Sheep May Not Safely Graze...
"The Department of Health has admitted that more than 200,000 sheep are grazing on land contaminated by fallout from the explosion at the Ukrainian nuclear plant 1,500 miles away. Emergency orders still apply to 355 Welsh farms, 11 in Scotland and nine in England as a result of the catastrophe in April 1986.
[...] The Chernobyl disaster turned public opinion in Britain against civil nuclear power overnight. The land still poisoned by Chernobyl's radioactivity lies all along the Welsh hills between Bangor and Bala, much of it in the Snowdonia National park. There is also a large triangle of contaminated land in Cumbria, south of Buttermere - though the number of farms affected is smaller than in Wales.
Some of the Scottish hills are also still affected. No sheep can be moved out of any of these areas without a special licence, under Emergency Orders imposed in 1986. Sheep that have higher than the permitted level of radiation have to be marked with a special dye that does not wash off in the rain, and have to spend months grazing on uncontaminated grass before they are passed as fit to go into the food chain."source
(This issue came up in an earlier discussion here at ET
An Order of Magnitude Here, an Order of Magnitude There...
It's Not the Victims Who Count -- It's Who Counts The Victims
The debate over the health effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Britain reopens today with research which suggests that infant deaths were higher in areas where rain fell as the plume of fallout passed overhead.
A study by the epidemiologist John Urquhart, to be presented at a conference at City Hall in London marking the 20th anniversary of the disaster, suggests that infant deaths may have risen by 11 per cent between 1986 and 1989 in those areas compared with 4 per cent in other areas, a correlation that Mr Urquhart describes as very significant. [...]
Mr Urquhart, who gave evidence in the 1980s to the Government investigation led by Sir Douglas Black into evidence of a leukaemia cluster near Sellafield, Cumbria, said: "Previous research has established that there has been an increase in thyroid cancers in the young in the north of England for which Chernobyl is the probable cause.
"This new study shows that the infant mortality trend, which was otherwise downwards, rose for a period of four years in England and Wales after Chernobyl. The results based on such a large population suggest that the effect of radioactive fallout could be two orders of magnitude greater than previously suspected." source
Right of Return
"Supporters of the nuclear industry will be apoplectic about the report on the Chernobyl legacy by John Vidal (UN accused of ignoring 500,000 deaths, March 25). And even those of us who believe the effects of the nuclear disaster to be widespread, serious and long term, will be disappointed to read of what must surely be a gross over-estimate of the real casualty figures.
It is notoriously difficult to gather real statistics - there has been little serious research, and many of those involved have an axe to grind. [come again? there has been little serious research? why the hell not, one asks oneself...]
The charity I represent has been working in Belarus for 11 years, delivering humanitarian aid, training orphanage staff and foster families, and bringing children to the UK for recuperative holidays.
Haematologists speak of blood disorders in children which are normally only seen in the elderly; heart disease and respiratory problems in children are widespread; osteoporosis is seen in small children; in the orphanages there are many children who do not grow, still looking like toddlers into their teens; babies are born with missing or twisted limbs; and breast cancer among young women is a major problem.
Many charities in Britain have come together to form a coalition - Remember Chernobyl - which seeks to raise maximum awareness about the long-term effects of the fallout, and to appeal for unbiased, independently funded research. Twenty years on, it is time a determined effort was made to learn the truth about the real effects of the disaster." source
Child of the Dead Zone
"CHERNOBYL, Ukraine - Olga Rudchenko cried every night for eight years, desperate to return home.
Now she is happy, living once again in her town, Chernobyl.
Rudchenko's family was among 200,000 residents evacuated after an explosion ripped through the Chernobyl nuclear power station on April 26, 1986 in the world's worst nuclear accident.
[...]The 30-km (19-mile) exclusion zone is patrolled by police and Ukraine's Emergencies Ministry. [that is quite an expense for the State to bear in perpetuity] Counters show radiation in some areas far above the norm, while other villages display levels lower than in Kiev, 80 km (50 miles) to the south.
The town of Pripyat, built to house plant workers, is still deserted -- the day after the accident, 50,000 residents were evacuated in just six hours. [...]
