Chernobyl Deaths Top a Million Based on Real Evidence
Medical records from contaminated areas speak for
themselves; doctors, scientists and citizens bear witness to the devastating
health impacts of radioactive fallout from nuclear accidents Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
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Special report to be included in Science in Society #55 (available August 2012). Pre-order now or Subscribe. All proceeds from SiS 55 will be donated to children of Fukushima and Chernobyl
Official denial by nuclear lobby
The Chernobyl disaster occurred on 26 April 1986at the
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the city of Prypiat in Ukraine, then part of
the Soviet Union, and close to the administrative border with Belarus. A
sudden power output surge prompted an attempt at emergency shutdown; but a more
extreme spike in power output led to the rupture of a reactor vessel and a
series of explosions. The graphite moderator was exposed, causing it to ignite,
and the resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout over large
parts of the western Soviet Union and Europe. From 1986 to 2000, 350 400 people
were evacuated and resettled from the most contaminated areas of Belarus,
Russia and Ukraine. According to official post-Soviet data, about 57 % of the fallout landed in Belarus . Chernobyl
is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear accident in history and one
of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event
Scale, the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown in 2011 (see  Fukushima Nuclear
Crisis, SiS 50).
From the beginning, the official nuclear
safety experts were at pains to minimise the projected health impacts, as they
are doing now for the Fukushima accident.
The UNSCEAR (United Nations
Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) estimated a “global
collective dose” of radiation exposure from the accident “equivalent on average
to 21 additional days of world exposure to natural background radiation”.
Successive studies reported by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)
continued to underestimate the level of exposure and to understate health
impacts other than  “psychosocial effects, believed to be unrelated to
radiation exposure” resulting from the lack of information immediately after
the accident, “the stress and trauma of compulsory relocation to less
contaminated areas, the breaking of social ties and the fear that radiation
exposure could cause health damage in the future.”
The number of deaths attributed
to Chernobyl varies widely . Thirty-one deaths are directly attributed to
the accident, all among the reactor staff and emergency workers. An UNSCEAR
report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008. The
Chernobyl Forum  founded in February 2003 at the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna
with representatives from IAEA and UN agencies including UNSCEAR, WHO, the
World Bank, and Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, estimates that the eventual death
toll could reach 4 000 among those exposed to the highest levels of radiation
(200 000 emergency workers, 115 000 evacuees and 270 000 residents of the most
contaminated areas); the figure includes some 50 emergency workers who died of
acute radiation syndrome, 9 children who died of thyroid cancer and an
estimated total of 3950 deaths from radiation-induced cancer and leukemia. The
Union of Concerned Scientists based in Washington in the United States
estimates another 50 000 excess cancer cases among people living in areas
outside the most contaminated, and 25 000 excess deaths. A Greenpeace report
puts the figure at 200 000 or more. The Russian publication, Chernobyl,
by scientists Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko,
translated and published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009, concludes
that among the billions of people worldwide who were exposed to radioactive
contamination from the disaster, nearly a million deaths
had already occurred between 1986 and 2004. Most of the deaths were in
Russia, Belarus and Ukraine  (see Truth about Chernobyl,
SiS 47). The report drew on thousands of published papers and internet
and printed publications. Those publications and papers, written by leading
Eastern authorities, were downplayed or ignored by the IAEA and UNSCEAR. These
agencies minimised their estimates by several ploys including :
Underestimating the level of radiation by averaging
exposure over a large regions, such as an entire country; so high exposure
doses and health statistics of the most contaminated areas are lumped
together with the less and least exposed
Ignoring internal sources of radiation due to
inhalation and ingestion of radioactive material from fallout
Using an obsolete and erroneous model of linear energy
transfer due to external sources of ionising radiation
Not counting diseases and conditions other than cancers
Overestimating the natural background radiation; today’s
‘background’ has been greatly increased by discharges from nuclear
activities including tests of nuclear weapons, use of depleted uranium,
and uranium mining
Suppressing and withholding information from the public.
