(January 27, 2006) The Chernobyl reactor exploded April 26, 1986, and burned uncontrolled for two weeks spreading deadly, long-lived radioactive isotopes around the northern hemisphere. Piecing together the truth about how much radioactivity was spewed into the environment is a difficult job of ferreting out bias and vested interest.
As the 20th anniversary of the disaster approaches, the nuclear industry and its proponents in government have been trying to minimize and trivialize the pollution and its consequences. Do not be fooled.
- The pro-nuclear Time magazine reported in 1989 that perhaps “one billion or more” curies were released, rather than the 50 to 80 million estimated by Russian authorities. (1) One curie is the amount of radiation equal to the disintegration of 37 billion atoms -- 37 billion becquerels -- per second. A single curie is a huge amount of radiation.
- The U.S. government's Argonne National Laboratory has said that 30 percent of Chernobyl's total radioactivity -- 3 billion of an estimated 9 billion curies - was released. (2)
- Scientists at the U.S. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggested that one-half of the core's radioactivity was spewed -- 4.5 billion curies, according the World Information Service on Energy, quoting Science magazine, June13, 1986.
- Vladimir Chernousenko, the chief scientific supervisor of the “clean up” team responsible for a 10-kilometer zone around the exploded reactor, says that 80 percent of the reactor's radioactivity escaped -- something like 7 billion curies. (3)
- At the Union of Concerned Scientists, senior energy analyst Kennedy Maize, concluded that "the core vaporized" -- all 190 tons of fuel, and all 9 billion curies. (4)
- Former Chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Joseph Hendrie, concluded likewise, saying, “They have dumped the full inventory of volatile fission products from a large power reactor into the environment. You can't do any worse than that.” (5)
- The Russians and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) claimed in a 1986 report, that 50 million curies of radioactive debris, plus another 50 million curies of rare and inert gasses were discharged. However, the skyrocketing incidence of cancers, leukaemia and other radiation-induced illnesses leads scientists to suspect that the higher radioactive fallout estimates are likely. Pandemic numbers of thyroid cancers led even the cautious Dr. Alexander Sich, in his Chernobyl cover story for the May 1996 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to conclude that “higher [radiation] release estimates support the conclusions drawn by medical experts.”
- Geneticist Valery N. Soyfer, founder of the former Soviet Union's first molecular biology laboratory, analysed the 1986 report to the IAEA, which has since been condemned as a cover-up. Dr. Soyfer says that if only 100 million curies were vented, then world “background radiation doubled at once”. (6) This claim was unsupported by accompanying evidence, but if “background” was doubled by 100 million curies, then it was multiplied 180 times by the release of Chernobyl's “full inventory”. (Nineteen months after the Chernobyl disaster, in November 1987, the U.S. government officially doubled its estimate of the average “background” radiation to which we are exposed, from 170 millirem to 360 mR per year. (7)
- Richard Mould, in his book “Chernobyl: The Real Story”, also estimates that some 50 million curies of different radioactive isotopes were discharged from the reactor (8) while others suggest 80 million curies. (9)
1. Time, November 13, 1989
2. The Chicago Tribune, June 22, 1986
3. “The Truth About Chernobyl”, Critical Mass: Voices for a Nuclear-Free Future, Ruggiero and Sahulka, Eds., 1996, by Open Media, p. 127
4. Not Man Apart, the journal of Friends of the Earth, March 1987
5. The Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 19, 1986
6. St. Louis Post Dispatch, April 24, 1987
7. The New York Times, November 20, 1987
8. Richard Mould, “Chernobyl: The Real Story” (1988), p. 77
9. Alina Tugend, "Victims of Silence," Portland Oregonian, June 21, 1993, p. A3; Murray Feshbach, "A Nuclear Eco-Crisis," Sacramento Bee, July 18, 1993, p. F1