Several hundred mostly elderly people have returned to their homes in Chernobyl and nearby villages despite the ban. Authorities turn a blind eye and help with food and electricity.
[...]This week, environmental group Greenpeace said the eventual death toll could be far higher than official estimates with up to 93,000 cancer deaths attributable to the disaster.
The World Health Organization puts at 4,000 the number of extra deaths in the worst-hit areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, with 5,000 in less affected zones.
Ukrainian doctors, who have observed patients exposed to radiation for 20 years, point to a dramatic rise in thyroid cancer among those who were children in 1986.
Thyroid cancer can be treated if detected early. [I wonder what is the burden of this treatment, to the state or the families] Mobile laboratories conduct checks in villages near the exclusion zone, where unemployment is high and most residents worry more about making ends meet than about their health.
Doctors fear for the future.
"Though 20 years have passed, Ukraine will feel the consequences for a long time," said Hryhory Klymnyuk from the Cancer Institute at Ukraine's Academy of Sciences.
"There are not only direct medical consequences but possible changes in genes. I think future generations will be under threat from various illnesses, including tumors."
The government and Western donors have focused attention on securing the crumbling concrete and steel sarcophagus.
The actual process of making the plant safe will take many years. [the gift that goes on giving...] Officials have said the last fuel rods will not be taken away until 2008 and it will be between 30 and 100 years before the station is completely decommissioned.[i.e. a multigenerational commitment; and how will this be fulfilled if peak oil or a world war over Iran or some other history-derailing event ensues?] source
Never Attribute to Malice...?
"She is known as "Maria of Chernobyl" and - though she is not a saint - many view her birth in the shadow of the infamous reactor as little short of miraculous.
Now aged six, Maria Vedernikova is the first and only child to be born in Chernobyl's post-catastrophe dead zone, a bleak and frightening area 18 miles in radius, now in Ukraine.
Indeed, if you ask a guide at Chernobyl whether anyone has been born in the zone since 20 years ago this Wednesday, when the reactor exploded, you will get an emphatic "nyet".
Officially nobody is allowed to live here and the several hundred masochistic souls who insist on doing so are here illegally.
The soil is poisoned with caesium and strontium. Only temporary workers and catastrophe tourists are allowed to enter for short periods at their own risk. And "the zone" is associated in most people's minds with only one thing: death.
[...]Maria's upbringing has been unconventional; her food is checked with a Geiger counter and her home is regularly tested for radiation. She swims in a "nuclear" river and has no other children to play with.
Since she has started going to school outside the zone, she has begun to lead a more normal life. So far she has shown no signs of being affected by radiation and appears healthy.
Long may she continue to be so. For the toll of the catastrophe that erupted at four seconds past 1.23am on 26 April 1986 has spread all over the surrounding area - and nearly half of Europe.
More than 200 times as much radioactivity was released as by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. The reactor's operators switched off all its safety systems while trying to carry out an officially authorised, but dangerous, experiment.
[...]Last year the International Atomic Energy Agency predicted 4,000 deaths, but this has been widely discredited as too low. Equally, a Greenpeace estimate of 100,000 deaths published last week seems overblown. The best estimates range between 16,000 deaths (the International Agency for Research on Cancer, on Thursday) and 60,000, most outside the old USSR... source
No One Warned Us
"The Chernobyl accident, the greatest industrial catastrophe of the Twentieth Century, will remain the perfect example of bad information management.
In France, no one denies that the Chernobyl cloud caused radioactive fallout. But it took almost twenty years for the official evaluation to finally coincide with that proposed by an independent laboratory, Criirad. Recent evaluations contradict the soothing ones furnished by official services in 1986. Now we observe, that for certain elements, the differences in measured concentrations go from 1 to over a thousand-fold!
Incompetence or lying? Even if a posteriori methods of reconstitution allow room for scientific debate, the magnitude of such divergences authorizes the question. In 2001, a suit against X ... for "failure to protect the population against radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident" was filed by the French Association of Thyroid Disease Sufferers (AFMT) and Criirad, an association founded in 1986 to take independent measures of radioactivity. The investigation under way will perhaps allow a determination of whether the authorities willfully hid the scope of Chernobyl's impact on the French, even as their neighbors were encouraged to protect themselves.
