|NEW YORK, April 26, 2010 (ENS)
Nearly one million people around the world died from exposure to radiation released by the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor, finds a new book from the New York Academy of Sciences published today on the 24th anniversary of the meltdown at the Soviet facility.
The book, "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment", was compiled by authors Alexey Yablokov of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow, and Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko of the Institute of Radiation Safety, in Minsk, Belarus.
The authors examined more than 5,000 published articles and studies, most written in Slavic languages and never before available in English.
The authors said, "For the past 23 years, it has been clear that there is a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
"No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe," they said. "Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere."
Their findings are in contrast to estimates by the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency that initially said only 31 people had died among the "liquidators," those approximately 830,000 people who were in charge of extinguishing the fire at the Chernobyl reactor and deactivation and cleanup of the site.
The book finds that by 2005, between 112,000 and 125,000 liquidators had died.
"On this 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, we now realize that the consequences were far worse than many researchers had believed," says Janette Sherman, MD, the physician and toxicologist who edited the book.
Drawing upon extensive data, the authors estimate the number of deaths worldwide due to Chernobyl fallout from 1986 through 2004 was 985,000, a number that has since increased.
By contrast, WHO and the IAEA estimated 9,000 deaths and some 200,000 people sickened in 2005.
On April 26, 1986, two explosions occured at reactor number four at the Chernobyl plant which tore the top from the reactor and its building and exposed the reactor core. The resulting fire sent a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over large parts of the western Soviet Union, Europe and across the Northern Hemisphere. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia had to be evacuated.
Yablokov and his co-authors find that radioactive emissions from the stricken reactor, once believed to be 50 million curies, may have been as great as 10 billion curies, or 200 times greater than the initial estimate, and hundreds of times larger than the fallout from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Nations outside the former Soviet Union received high doses of radioactive fallout, most notably Norway, Sweden, Finland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Greece, and parts of the United Kingdom and Germany.
About 550 million Europeans, and 150 to 230 million others in the Northern Hemisphere received notable contamination. Fallout reached the United States and Canada nine days after the disaster.
A detailed study reveals that 3.8-4.0% of all deaths in the contaminated territories of Ukraine and Russia from 1990 to 2004 were caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. The lack of evidence of increased mortality in other affected countries is not proof of the absence of effects from the radioactive fallout. Since 1990, mortality among liquidators has exceeded the mortality rate in corresponding population groups. From 112,000 to 125,000 liquidators died before 2005 - that is, some 15% of the 830,000 members of the Chernobyl cleanup teams. The calculations suggest that the Chernobyl catastrophe has already killed several hundred thousand human beings in a population of several hundred million that was unfortunate enough to live in territories affected by the fallout. The number of Chernobyl victims will continue to grow over many future generations.
The proportion of children considered healthy born to irradiated parents in Belarus, the Ukraine, and European Russia considered healthy fell from about 80% to less than 20% since 1986.
Numerous reports reviewed for this book document elevated disease rates in the Chernobyl area. These include increased fetal and infant deaths, birth defects, and diseases of the respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, nervous, endocrine, reproductive, hematological, urological, cardiovascular, genetic, immune, and other systems, as well as cancers and non-cancerous tumors.
In addition to adverse effects in humans, numerous other species have been contaminated, based upon studies of livestock, voles, birds, fish, plants, trees, bacteria, viruses, and other species.
Foods produced in highly contaminated areas in the former Soviet Union were shipped, and consumed worldwide, affecting persons in many other nations. Some, but not all, contamination was detected and contaminated foods not shipped.
The authors warn that the soil, foliage, and water in highly contaminated areas still contain substantial levels of radioactive chemicals, and will continue to harm humans for decades to come.
The book explores effects of Chernobyl fallout that arrived above the United States nine days after the disaster. Fallout entered the U.S. environment and food chain through rainfall. Levels of iodine-131 in milk, for example, were seven to 28 times above normal in May and June 1986. The authors found that the highest U.S. radiation levels were recorded in the Pacific Northwest.
Americans also consumed contaminated food imported from nations affected by the disaster. Four years later, 25% of imported food was found to be still contaminated.
Little research on Chernobyl health effects in the United States has been conducted, the authors found, but one study by the Radiation and Public Health Project found that in the early 1990s, a few years after the meltdown, thyroid cancer in Connecticut children had nearly doubled.
This occurred at the same time that childhood thyroid cancer rates in the former Soviet Union were surging, as the thyroid gland is highly sensitive to radioactive iodine exposures.
The world now has 435 nuclear reactors and of these, 104 are in the United States.
The New York Academy of Sciences says not enough attention has been paid to Eastern European research studies on the effects of Chernobyl at a time when corporations in several nations, including the United States, are attempting to build more nuclear reactors and to extend the years of operation of aging reactors.
The academy said in a statement, "Official discussions from the International Atomic Energy Agency and associated United Nations' agencies (e.g. the Chernobyl Forum reports) have largely downplayed or ignored many of the findings reported in the Eastern European scientific literature and consequently have erred by not including these assessments."
|Chapter I. Chernobyl Contamination: An Overview
Radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl meltdown spread over 40% of Europe (including Austria, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Romania, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Greece, Iceland, Slovenia) and wide territories in Asia (including Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Emirates, China), northern Africa, and North America. Nearly 400 million people resided in territories that were contaminated with radioactivity at a level higher than 4 kBq/m2 (0.11 Ci/km2) from April to July 1986. Nearly 5 million people (including, more than 1 million children) still live with dangerous levels of radioactive contamination in Belarus, Ukraine, and European Russia. Claims that the Chernobyl radioactive fallout adds "only 2%" to the global radioactive background overshadows the fact that many affected territories had previously dangerously high levels of radiation. Even if the current level is low, there was high irradiation in the first days and weeks after the Chernobyl catastrophe. There is no reasonable explanation for the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization (Chernobyl Forum, 2005) have completely neglected the consequences of radioactive contamination in other countries, which received more than 50% of the Chernobyl radionuclides, and addressed concerns only in Belarus, Ukraine, and European Russia.
