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of the IPPNW-lecture „Time Bomb
Nuclear Energy – 20 Years after Chernobyl“
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW),
On the 26th
of April 2006, the reactor catastrophe of Chernobyl
will see its twentieth anniversary. The International Atomic Energy
(IAEA) is well prepared for the event. Together with the WHO and other
Agencies, they will be presenting the “official study” on the
consequences of Chernobyl.
preliminary results are already known: just under 50 dead, 4,000
of thyroid cancer, and prognostically shorter life spans for only 4,000
because of the incident. Further consequences: none. For the IAEA the Chernobyl case
the physicians and the scientist from the region speak of a different
but nobody listens. For: 20 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe, nuclear energy
experiencing a second coming. In Germany, the prolonging of
power plant runtime is discussed anew. The decision to phase out of
energy is thus called into question. New nuclear facilities are being
in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
Although there are currently only 22 facilities under construction, the
of the advocates of nuclear energy and the nuclear industry are
immense. In the
next years, China
alone will probably invest in 30 new nuclear power plants.
use of nuclear technology also leads to an increase of the nuclear
crisis around Iran
shows, just how closely civil and military options are intertwined:
the technology for peaceful use means that one also has the necessary
ability to build a nuclear bomb.
the question about the consequences of Chernobyl
is a decisive one. 20 years after the catastrophe, we will try to
careful analyses of the situation.
information: The lecture is divided into three parts. Part one deals
power plant catastrophe in 1986, part two deals with the repercussions
radioactive radiation and the third part describes the health effects
radiation. The lecture will last for about one hour. Following that
room for discussion.
that was the greatest industrial catastrophe in the
history of mankind.
you can see the still smoking reactor and on the right the exploded
twelve, hours after the catastrophe.
the catastrophe on the 26th of April 1986? In Chernobyl,
this small place in northeastern Ukraine,
near the border to Belarus
can’t really agree. What is certain is that on the 26th of
1:23 am, a test of the cooling water system was started in block IV of
plant. As a result of different human failures, it came to an unplanned
in the reactor output. The operator noticed the increase and ordered an
emergency shut down 40 seconds later. The shut down failed, the reactor
of control and exploded eight seconds later. The 1,000 metric ton heavy
vessel lid was lifted up and the tubing ruptured. Air got in and caused
gases to ignite. The reactor began to burn and of the approximately 140
core fuel, it is estimated that 8 tons escaped.
of April at 9:00 pm, two days after the catastrophe, the Soviet news
TASS reported about an accident in the Chernobyl
nuclear power plant and that humans were harmed. One day later, on the
of April, the news about this MCA (maximum credible accident) in Chernobyl is
German news broadcasts for the first time.
kilometers away lay the town of Pripjat.
At the time of the meltdown, 45,000 people, among them 16,000 children,
the town. They enjoyed the 26th of April as the first warm
spring – and were not warned.
one day later, 36 hours later to be exact, the residents of the power
residential estate of Pripjat were evacuated. Further safety measures,
intake of iodine tablets or the relocation to safe rooms were not taken.
ten days, 76 villages were evacuated. The evacuation of the total
a perimeter of 30 kilometers around the reactor lasted until the 5th
of May. Altogether 130,000 people are evacuated. The area was declared
restricted zone. Until today, access is only possible with a permit.
governmental control of milk and drinking water began on the 1st
May. On the 23rd, iodine preparations, which prevent the
from absorbing radioactive iodine, were dispensed. Much too late. In
the iodine prophylaxis to take effect, it would have to be taken before
radioactive cloud reached the people.
see the picture of an abandoned Kindergarten in Pripjat. The residents,
were evacuated on the 27th of April 1986, never saw their
informing and evacuating the people proceeded slowly, the efforts to
the fire proceeded under high pressure. At first, 600 men of the
brigade tried to stop the fire. In the following month, they were
up to 860,000 young men from the former Soviet
the so called “Liquidators”, who were conscripted for the cleanup
men were sent onto the roof of the burning reactor, without appropriate
clothing, to extinguish the fire with bare hands and clear up the
the 5th of May, more than 30 military helicopters threw
of lead and sand over the reactor in order to extinguish the inferno.