At the international level as well, the establishment of an open and uninterrupted debate is opposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)'s efforts to minimize the accident's consequences. The World Health Organization (WHO), which would be best able to deal with the health consequences of widespread radioactivity, has trouble working independently of the IAEA. The funds for conducting studies have been much reduced since 1996. [the time honoured method of passive-aggressive coverup: cut the funding...] In the country principally affected, Belarus, Mr. Lukashenko's government does not allow a complete assessment of the drama a part of its population continues to live.
Such attitudes can only exacerbate the sometimes exaggerated criticisms of anti-nuclear associations and feed public distrust with respect to an energy that continues to be based on lies. French interest in the recent public debates on nuclear waste management, as on the future EPR reactor, shows that these questions cannot be reserved for technocrats only. source
The Heroes of Chernobyl
Svetilovichi, Belarus - When the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded 20 years ago, pouring radiation equivalent to more than 100 Hiroshima bombs into the air, the people of this small agricultural village a few miles downwind didn't flee.
"No one warned us about the danger. We were left in the dark," says Alexander Malinovsky, a boy at the time. No effort was ever made to evacuate people from Svetilovichi, says Mr. Malinovsky, who still farms his father's small plot here, deep inside Belarus's highly contaminated "exclusion zone." And little has been done since to help them adjust, he adds.
In the two decades since one of the world's worst environmental disasters, gobal attention - and aid - has largely focused on Ukraine, where the Chernobyl plant is located. But the plight of Belarus, where 70 percent of Chernobyl's nuclear fallout descended, is less well known. Over a fifth of the country is still considered heavily contaminated, with 1.5 million people living in those areas. Some, like the Malinovskys, inhabit dangerous hot spots that authorities have sealed off with barbed-wire - which are reachable only by negotiating special police checkpoints.
[...]Numerous nongovernmental organizations within Belarus working on Chernobyl-related issues have run into trouble. Mr. Yakovenko, of the Chernobyl Social-Ecological Union, says that growing state controls over independent activity make it difficult for his group to accomplish anything.
"We are allowed to exist formally, but it's like being in a vacuum," he says. "It's impossible to obtain any information from official sources, and there are almost no other civil-society groups that we might work with. Whatever we try to do, the government either takes [it] over or shuts [it] down."
[...]Oleg Gromyko, head of Belarus's tiny Green Party, says no serious public health studies have been done on people living in the exclusion zone around his home city of Gomel, which includes Svetilovichi. "The damage to this region has hardly been counted yet," he says. "We do not have scientific data, but all anecdotal evidence suggests it's very bad." In his own family, four of his six siblings died young - three of cancer, he says.
"We were all exposed to Chernobyl, but here I am, hale and hearty. That shows you how hard it is to get a handle on this," Mr. Gromyko explains. "Since there is no solid information, people don't know what to believe."
One group of Belarussian scientists who did try to accurately measure the effects of long-term radiation exposure in the population was broken up four years ago by the authorities and its leaders imprisoned. According to a report issued by Yakovenko's group, the group - experts with the nongovernmental Institute of Radiation Security in Minsk - had angered the government by publishing radiation figures for many Belarussian areas that were far above official estimates.
[...]Mr. Gromyko, whose now-abandoned ancestral village of Gromyki is deep inside the exclusion zone, says much of the land that was declared too radioactive for use is being steadily turned back into farmland under orders from Lukashenko. He points out two large dairy farms inside the zone near Svetilovichy which appear to be operative." source
Quicktime Slide Show, with English language narration, of deformed children in Belorus
" Twenty years ago today, Konstantin Tatuyan, a Ukrainian radio engineer, was horrified when Reactor No 4 at Chernobyl nuclear power complex exploded, caught fire, and for the next 10 days spewed the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima bombs' worth of radioactivity across 150,000 sq miles of Europe and beyond. He was just married, and he and his young family lived in the town of Chernobyl, just a few miles from the reactor.
Like 120,000 people, the family was evacuated, but Tatuyan volunteered to become a "liquidator", to help with the clean up, believing that his knowledge of radiation could save not just him but many of the 200,000 young soldiers and others who were rushed in from all over the Soviet Union. "We felt we had to do it," he says. "Who else, if not us, would do it?"