Nevertheless, the devastating
health impacts did not escape the notice of the hundreds of doctors, scientists
and other citizens who had to bear witness to the deformities, sicknesses and
deaths of exposed babies, children and adults in their care.
Diversity of health impacts and their global extent over
generations to come
Alexei Yablokov, distinguished academician of the Russian
Academy of Sciences in Moscow, spoke at the Scientific and Citizen Forum on
Radioprotection – From Chernobyl to Fukushima, 11-13 May 2012 in Geneva . He
is adamant that the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster can be clearly
demonstrated by comparing the states of people’s health in areas receiving
different amounts of additional radiation following the accident, instead of
one based on average effective dose calculated by the ICRP and UNSCEAR which
underestimates the true levels of irradiation. For example, there is a clear
difference in mortality rates between highly contaminated provinces and less
contaminated provinces of Russia (see Figure 1). Yablokov is lead author of a
massive report, now in its third enlarged 2011 edition , which has collated
all the available evidence.
Figure 1 Relative death rates in 6 highly contaminated
provinces compared with 6 less contaminated provinces in Russia; zero
represents no difference from Russia as a whole
The evidence that emerged is also
striking for the diversity of deformities and illnesses observed apart from
cancers; and this is documented in more than 10 000 studies published in
different countries, mainly Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, in the 25 years since
the disaster. Contrary to the figures given out by UNSCEAR,
IAEA and the World Health Organization (WHO), even reports published by the
governments of Belarus and Ukraine recognise that there has been significant
increase in levels of illness and deaths everywhere: various forms of cancer
(not only of the thyroid), cataracts, cardiovascular diseases, diseases of the
respiratory and digestive systems, immunological and neuropsychiatric effects,
birth defects, and alterations in reproductive function, and premature aging.
Death rate among the liquidators (recovery workers) remained high even four
years after the disaster, despite the fact that most of them were young and in
good health. Twenty years later, 115 000 (out of 830 000) are dead.
emphasized that the fallout from Chernobyl is global, as 57 % of the
radioactive material fell outside the former Soviet Union. Consequently, many
countries in the Northern hemisphere particularly Europe and Western Asia would
also be affected. A significant increase in birth defects was observed in many
European countries and in Turkey. Particularly telling are the higher infant
mortality rates above a long-term decreasing trend recorded simultaneously in
four different European countries between 1986 and 1992 (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 Infant mortality in four different European
impact of fallout from Chernobyl is the increase in cancer, death rates and
marked deterioration in educational achievement in schoolchildren in the most
contaminated areas of Sweden compared with less contaminated areas. Even after
26 years, there are places in Norway, Germany, Switzerland, France and other
European countries where deer, boar, fish and mushrooms are still contaminated
by caesium 137 at dangerous levels .
health legacy from Chernobyl is long lasting. The genetic damage in terms of
chromosomal breaks and other mutations will affect the health of millions over
several generations yet to come. “The full picture of deteriorating health in
the contaminated territories is far from complete,” Yablohov said. More
research is needed; instead, research on the health impacts of Chernobyl has
been cut back in Russia, Ukarine, and Belarus.
Overview of the evidence
Evidence of the devastating health
impacts from the radioactive fallout of Chernobyl is still to be found long
after the accident. Seventeen years later, areas contaminated at levels above
40 kBq/m2 in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, have seen an increase in
total average mortality of 3.8 to 4 % (an excess of 237 000 people) compared
with neighbouring regions that were less contaminated . (A Bq, becquerel, is
a radioactive disintegration rate of one per second.) A conservative
extrapolation from these figures led to the conclusion that over the 20 years
following the accident, Chernobyl has caused an additional million deaths
(about 0.1 of total mortality).
Some general effects of the
Chernobyl accident that began to appear in the 3rd to 4th year and have
continued over the following 10 to 15 years; these are as follows.