and radioactive emissions weren’t under control until the 6th
the construction of the so called sarcophagus of concrete, which
destroyed reactor today. The sarcophagus was completed on the 15th
of November, 1986. Parallel to that, the Liquidators tried to clean up
surrounding area from radioactive particles.
see a soldiers standing at an entrance to the restricted zone.
another picture inside the restricted zone.
picture inside the restricted zone with an abandoned house.
after the explosion in the Chernobyl
nuclear power plant, the radioactive equivalent of 100 nuclear bombs
released. What does that mean for human beings and the environment?
look, where Chernobyl
The Chernobyl nuclear
power plant lies in northern Ukraine
in the border region with Belarus
Through the fire in the
reactor, the radioactive contents were blown into the air and created a
radioactive cloud that crept over a wide area.
of 30 kilometers around the reactor was declared a restricted zone.
further parts of the three affected countries were radioactively
30 percent of the territory of Belarus, 7 percent of Ukraine and 1.6
European Russia. In total, 162,000 square kilometers were contaminated.
the alternating wind and rain patterns it could occur that one village
highly contaminated while an adjacent village in the same region was
wind patterns dispersed the radioactive cloud over Europe. On the 26th
of April the wind was blowing towards the northwest, on the 27th
towards the west, later towards the northeast and on the 28th
April towards the south. Thus many European countries were affected by
radioactive cloud: among others the Baltic states, Scandinavia, Poland,
Germany, Switzerland, France and England, but also Italy, Rumania and
following regions were mainly contaminated: southeastern Bavaria,
Baden-Württemberg, Hamburg and Berlin.
the area around Chernobyl was sparsely populated. In Germany, or other
European countries with high population densities, a similar nuclear
would have had even more devastating consequences. If for example, a
would occur in the Biblis-B reactor in the Rhein-Main region, leading,
Chernobyl, to an area of 10,000 square kilometers being declared
several million people in Germany would have to leave their homes
Under such conditions, an orderly evacuation would be impossible. Whole
and factories would have to be abandoned, causing people to loose the
basis of their
area of Chernobyl was not completely uninhabited. Nine million people
the radioactively affected area at the time of the accident. 400.000
to be resettled, 451 villages evacuated and buried with soil.
people, this represented a downright break with their life up to that
Here you can see an elderly couple which was resettled from their
village to an
apartment block in Minsk.
explosion of Chernobyl, more than 40 different fission products were
For an appraisal of the consequences, the following four elements are
interest: iodine 131, cesium 137, strontium 90 and plutonium 239.
has a half-life of only eight days. (Half-life: the time it takes
number of atoms in a nuclide to be reduced by half through radioactive
iodine is most hazardous to health during the first weeks after the
Iodine 131 is stored in the thyroid gland where it can lead to thyroid
in a few years and can cause other dysfunctions of the thyroid gland.
case of inquiry: Iodine 131 is an artificial isotope of iodine. It’s a
gamma emitter with 0.2-0.36 and 0.6-0.72 MeV respectively.)
on the other hand has a half-life of 30 years. It was dispersed in
quantities. Cesium is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and is
in muscles, testicles, kidneys, liver, bones and blood. Cesium 137 is
considered a catalyst for cancer, but can also be the cause of a lot of
diseases. The radiologist Juri Bandascheswki of Belarus, for example,
high concentrations of Cesium 137 in the myocardial muscle of children
suffered a heart attack.
case of inquiry: Cesium 137 is a beta and gamma emitter with 0.66 MeV.)
is absorbed by the human body through the food chain. Cesium stays for
in the upper levels of the soil, where plants have their roots. Through
plants, the nuclides enter animals which are then consumed by humans.