Tatuyan spent the next seven years in charge of 5,000 mostly young army reservists - drafted in from Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Chechnya, Kazakhstan and elsewhere in what was the Soviet Union - working 22 days on, eight days off, digging great holes, demolishing villages, dumping high-level waste, monitoring hot spots, testing the water, cleaning railway lines and roads, decontaminating ground and travelling throughout some of the most radioactive regions of Ukraine, Belarus and southern Russia. [and after such an heroic effort, one that might easily have won a significant battle in a European war of C18 and been remembered in song and story, the problem is far from solved...]
[...]He took precautions but he also kept meticulous - albeit illegal - records of his own accumulating exposure. Every year the authorities told him he was "fit for duty", and when he left Chernobyl they gave him a letter saying he had received just under the safe lifetime dose of radiation. He knew he had received more than five times that amount.
What he saw in those years, he says, appalled him: young men dying for want of the simplest information about exposure to radiation; the wide-scale falsification of medical histories by the Soviet army and the disappearance of people's records so the state would not have to compensate them; the wholesale looting of evacuated houses and abandoned churches; the haste and carelessness with which the concrete "sarcophagus" was erected over the stricken reactor; and, above all, the horror of seeing land almost twice the size of Britain contaminated, with thousands of villages made uninhabitable.
It was sometimes surreal, he says. He had people beg him to leave their homes or villages contaminated because that would guarantee them a pension; he recalls how several carriages of radioactive animal carcasses travelled for five years around the Soviet Union being rejected by every state, returning to Chernobyl to be buried - train and all. He helped fill a 4 sq mile dump with radioactive lorries, cement mixers, trains and helicopters.
[...]Tatuyan has now retired, an invalid. He says he surely saved many lives and made great parts of the Ukraine semi-habitable, but the price is a heart condition, an enlarged thyroid, diabetes, pains in the right side of his body, breathing difficulties and headaches. But he is optimistic and, like several million people across Ukraine, Belarus and southern Russia, says he now looks at his life in terms of the time before and after Chernobyl. Most of his team of liquidators are dead; the rest, like him, are ill.
Tatuyan is now 56, and his children and country are proud of him. For him, the effect of the radiation on the environment was shocking. "The first thing we noticed was that many miles of trees in the forest turned red," he says. "They had to be cut down and buried. All the animals left. The birds did not come back for four years. It was strange not hearing them."
"In the winter of 1986/87, there was an infestation of mice because the crops had not been harvested. So the population of foxes increased. Most of them had rabies, and hunters were called to come and kill them. The wild pigs came back first. Then the wolves. Because people were evacuated, thinking they would be gone for only a few days, they left their dogs. But the dogs then crossed with the wolves and were not afraid of humans. It was very dangerous."
Today, the forest is moving in on the modernistic town of Pripyat, built for the reactor workers just a few miles from the plant. According to ecologists, weathering, decay and the migration of radionuclides down the soil have already led to a significant reduction of the contamination of plants and animals. Some scientists are upbeat. Biodiversity, says the Institute of Ecology in the Ukraine, has increased due to the removal of human influence. Moose, wild boar, roe and red deer, beavers, wolves, badgers, otters and lynx have all been reported in the area, and species associated with humans - rats, house mice, sparrows and pigeons - have all declined. Indeed, of 270 species of birds in the area, 180 are breeding.
But it is not as simple as that. Other scientists report mammals experiencing heavy doses from internally deposited Caesium-137 and Strontium-90 radioactive fallout. One study has found mutations in 18 generations of birds; another that radioactivity levels in trees are still rising. Contamination has been found migrating into underground aquifers.
Levels of Caesium-137 are expected to remain high all over Europe for decades, says the United Nations. In parts of Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Poland, levels in wild game, mushrooms, berries and fish from some lakes are well over a safe dose, as they are in all the most affected regions of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. In Britain, there are still restrictions on milk on 375 hill farms, mainly in Snowdonia and the Lake District. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of square miles of agricultural land still cannot be used for farming until the soil has been remediated. [arable land is a non-substitutable resource...]
