I am rather overwhelmed by the honor I have received, and I am also rather humble as I have several people to thank for a rewarding professional life,” says Salbu.

Until recently Salbu led NMBU’s Centre for Environmental Radioactivity (CERAD) – a Centre of Excellence (COE).

She has also led NATO’s Environmental Security Panel (ESP), has led research programs under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and has held many important volunteer and leadership roles tied to her research, both nationally and internationally.

Salbu belongs to the 4th generation of researchers after Madame Curie. There are two generations of researchers in between Marie Curie and Brit Salbu (in Norwegian).

Ellen Gleditsch was a pharmacist and worked with Curie (1907-1911) and Alexei Pappas was a doctoral student under Gleditsch and later Brit Salbu’s PhD supervisor. Several gifts from Marie Curie, including her doctoral thesis and pictures, were passed down between these generations of researchers and are today preserved by Salbu at NMBU.

After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, an accident which still is counted as the world’s worst nuclear power accident, Brit Salbu was one of the first foreign researchers to arrive on the scene of the catastrophe.

At the time of the Chernobyl disaster the area was part of the Soviet Union, and access to the area was very restricted, to put it mildly. But thanks to researchers from Gomel and Kiev, Salbu was given early access to the so-called exclusion zone, a zone of 30 kilometers in radius around Chernobyl, and actively participated in the debate about the consequences of the accident.

She has therefore been honored by Ukraine’s organization for survivors of the Chernobyl accident.

She found radioactive particles in mountain regions in Norway and claimed that they came from the Chernobyl accident. Several forces worked against her at that time. Many people said that it was impossible for radioactive particles to travel that far.

But Salbu stuck to her guns, and she would later be vindicated. On this basis she led two large internationally coordinated research programs under IAEA regarding radioactive particles – tied to sources, properties and biological effects.

“In the course of my research career I have participated in over 50 expeditions: in Norway and in many other countries, from the Chernobyl areas in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, and further north, to Kola and Ural, to nuclear test explosion and uranium mining sites in most countries of Central Asia, via the atomic bomb accident in Spain and depleted uranium munitions used in the wars in Kosovo and Kuwait, and to the accident in Fukushima,” Salbu explains, and concludes:

“The most important thing we have learned from the large atomic accidents is that competency must be ready for when we need it. So further research is important both nationally and internationally to reduce the uncertainty in impact assessments. For the same reason the education and recruitment of competent young researchers is important, both in Norway, Europe, and internationally.”

Salbu has previously received several high distinctions for her research.

She has, e.g., been awarded an honorary professorship at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences Ukraine (NUBIP) for her pioneer role and large effort within research on radioactive contamination, and has received the V.I. Vernadsky Medal for her outstanding contribution towards the development and dissemination of Radioecology.  

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