is especially contaminated because radioactive particles adhere easily
needles, foliage, and roots. That’s why until today, it is recommended
abstain from consuming wild animals, mushrooms and berries from the
regions – which also include the parts of Bavaria which were reached by
just the soil which is affected. Many nuclides were washed out of the
rain and entered the subterranean aquifers and rivers. Exceedingly high
is the contamination
of ground silt in stagnant water bodies, which in turn are frequented
populace for private fishing.
has a half-life of 28 years. Strontium, like Calcium, enters the human
plant and animal products and is mainly deposited in teeth and bones.
is formed in the bone marrow. Strontium is considered a catalyst of
much more mobile and soluble in water than Cesium. Directly after the
Strontium was found in the ground around Chernobyl. Today, experts
80 percent of the Strontium has already entered the food cycle.
case of inquiry. Strontium is a beta emitter.)
accident, Plutonium 239 was also released. Plutonium 239 has an
half-life of up to 24,000 years.
are especially concerned about Plutonium transforming to Americium.
can reach the deeper soil layers in a very short time. Once there, it
represents a hazard for subterranean
water reservoirs for centuries. (half-life of Americium: 433 years)
case of inquiry. Plutonium is an alpha emitter.)
all other above mentioned radioactive elements enter the human body
food chain. The exposure of the people around Chernobyl is therefore
from that of the victims of the atomic bombs attack on Hiroshima and
and Nagasaki, people were exposed to high doses within a very short
Chernobyl on the other hand, the bulk of people involved have been
low doses of radioactive radiation over a long period of time.
see a picture of a peasant woman selling contaminated berries. For many
in the region, such free provisions are a traditional and essential
their diet. Although there are places to measure the degree of
they aren’t used much because people cannot afford other food anyway.
more than half of the food in the region is produced locally by people
their own vegetables and offer it at the local markets. The radioactive
contamination of these privately grown crops is ten times higher than
is that kolkhozes apply Potassium and Calcium fertilizer which saturate
mineral needs of the plants and in turn cause them to absorb less
substances. However, several kolkhozes lie directly near the Death
region used to be the most fertile area of Belarus, described as a
which, until today, crops are exported into the whole country.
radioactivity affect the body?
of high doses of radiation, meaning upwards of 0.5 sievert, is pretty
known from the experiences with the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
the outbreak of the so called radiation disease with following symptoms:
days, the immune system is shut down and infections start to show,
changes, and uncontrollable bleedings occurs,
tract is affected and the person has to vomit,
organs, such as the central nervous system, are also harmed.
of 1 to 2 Sv, a fifth of the affected die, at 7 Sv the rate of survival
acute effects due to high doses of radiation, long-term damage such as
only appear after decades.
official, non revisable information, 134 power plant employees and
of Chernobyl were exposed to high doses in the range of 0.7 to 13
died from acute radiation disease. At least 30.000 people absorbed a
more than 0.5 sievert. Today, many of them are sick or already dead.
bulk of the population was and still is affected by low dose radiation
means, as shown above, by low dose radioactive nuclides which they take
dispute that even a small dose of radiation can cause cancer. This
the following way: radionuclides like Cesium 137 are unstable
disintegrate inside the body, releasing energy. If this energy or
hits a cell, it causes the creation of other unstable particles – so
free radicals. These free radicals can cause damage to the DNA, meaning
genetic makeup, and thus lead to the outbreak of cancer.
disputable on the other hand is how often this occurs and if there are
diseases caused by low chronic doses of radiation. The scientists of
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and many radiologists who
with the agency claim that the consequences of low dosie radiation are
then end of the 1990s we can see a paradigm shift in the scientific
There is an increase in scientific studies which allude to the alarming
consequences of low radiation exposure. Molecular biologists report
effects of low radiation on the genetic makeup are not apparent at
manifest themselves after multiple cell divisions and are thus
the following generations. This is what they call “genomic instability”.
reported in the journal “Nature” that children of parents who live on
contaminated ground exhibit mutations in their genetic makeup, namely
micro-satellite genome. The rate of increase of the mutation is
related to the dose of radiation.
geneticist Lazjuk discovered an increase in the rate of malformations,
proportional to the radioactive contamination of the soil in Belarus.