Humans have fared badly. In the past few weeks four major scientific reports have challenged the World Health Organisation (WHO), which believes that only 50 people have died and 9,000 may over the coming years. The reports widely accuse WHO of ignoring the evidence and dismissing illnesses that many doctors in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus say are worsening, especially in children of liquidators.
The charge is led by the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, which last week declared that 212,000 people have now died as a direct consequence of Chernobyl. Meanwhile, a major report commissioned by Greenpeace considers the evidence of 52 scientists and estimates the deaths and illnesses to be 93,000 terminal cancers already and perhaps 100,000 deaths in time. A further report for European parliamentarians suggested 60,000 deaths. In truth no one knows. [that we have had 20 years to evaluate and still "no one knows" speaks poorly either for the transparency of the process, or the intractability of the epidemiology of radiation exposure, or both.]i
More than 500km from Chernobyl, the peasant farmers of the village of Boudimca, one of the most affected in Ukraine, refuse to leave, despite the fact that many of their children are suffering from acute radiation diseases. Every child in Boudimca has a thyroid problem - known as the "Chernobyl necklace". The villagers are attached to the land. "We would prefer to die in our own land rather than go somewhere else and not survive," says Valentina Molchanovich, one of whose daughters is in hospital in Vilne with radiation sickness. "We understand the paradox, but we prefer to stay."
Though they live simple lives - each family has a cow, ducks and a few chickens - they suffer all the ailments of stressed out western executives: high blood pressure, headaches, diabetes and respiratory problems. They know that the berries and the mushrooms they have always lived on are contaminated. "We are just so used to living here," says Molchanovich. "My parents lived here. We build our houses together. We are a very tight community."
But others are, literally, dying to leave the village. Mikola Molchanovich, a distant relation, is the father of Sasha, a 12- year-old girl who this month was also being treated for constant stomach aches in a children's hospital in Rivne. He says: "My wife is in hospital giving birth, my son is in another hospital being treated for radiation sickness. My sister has 30,000 becquerels [units of radioactivity] in her body. Some people have 80,000, or more.
"This is our community; my parents lived and died here. We used to be able to collect 100kg of mushrooms a day - the whole village would collect them. Some of our cows have leukaemia. The people who moved away from the village are healthier and better. I would go if I had the chance. But I am trapped. I cannot sell my house because it is contaminated. People are becoming weaker. We cannot feel it, we cannot see it, yet we are not afraid of it."
[...]"Everyone who helped on the clean up is now ill," says Tatiana, a senior doctor at the Dispensary for Radiological Protection at Rivne. "The situation is worsening. In 1985, we had four lymph cancers a year. Now we have seven times that many. We have between five and eight people a year with rare bone cancers, when we never had any. We expect more cancers, and ill health. One in three pregnancies here are malformed. We are overwhelmed." [radiation leaks have a long "incubation period" or epidemiological hysteresis -- measured in decades, not months or years. the period of "bloom" for such disasters exceeds the attention span of individuals and the lifespan of whole political regimes. only on anniversaries do we remember.]
A doctor in the local region's children's hospital says: "The children born to the people who cleaned up Chernobyl are dying very young. We are finding Caesium and Strontium in breast milk and the placenta. More children now have leukaemias, and there has been a quadrupling of spina bifida cases. There are more clusters of cancers. Children are being born with stunted growth and dwarf torsos, without thighs. I would expect more of this over the years." source
At the time of the accident Tanya was 4 years old. She was exposed to radiation in Pripyat, a town near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, where she happened to visit with her grandmother. Her thyroid gland cancer was not discovered until it metastasized to her lungs and brain. She died on 16th January 1997.
Night of the Living Dead Reactor
Human Habitation and Agriculture More Deadly to Wildlife than Nuclear Fallout?
"Chernobyl's coffin is cracking. Birds and rainwater have gotten inside the steel-and-concrete shelter hastily built over the reactor that blew up in 1986, and officials worry about what is getting out.
The "sarcophagus" over reactor No. 4 is reaching the end of its life span. A multinational $1.1 billion project [how many benefits could that 1.1B realise, if it could be invested in basic life amenities for the people of the region rather than desperate mediation of an ongoing disaster?] to build a new shelter -- a giant steel arch designed to last 100 years -- is still on the drawing board. [100 years? 100 years is nothing, the blink of an eye in civilisational time...]
