Most people understand that radiation from nuclear weapons production or civilian nuclear power plant accidents carry large potential health threats. Since the 1986 catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union, a conservatively estimated 9,000 people have contracted or died from radiation-caused cancers. And an area of the Earth that is home to three billion people was contaminated by Chernobyl fallout which is found in every country in the Northern Hemisphere. Twenty-five years after the accident, sheep from parts of Wales cannot be sold because their pastures are still contaminated with radioactive Cesium-137.
CCNS - In the five years following the accident a staggering 750,000 Soviet citizens worked at the impossible task of cleaning up Chernobyl. It is this nearly one million clean-up workers, plus several million more living near or downwind of the destroyed reactor, that have suffered the worst health effects, including more cancer, heart disease, cataract of the eye, birth and health damage in children, psychological problems and damaged immune systems. In the case of the latter, a damaged immune system can open the body to non-radiation related diseases, chronic infections, colds and flu.
Because of the health risks of nuclear technology, commercial and government interests as well as international agencies who set nuclear policy have tried to control the public's understanding of the health effects of radiation. The Department of Energy (DOE) conducts the US nuclear weapons program, but also funds research on radiation's health effects. Many non-government health scientists view DOE-funded radiation studies as skeptically as they view studies funded by tobacco companies on lung cancer and smoking. The world's nuclear powers have always given nuclear weapons and nuclear power priority over the public health impact of nuclear technology. For instance, is it good public health policy to legally allow nuclear power plants to routinely release radioactive gases even though we now have proof that no dose, however small, is free of added cancer risk?
The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), whose mission statement includes global promotion of nuclear power, also puts weapons and power generation before health concerns. In fact, the IAEA and the UN World Health Organization have a written agreement that keeps radiation-health studies by the health agency from public release until the atomic agency gives its permission.
The cover up of radiation's health effects started immediately after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In the following four years, while 100,000 weakened survivors died, the US authorities forbade all medical studies. The 1986 Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union is another example of the same cover up. Soviet doctors were forbidden to mention radiation in Chernobyl patient reports. Instead health problems were attributed to fatigue, smoking, diet, lifestyle, or irrational fear of radiation. Health data were kept secret, even from patients themselves, for three years after the accident.
Since Chernobyl, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian regional researchers have conducted thousands of health studies on the survivors. Western scientific committees have dismissed these studies because they are written mainly in Russian or fall short of the arguably arbitrary standard for statistical significance. In December 2009, however, leading Russian scientists published an English summary covering more than 5,000 studies of the health impacts of Chernobyl. These studies often showed worse health damage than did studies funded by Western governments or the UN. In 2009, summaries of 5,000 of these studies were first published in English by the New York Academy of Sciences.
Some of the findings include:
*1. Although half of Chernobyl's radioactivity fell outside of European Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, no health studies have included these areas. In other words, half of the total exposure to Chernobyl's radiation has been ignored.
*2. The list of health damages is longer than Western studies show. Examples include: radiation-accelerated aging; brain damage in exposed individuals and their children; fully developed eye cataracts in young people; tooth and mouth abnormalities; blood, heart, lung, stomach, intestine and urinary problems plus bone and skin diseases; glandular problems, especially thyroid cancer and thyroid dysfunction. Genetic damage and birth defects were also found, especially in the children of clean-up workers and newborns in areas with high radiation areas. Immune system damage also increased viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections. For over 20 years, overall illness continues high in exposed populations and these health problems affect millions.
*3. Of an estimated 750,000 Chernobyl clean-up workers, approximately 117,000 had died by 2005. Most of these were healthy young people in 1986.
*4. Official sources say that in the 70 years following Chernobyl, cancer will claim about 18,500 lives and twice that number will get cancer. The independent scientists say that 18,500 is low by a factor of 21; that cancer deaths will be around 230,000 in Europe plus 19,000 outside Europe; and that environmental contamination will generate new cancers for hundreds of years.
Chernobyl's core lesson is that a very serious nuclear accident can risk the health of millions of people. And we never can eliminate all possibility of a shattering nuclear accident from engineering failure, human error, or terrorist threat.
Now these studies are available online for the first time.
'Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment' was published December 2009 by the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). Its hardcopy sale price from the NYAS has been US$150 for Nonmembers; out of reach, of course, for most all-volunteer anti-nuclear groups. Besides that, NYAS only printed 700 hardcopies of the book to begin with. Now, no copies are left, and it is unknown if more will be printed. But now all 335 pages are viewable online at no charge in PDF format. Go to: http://www.nyas.org/Publications/Annals/Detail.aspx?cid=f3f3bd16-51ba-4d.... Click on 'Full Tex'. Then, under 'Annals Access', next to 'Nonmembers', click on 'View Annals TOC free'. This will allow you, chapter by chapter, to download and/or view the entire text of the book, for free.
Sources: Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) News Updates, 29 October & 5 November 2010 / Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear
Rehabilitation Chernobyl-area. If Ukrainian authorities have their way, the fields surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor could soon be growing fruit and vegetables. Ukrainian officials feel it is time to start a rehabilitation process for the land affected. A report will be published next March, before the disaster's 25th anniversary in April. One plan previously mooted involved growing rapeseed rather than edible crops in the areas. Rapeseed can be used to make biofuels and is relatively resistant to radiation. Scientists were split over the plan. Some said that in areas where intensive rehabilitation programs had been done, soil-radiation levels could be reduced to near-normal levels, but others said disturbing the land would risk catastrophe.
New Zealand Herald, 20 November 2010