Russian biochemist Burlakova asserted that the antioxidant system of
the cell –
which protects it from aging – is susceptible to damage by low dose
because of the long latency period until the outbreak of a cancer,
postulate that the consequences of Chernobyl are not yet foreseeable at
of these studies, a year-long dispute about the consequences of
been raging between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and
Health Organization (WHO) on the one side and the physicians,
people and government authorities of the region on the other.
with: Let’s compare the figures.
of 2005, the IAEA and the WHO released the draft of a study by the UN
Forum. The figures of this study are to be announced officially on the
of these figures include:
than 50 deaths
cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adolescents; thereof 9
The rate of survival lies at 99 percent if western therapy norms were
proof for an
increase in miscarriages and sterility or leukemia and other forms of
relation to the reactor accident
number of future fatalities as a consequence of the accident could
reach a maximum of 4,000 people.
is closed: poverty, unhealthy living conditions and mental diseases
pose a much
greater problem than the radioactive contamination.
statistics also exist:
government authorities of the three affected states present the number
deaths in the group of young Liquidators. Other authorities even
Ukrainian Embassy announced in Spring of 2005 that today, 94 percent of
the Ukrainian agency “Tschernobyl Interinforum”, 84 percent of the 3
people who were exposed to radioactivity in the Ukraine are sick (weak
cardiovascular system, diseases of the respiratory tract, adenoids, and
30 to 50 years, the WHO calculates with 50,000 cases of thyroid cancer
who, at the time of the disaster, were between 0 and 4 years old. The
Radiation Institute in Munich forecasts 100.000 cases in all age groups.
right? Let’s take a look at the separate disease groups.
affection of the thyroid gland:
after the accident, senior Russian and also German scientists declared
iodine does not lead to thyroid gland affections. In 1991, the same
together with the IAEA, claimed that “the data does not point to a
in the cases of thyroid cancer since the accident”.
physicians reported in 1990 a large number of thyroid alterations in
Edmund Lengfelder from the Otto-Hug Radiation Institute, who operates a
clinic in Gomel, Belarus, also reported in 1990 of a thirty-fold
cases of thyroid cancer in children. These figures have also been
a chart of the newly occurred cases of thyroid cancer in children,
and adults in Belarus. You can observe that children were affected
first – and
very shortly after the reactor disaster (light purple bars). This shows
particular sensitivity of the children’s thyroid glands to radiation.
became adolescents. Here you can see the increase in thyroid cancer
persons (dark purple bars).
a prognosis for the strongly radiated region around Gomel, stating that
persons who were children at the time of the reactor disaster would
thyroid cancer in the future.
adults would also increasingly be affected. You can see the increase on
yellow bars. Overall, the sum of additional cases of thyroid cancer in
alone adds up to 10.000 cases.
see a picture from the Otto-Hug thyroid clinic in Gomel. Until 2002,
patients received extensive thyroid treatment at this clinic alone. For
children and adolescents, this means the removal of their thyroid
the lifelong dependence on medication and medical supervision.
cancer can in fact be treated in most cases, but only under Western
standards, which cannot be taken for granted in the region. In many
only hope lies with private donations from the West. Nobody cares for
mental effects of cancer on the affected children.
cancer is a very rare form of cancer – under normal circumstances it
constitutes less than one percent of all cancer forms. That’s also why
increase is so remarkable.
whole population as for risk groups – for example the Liquidators – it
important to note the increase of inherent tumors such as breast
cancer, cancer of the bladder, lung cancer and gastric cancer.