"Twenty years have already passed since the accident, but the risks and the hazards posed by the reactor are still there," said Yulia Marusych, a spokeswoman for the power station.
[..] No one knows exactly how much radioactive fuel remains since only 25 percent of the reactor is accessible. Some estimate it all was discharged during the 10 days when the reactor spewed out its insides. Others counter that as much as 90 percent is still there. Sensors constantly check for signs of new reactions taking place.
"Could it begin again? It would need certain conditions and we can say that today those conditions do not exist," Marusych said. "But the chance that a chain reaction could be triggered is not zero. The danger remains."
Some accuse the Ukrainian government of playing up the dangers to get more international aid for the new shelter. But Yuriy Andreyev, head of the Chernobyl Union, an advocacy group, accused the government of not doing enough. He said water accumulating under the reactor is highly irradiated and could leak into the region's groundwater.
Authorities said the priority now is stabilizing the sarcophagus. The roof is not sealed properly. The water inside is weakening the concrete and metal. The shelter's original west wall is leaning precariously.
While a collapse would be unlikely to spark another explosion, it could release a huge burst of poisonous radioactive dust.
For now, while talks continue on who will build the new shelter, construction crews are working to shore up the aging sarcophagus. They have to work in 20-minute shifts to minimize exposure to radiation. [in other words, after 20 years of enormous expense and heroic effort, this one incident is still an emergency, a frantic scene of catastrophe control...] source
"It contains some of the most contaminated land in the world, yet it has become a haven for wildlife - a nature reserve in all but name.
The exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power station is teeming with life.
As humans were evacuated from the area 20 years ago, animals moved in. Existing populations multiplied and species not seen for decades, such as the lynx and eagle owl, began to return.
[...]There may be plutonium in the zone, but there is no herbicide or pesticide, no industry, no traffic, and marshlands are no longer being drained.
There is nothing to disturb the wild boar - said to have multiplied eightfold between 1986 and 1988 - except its similarly resurgent predator, the wolf.
[...]Some animals in the worst-hit areas also died or stopped reproducing. Mice embryos simply dissolved, while horses left on an island 6km from the power plant died when their thyroid glands disintegrated.
Cattle on the same island were stunted due to thyroid damage, but the next generation were found to be surprisingly normal.
Now it's typical for animals to be radioactive - too radioactive for humans to eat safely - but otherwise healthy.
[...]Sergey Gaschak has experimented on mice in the Red Forest, parts of which are slowly growing back, albeit with stunted and misshapen trees.
"We marked animals then recaptured them again much later," he says.
"And we found they lived as long as animals in relatively clean areas."
The next step was to take these other mice and put them in an enclosure in the Red Forest.
"They felt not very well," Sergey says.
"The distinction between the local and newcomer animals was very evident."
In all his research, Sergey has only found one mouse with cancer-like symptoms.
He has found ample evidence of DNA mutations, but nothing that affected the animals' physiology or reproductive ability.
"Nothing with two heads," he says.
Mary Mycio, author of Wormwood Forest, a natural history of the Chernobyl zone, points out that a mutant animal in the wild will usually die and be eaten before scientists can observe it.
[...]But she too argues that the benefits to wildlife of removing people from the zone, have far outweighed any harm from radiation.
In her book she quotes the British scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock, who wrote approvingly in the Daily Telegraph in 2001 of the "unscheduled appearance" of wildlife at Chernobyl.
He went on: "I have wondered if the small volumes of nuclear waste from power production should be stored in tropical forests and other habitats in need of a reliable guardian against their destruction by greedy developers".
A large part of the Chernobyl zone within Belarus has already officially been turned into a nature reserve. [the future of "nature reserves"? -- any area that we have poisoned so thoroughly that humans cannot live there? thanks for that uplifting thought, Lovelock... and if you think this will hold off the greedy developers, allow me to recommend the story of a development called Love Canal...] source
There are persistent threads in this story which I plan to follow up on later. For now, this is plenty long (and depressing) enough.