26 Apr 2011

25th Anniversary today of Chernobyl: haven't we learnt?

Today is the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power station in the Ukraine. It comes days after it is revealed in a leaked report that there have been three incidents at UK plants - two spillages of radioactive waste and a breakdown in an emergency cooling system.

Photo: in France pregnant women and children are being advised not to eat leafy veg

Some have claimed that the "official death toll" from Chernobyl is 43. Others like Helen Caldicott put the death toll at 985,000. One side is wrong: perhaps both. The debate hinges largely on the health effects of low-level ionising radiation and in particular the cancer risk. Not a topic to go into deeply for this blog post - it is clearly a complex area: uncertainties will always persist. However click on read more for more on this important debate, radiation levels from Japan plus a link to the report from the Oldbury campaign... on a completely different topic...one piece of good news from Japan is that Greenpeace look to have ended the whaling there - see here - economically can Japan really afford to subsidise such an unpopular industry?
Chernobyl - how many died?

In circumstances where people are exposed to low-level radiation, epidemiological studies are unlikely to be able to demonstrate a statistically-significant increase in cancer rates. This is because of widespread cancer incidence from many causes, the long latency period for some cancers, limited data on disease incidence, and various other factors. However the evidence is growing - and of course Governments consider that low-level radiation is to be avoided - hence the 20 km evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan and widespread restrictions on food and water consumption - plus the growing number of countries imposing restrictions on the importation of food from Japan.

Indeed non-government organisations are warning re certain foods being eaten in Europe and the US - for example a French non-governmental organization monitoring radioactive contamination, CRIIRAD, cautioned in a report dated April 7 that radiation pollution from Fukushima in Europe was "no longer negligible". It advised pregnant women and children to avoid consuming products such as milk and vegetables with large leaves, and to be careful when drinking water from reservoirs that collect rain water. Meanwhile milk samples taken a few weeks ago had tested for contamination in the US with radioactive iodine over 300% higher than the maximum allowed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - see item in Asia Times here. However authorities in most countries continue to insist that there is no risk from the radioactive fallout - it is also clear we should not lead to panic but at the same time it is tricky to get accurate information.

The epidemiological evidence for deaths around Chernobyl is certainly weak but many scientists argue there is a scientifically-defensible estimate of the Chernobyl death toll that instead uses estimates of the total radiation exposure, and multiply by a standard risk estimate based on the LNT model. This is where I will stop this blog post and send you to an excellent article by Jim Green who lays out the arguments well:http://newmatilda.com/2011/04/07/do-we-know-chernobyl-death-toll

Having spent a little bit of time reading around this in the past I am persuaded by the work in the 2006 report commissioned by Greenpeace which estimates a death toll of about 93,000 and predicts approximately 270,000 cancers and 93,000 fatal cancer cases caused by Chernobyl.

Oldbury campaigner goes to Germany

Reg Illingworth addressed the RWE board in Germany at their AGM. His full speech is set out on the Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy website - it is worth a look as it highlights the reasons why Oldbury is completely the wrong site for new nuclear reactors: http://www.shepperdineagainstnuclearenergy.org.uk/news-and-press/article-168-2011-04/reg-speaks-at-rwe-annual-general-meeting-in-germany

Other items in news:

An article in The Nation makes the case again that nuclear is economic stupidity: When the UK began privatizing utilities its nuclear reactors were so unprofitable they could not be sold. Eventually in 1996, the government gave them away. But the company that took them over, British Energy, had to be bailed out in 2004 to the tune of 3.4 billion pounds. It was around the turn of the millennium that people like British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico began championing the second coming of the atom. Yes, they agreed, the critiques of the old equipment were correct. But the new third and fourth generation reactors would be safe, cheap and quick to build. Another danger with pursuing the myth of a nuclear renaissance is the overall timing of climate change. Science tells us that aggr! essive emissions reductions need to start immediately. Emissions need to peak by 2015 and then decline precipitously if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. A massive industrial-scale build out of fourth generation nukes—the ones that are supposed to be safe, cheap and easy to build—would arrive too late to stave off climate change’s tipping points. An authoritative study by the investment bank Lazard Ltd. found that wind beat nuclear and that nuclear essentially tied with solar. So the race is tight. The Worldwatch Institute reports that between 2004 and 2009, electricity from wind (not capacity but actual power output) grew by 27 percent while solar grew by 54 percent. Over the same time, nuclear power output actually declined by half a percent.

Damian Carrington, head of environment at the Guardian, poses five key questions. He comes down - on balance - against nuclear power: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/apr/21/chernobyl-nuclear-power-fukushima

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a tragedy... so many people affected.. what can be done to stop this? We must prevent such an event from repeating itself.
I recently saw an interview where a panel of experts discussed what the US can learn from nuclear disasters of the past, and how we can work to prevent such tragedies. Here is the link to the video--