Okeanov from Minsk analyzed the data of 95.000 clean-up workers: the
rate was 20 percent higher compared to a control group that was only
rates increase with the rate of contamination in the soil: In the most
affected region of Belarus, in Gomel, the rate rose up to 55.9 percent.
also observe a doubling of the rate of breast cancer in regions with
high Cesium contamination. On average, women developed breast cancer 15
earlier than usual - a similar phenomenon as with thyroid cancer.
risk of leukemia
in children in the affected regions is also three times higher than
neurosurgeon in Kiev, registered a six-fold increase in brain tumors in
(0-3 years old).
of all these studies: In an individual case of cancer, it cannot be
the cause was the exposure to radiation.
see a picture of 37 year old Michael Stankewitsch. He wears a baseball
cap so that
the long scar on the back of his head won’t be seen immediately. Two
he underwent brain surgery to remove a tumor and now undergoes ongoing
treatment. “Of course the thought occurs to me that Chernobyl is to
that”, says the gaunt man while padding haltingly across the hospital
the cancer clinic in Gomel.
great cloud came, Stankewitsch was a student at a vocational school in
Choiniki, a town, which until today, is considered heavily
school’s headmaster sent Stankewitsch’s class to help near the reactor
three days: The young people were supposed to assist the evacuees.
health consequences are not restricted to the Chernobyl region. Surveys
several European countries showed a significant increase in infant
the year 1987 – probably as a result of a “Cesium-effect” – and in the
beginning of the 1990s probably as a result of a “Strontium-effect”. It
take too much time to go into detail on these effects at this point.
record, studies come to the conclusion that fatalities under infants in
related to Chernobyl are in the magnitude of 5,000. Because of
reasons, the actual effects could be much higher.
studies also document a significant increase in malformations in many
countries. According to a German survey, 1,000 to 3,000 additional
malformation were registered in the contaminated region of Bavaria
scientists estimate a Europe-wide number of malformations of at least
to radiation leads to other, so called non-cancer diseases is only
understood at this point. Further research efforts are urgently needed.
data from the region, especially on the clean-up workers and children,
example, research showed that the Liquidators suffer under an increase
percent in fatal cardiovascular affection compared to a control group.
they suffer from a heavy increase in inflammable gastrointestinal
ailments of the nervous system such as chronic fatigue syndrome,
schizophrenia, amnesia, and dizziness. The attending physicians
others, circulatory disorder as well as cerebral alterations, detected
as possible causes. The multitude of eye diseases – from cataracts to
degeneration and chronic conjunctivitis – of which 95 percent of the
workers suffer are also believed to be caused by the circulatory
to radiation exposure. Other scientists discovered premature cell
ageing due to
a dysfunction of the antioxidant system in the liquidators cells.
also strongly affected. In 1996 in Ukraine, 70 percent of the children
afflicted parents were officially registered as sick. In comparison: in
the figure was 20 percent. Children in the region of Gomel in Belarus
very sick. From 100,000 children, 83,000 suffer from respiratory
from diseases of the nervous system and sensory organs, 7,000 from skin
diseases and subcutaneous adipose tissue diseases, and 5.500 from
diseases of the
gastrointestinal tract. In total, the number of infant illnesses
the first time rose by a factor of thirteen.
these scientific studies und surveys from the region in consideration,
together with the Society for Radiation Protection, have prepared their
meta-analysis in which they merge the studies of previous years and
very conservative estimate. You can obtain this analysis from the IPPNW
office in Berlin.
several hundred thousand liquidators have become sick.
thousand liquidators have died as a result of radiation exposure.
10,000 cases of thyroid cancer have occurred in Belarus alone.
there must be far more than of 10,000 cases.
future, more than 50,000 children will suffer from thyroid cancer.
studies show an accumulation of other types of solid cancer as well as
in the populace. What is missing in order to get tangible figures for
population is an overview study. Independent researchers must be
to the cancer register.
to be about 10,000 additional cases of serious malformation in Europe
further cases of infant mortality were registered Europe wide.
highly contaminated regions, the number of first time afflictions of
has risen by a factor of thirteen.
it was discovered that children of Liquidators and of persons living in
highly contaminated areas suffer from an alteration of the genetic
makeup, the consequences
of which for future generations can not be evaluated at this point.