Two to three times the general morbidity rate in the most
contaminated territories (including children)
Increase in primary illness
Increase in the number of low birth-weight babies and birth
Premature ageing (biological age 5-7 years higher than
Poly-morbidity, the presence of a number of illnesses in one
health problems linked to radiation from Chernobyl affect practically all organ
The circulatory system (radiological lesions of the endothelium, the
interior walls of the blood vessels)
The endocrine system (including non-cancerous diseases of the
The immune system
The respiratory system (including lesions of the
The genito-urinary system and reproductive
The skeleton (osteopenia and osteoporosis, low
density or fragile bone)
The central nervous and neuropsychiatric system
(associated with organic modifications of the post-frontal, temporal and
parieto-occipital lobes of the brain cortex and other deeper structures)
The visual apparatus (including radiation
The digestive system
Birth defects and developmental anomalies
Thyroid cancer (not only in children
but also in adults) and other malignant tumours
Other health impacts include the
Alterations in the health of children born to irradiated parents
(including the liquidators and also people who left the contaminated areas),
and in particular those children who were irradiated in utero;
Genetic alterations (frequent mutations of the
somatic and germ tissues, changes in the secondary sex ratio).
specific effect of the radioactive contamination from Chernobyl is the change
in the secondary sex ratio (ratio of
male/female births). After 1987, there was a statistically significant decrease
in the number of girls born in some European countries . In 2008, there was
a deficit of female births worldwide of around a million .
Yablokov (and other speakers at the
conference) blamed the lack of clear understanding of the negative impact of
the Chernobyl disaster first of all on the secrecy and falsification of the
USSR medical statistics for the first three and a half years after the
catastrophe, on the difficulties in estimating absorbed doses by individuals,
the inability to determine the impact of each of the radionuclides (fission
products are notoriously heterogeneous) , and most of all, the agreement
signed between the WHO and the IAEA in 1959, whereby the WHO needs the consent
of the IAEA to publish the results of studies on ionising radiation . That
has resulted in crucial data being concealed.
The children of Belarus
Thyroid cancer is practically the
only health impact admitted by the UNSCEAR assessment to be linked to Chernobyl
. It recognized more than 6 000 cases of thyroid cancer reported in
children and adolescents up to 2005 who were exposed at the time of the
accident, and “more cases to be expected during the next decades.” In fact, 8
700 additional thyroid cancer cases occurred in Belarus alone between 1990 and
2006, according to M.V. Malko of the Belarus National Academy of Sciences .
The number of thyroid cancer cases registered during this period was about 13
300 as against 4 600 expected. The situation has got worse, as populations are
living in areas still highly contaminated. Since 2005, malignant tumours of the
thyroid in both adults and children had jumped again, from 10.8 per 100 000
inhabitants to more than 11.8 or more in 2008 and 2009.
a paediatrician in Belarus, is witnessing the continuing impact on the children
in her country. Since 2000, the number of children under 18 in Belarus has decreased
by 27.4 % (see Figure 3), despite the fact that birth rate has been
increasing since 2003, from 9 per 1 000 to 11.4 per 1 000 in 2010.
Figure 3 Population trend in children of Belarus
paediatricians like myself are seeing, in the course of our clinical
examinations, an increase in the number of illnesses and a general
deterioration in children’s health in Belarus.” Bandajevsky said. According to
the data, out of a total of more than 1 million school children in Belarus in
2009, only 26.7 % were considered in good health, 58.1 % had functional
deficiencies and were at risk of developing chronic illnesses, while 13.8 %
already suffered from chronic illness.
In 2010, a high
incidence or primary diseases of the endocrine system, the blood and
circulatory system and tumours were seen especially in the Gomel and Moguilev
regions, which are the most highly contaminated (see Figure 4)
Figure 4 Primary diseases in children of Belarus by
speciality is cardiovascular disease. The diagnosis of heart problems in
children is very straight forward. Every paediatric clinic has a cardiac
monitor to measure heart rhythm, and in maternity wards, every new born baby is
given an electrocardiogram and a Doppler ultrasound test. And here,
paediatricians have been baffled by what they found, because they are unable to
explain the cause of the problem. The official sources present a list of risk
factors such as arterial hypertension, overweight, obesity, smoking, and family
history; but just as important a risk factor is living in areas that have been
contaminated by Chernobyl radioactivity, and that has been completely ignored. In
the official preventative care programmes, the health authorities see no need
to include measurement of radionuclides in the bodies of children affected by
the Chernobyl accident, and clinics and hospitals in urban areas do not have
human radiation spectrometers to do the job.
disease in children from contaminated regions of Belarus was found to increase
in the first few years after the accident. Today, the incidence of the disease
continues to climb (Figure 5).
