Monday, September 05, 2005

A review of Chernobil report

At a press conference today, the IAEA presented its conclusions of a set
of scientific reports on the impacts of Chernobyl by several UN bodies.
The report: "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and
Socio-Economic Impacts" examines the effects of the disaster as its 20th
anniversary approaches. The report is itself a digest of another,
3-volume, 600-page report by hundreds of scientists, economists and
health experts.

The report highlights that the casualties' toll was limited to 50
workers and the eventual number can be expected to reach about 4,000.

Remarkably, these conclusions are not substantiated by these reports, or
even contradicted by them. Often, research has been omitted and where
scientific uncertainty exists, the conclusion is simply that there is no
impact. A more careful reading of the 600-page report, as well as
previous published research by UN-bodies leads to very different
conclusions. A few examples:

* WHO refers to a study on 72,000 Russian workers of which 212 died as
the result of radiation. The total number of 'liquidators' (in Belarus,
Russia and Ukraine) is estimated at some 600,000;
* The number of 4,000 deaths of the IAEA only relates to a studied
population of 600,000, whereas radiation was spread over most of Europe.
The IAEA is omitting the impacts of Chernobyl on millions of Europeans;
* The IAEA tries to make strict distinction between health impacts
attributable to radiation and other health impacts attributable to
stress, social situation etc. However, the WHO is referring to numerous
reports which indicate an impact of radiation on the immune system,
causing a wide range of health effects;

The IAEA states today that previous researchers who have estimated the
number of deaths in the range of 10 to hundreds of thousands have
exaggerated the impacts. This is not correct.

The WHO rightly refers to 2 different methodological approaches to
assess the health impacts of radiation.
* The first one - and scientifically the most accepted approach - is
based on the standards set by the International Commission on Radiation
Protection (ICRP) and which assumes that there is a lineal relationship
between radiation dose and effect, without a threshold. This means that
if a very large population is subjected to a very low dose, the
collective impact can still be very serious. In the case of the
Chernobyl accident, this leads to estimates in the range of 10 to
hundreds of thousands of casualties.
* The other approach is based on epidemiology and tries to report the
actual number of casualties and use statistical methods to estimate the
total number of casualties for a population. This approach is valuable
in well controlled situations, but can become very problematic in
complex situations such as in Europe, where were it will be absolutely
impossible to relate individual cases cancer e.g. in Belgium or France
to the Chernobyl fallout.

The Chernobyl explosion occurred April 26, 1986, when an out-of-control
nuclear reaction blew off the roof of the steel building and spewed tons
of radioactive material into the air. It was the worst nuclear accident
in history.

"It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of the most
serious industrial accident in human history," said Jan Vande Putte,
Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. "Denying the real
implications is not only insulting the thousands of victims - who are
told to be sick because of stress and irrational fear - but is also
leads to dangerous recommendations, to relocated people in contaminated

For more information:
Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International


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