very conservative estimates. The Russian Environmental Ministry states
number of Chernobyl-induced cases of diseases amounted to 1,3 million
before the beginning of the 1990s.
of these depressing figures: The IAEA and the WHO don’t see the cause
dire health situation and the increase of diseases in radioactive
exposure but rather
in poverty, poor nutrition and the “bad lifestyle which is spreading
the former Soviet Union”. They further lament a “crippling fatalism” in
pertain to infants? The neurosurgeons Orlov and Shaversky from Kiev
series of 188 brain tumors in children under the age of three. This
an increase by a factor of 5.8 since Chernobyl and can certainly not be
attributed to bad lifestyle or poor nutrition. Children which were
breast fed were
affected in particular. This study was ignored by the IAEA and WHO.
did with other, more up to date and unquestionable pieces of research.
IAEA/WHO study relies almost exclusively on studies from 1990 to 1998.
more alarming studies were completely disregarded.
further criticism of the IAEA/WHO study:
hundred thousand people were simply overlooked: Merely 200,000 of the
to 860,000 of the liquidators were considered in the surveys.
non-cancer afflictions were left out of the computation base for the
cases of cancer deaths forecast in the study, the IAEA only mentioned
its abridged report. This means that 5,000 fatalities were simply left
out of the
report presented to the press and the public.
problematic is the IAEA’s interpretation of the appearance of manifold
mental disorders in the affected population. According to the IAEA,
this did not
result from the reactor disaster but from the break-up of the Soviet
the subsequent mentality change in the region.
that the reactor disaster of Chernobyl caused a forced migration of the
This forced resettlement of whole villages left many of the affected
people oftentimes stayed in their villages or returned there later,
almost all young
families with children left the region. The result was a negative
change in the
demographic structure: the birth rate continues to sink while the death
absence of young people affects the social and economic development of
affected regions, which are now experiencing a lack of teachers,
other specialists. These changes in the social structure of the
were supposed to become new homes for the deplaced population often led
tensions between the new and the old inhabitants.
the feeling of insecurity about the potential consequences of the
accident for their
own health, and that of helplessness in face of the events have had a
effect on the minds of the people in the affected regions. All these
must also be
counted as consequences of Chernobyl.
above mentioned facts can only lead to one conclusion: The IAEA/WHO
be right. But at the same time, it’s almost impossible to determine the
morbidity and mortality figures. Data which is vital for on the
of the health consequences are being kept secret. We don’t have access
data of the cancer register of Belarus and the national Liquidator
Other data is missing completely. Also, there is data which is hard to
establish – like the radioactive contamination of the Liquidators.
there were considerable migrations from the affected regions to the
ones which can only be partially reconstructed. Contaminated food was
distributed to clean areas and clean food was distributed to
areas. Certain types of cancer and
genetic effects are expected to take years and even decades until they
apparent. Whoever claims to posess final answers on the case of
Chernobyl – as
the IAEA does in its press release – is lying.
drives the IAEA and the WHO to publish figures that cannot be right?
them to these interpretations? Keith Baverstock, former head of the
and Health Section of the WHO states that the WHO does not have many
on, nor much interest in radiological issues, so that the staff is
passed on to
the IAEA. According to its charter, the central objective of the IAEA
worldwide promotion of the peaceful use of nuclear technology. At the
that it is playing down the consequences of Chernobyl, the IAEA is
campaign on the renaissance of nuclear energy. The aim is the
new nuclear reactors on all continents. The conflict of interest is
actively resists being taken in by these arguments. The Chernobyl case
and must not be closed. Chernobyl began to kill 20 years ago – and has
killing ever since - slowly and unobtrusively. It’s an accident without
Nobody knows exactly what burdens will befall the grandchildren and
great-grandchildren of the victims. A technology which has such
irresponsible. Taking into account a
study of the
German Society for Reactor Security, the risk of a nuclear meltdown in
in the next 40 years lies at 16 percent.
addition to supporting the people in the Chernobyl region, it is
spread the information on the consequences of this accident.