Figure 5 Cardiovascular disease in children of Belarus
The frequency of congenital heart malformations has also
increased. Estimates vary between 0.8 and 1.2 % of all new born babies,
constituting 30 % of all birth defects observed. Congenital heart malformations
represent a large and heterogeneous group that includes relatively minor forms
to serious conditions incompatible with life.
cardiologists are very concerned about problems of heart arrhythmia (abnormal
irregular heartbeat) and electrical conduction, both of which are increasing.
Arrhythmia has a tendency to become chronic and increases the risk of sudden
death. Children in apparent “good health” can also experience certain problems
of arrhythmia and conductivity. Between 2004 and 2011, children with cardiovascular
disease have more than doubled, mainly due to increases in congenital heart
malformations and heart arrhythmias.
specialists working in the areas contaminated by the accident note that
diseases of the eye and related visual apparatus has more than tripled in
Bandajevsky called on government authorities to take
concrete action to stem the rapidly deteriorating health of children in
contaminated areas, and for the concerted efforts of radioprotection experts to
give practical advice and scientists to develop and introduce prophylactic
measures and treatment. This cannot happen until governments and the regulatory
authorities stop suppressing and concealing information on the health impacts
of ionising radiation in general and of nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and
Fukushima in particular.
The health impacts
of the Fukushima disaster are already emerging, thanks to the concerted efforts
of Japanese doctors, scientists and citizens in the face of government
disinformation (see  Truth about Fukushima, SiS 55).
new research is exposing how the health impacts of ionizing radiation has been
greatly underestimated by the conventional model used by IAEA, UNSCEAR and the
ICRP (International ) (see  Bystander
Effects Multiply Dose & Harm from Ionizing Radiation, SiS 55); and more importantly, which treatments
and prophylactic measures may be effective.
Todd Millions Comment left 25th May 2012 08:08:55 A brave report-Can data sets be seperated from the earlier' proto-chernobaly',fire at windsgate?Also the model for the ministry of truth stategy.
The Japanese are most persistant.The burning of contaminated debri has given us in western Canada a secound dose of officially harmless radiation.I can't think of how too properly express my thanx.But Tosibia and others were already on my embargo list over the nuc program and I should probably-extend it.
During the sequel to the great war,one of the reasons the nipponese army med corps was so busy killing prisioners with various plaugue pathogens(we are NOT in a stone casting position-see:Grosse Isle,Suffield.),was the observation that the balloon drone 'FUNGUE' program was a dead loss when armed with incenderies due to the most reliable winds being in the winter months,when the target wasn't particulary flamable.I'm less than pleased,how good their meteorlogical observations have proven too be-TWICE.
Is confirmation of slightly enriched uranium weapons have being used in Iraq abailable yet?This could queer the case on fall out studies as it smears and bioaccumulates.
chemfood Comment left 31st May 2012 07:07:27 thank you. Sharing at Reality Check Radiation Exposure and Protection Forum
and at Nuclear News Now
George Robinson Comment left 9th October 2013 10:10:04 Thank you for this article. After fukushima and radiation counts started rising in Paris and Oxfordshire I looked into setting up a metering station & bought a reference field-dosimeter from Fluke. Tried calibrating it and found anomalies in their software but they refused to reveal how their internal electronics could produce a background reading, complete with stochastic sounding "tick", even when all three scintillation chambers were disconnected. To my shame I gave up at that point, but not before reading Chris Busby and about his Low Level Radiation Campaign, which in turn lead to the Yablokov paper you reference.
Where on so many fronts he seems right on the money, it is inexplicable that the widely read author of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock, can be so blindly pro-nuclear?! He repeats claims that less than a dozen nuclear deaths have ever occurred. How can such a sensible scientist hold such a view?