Chapter II. Consequences of the Chernobyl Catastrophe for Public
In all cases when comparing the territories heavily contaminated by Chernobyl's radionuclides with less contaminated areas that are characterized by a similar economy, demography, and environment, there is a marked increase in general morbidity in the former. Increased numbers of sick and weak newborns were found in the heavily contaminated territories in Belarus, Ukraine, and European Russia.
Accelerated aging is one of the well-known consequences of exposure to ionizing radiation. This phenomenon is apparent to a greater or lesser degree in all of the populations contaminated by the Chernobyl radionuclides.
This section describes the spectrum and the scale of the nonmalignant diseases that have been found among exposed populations. Adverse effects as a result of Chernobyl irradiation have been found in every group that has been studied. Brain damage has been found in individuals directly exposed - liquidators and those living in the contaminated territories, as well as in their offspring. Premature cataracts; tooth and mouth abnormalities; and blood, lymphatic, heart, lung, gastrointestinal, urologic, bone, and skin diseases afflict and impair people, young and old alike. Endocrine dysfunction, particularly thyroid disease, is far more common than might be expected, with some 1,000 cases of thyroid dysfunction for every case of thyroid cancer, a marked increase after the catastrophe. There are genetic damage and birth defects especially in children of liquidators and in children born in areas with high levels of radioisotope contamination. Immunological abnormalities and increases in viral, bacterial, and parasitic diseases are rife among individuals in the heavily contaminated areas. For more than 20 years, overall morbidity has remained high in those exposed to the irradiation released by Chernobyl. One cannot give credence to the explanation that these numbers are due solely to socioeconomic factors. The negative health consequences of the catastrophe are amply documented in this chapter and concern millions of people.
The most recent forecast by international agencies predicted there would be between 9,000 and 28,000 fatal cancers between 1986 and 2056, obviously underestimating the risk factors and the collective doses. On the basis of I-131 and Cs-137 radioisotope doses to which populations were exposed and a comparison of cancer mortality in the heavily and the less contaminated territories and pre- and post-Chernobyl cancer levels, a more realistic figure is 212,000 to 245,000 deaths in Europe and 19,000 in the rest of the world. High levels of Te-132, Ru-103, Ru-106, and Cs-134 persisted months after the Chernobyl catastrophe and the continuing radiation from Cs-137, Sr-90, Pu, and Am will generate new neoplasms for hundreds of years.
|Chapter III. Consequences of the Chernobyl Catastrophe
for the Environment
Air particulate activity over all of the Northern Hemisphere reached its highest levels since the termination of nuclear weapons testing - sometimes up to 1 million times higher than before the Chernobyl contamination. There were essential changes in the ionic, aerosol, and gas structure of the surface air in the heavily contaminated territories, as measured by electroconductivity and air radiolysis. Many years after the catastrophe aerosols from forest fires have dispersed hundreds of kilometers away. The Chernobyl radionuclides concentrate in sediments, water, plants, and animals, sometimes 100,000 times more than the local background level. The consequences of such a shock on aquatic ecosystems is largely unclear.
Secondary contamination of freshwater ecosystems occurs as a result of Cs-137 and Sr-90 washout by the high waters of spring. The speed of vertical migration of different radionuclides in floodplains, lowland moors, peat bogs, etc., is about 2–4 cm/year. As a result of this vertical migration of radionuclides in soil, plants with deep root systems absorb them and carry the ones that are buried to the surface again. This transfer is one of the important mechanisms, observed in recent years, that leads to increased doses of internal irradiation among people in the contaminated territories.
Plants and mushrooms accumulate the Chernobyl radionuclides at a level that depends upon the soil, the climate, the particular biosphere, the season, spotty radioactive contamination, and the particular species and populations (subspecies, cultivars), etc. Each radionuclide has its own accumulation characteristics (e. g., levels of accumulation for Sr-90 are much higher than for Cs-137, and a thousand times less than that for Ce-144). Coefficients of accumulation and transition ratios vary so much in time and space that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the actual levels of Cs-137, Sr-90, Pu-238, Pu-239, Pu-240, and Am-241 at each place and time and for each individual plant or fungus. Chernobyl irradiation has caused structural anomalies and tumorlike changes in many plant species. Unique pathologic complexes are seen in the Chernobyl zone, such as a high percentage of anomalous pollen grains and spores. Chernobyl's irradiation has led to genetic disorders, sometimes continuing for many years, and it appears that it has awakened genes that have been silent over a long evolutionary time.
The radioactive shock when the Chernobyl reactor exploded in 1986 combined with chronic low-dose contamination has resulted in morphologic, physiologic, and genetic disorders in every animal species that has been studied - mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates. These populations exhibit a wide variety of morphological deformities not found in other populations. Despite reports of a "healthy" environment in proximity to Chernobyl for rare species of birds and mammals, the presence of such wildlife is likely the result of immigration and not from locally sustained populations. Twenty-three years after the catastrophe levels of incorporated radionuclides remain dangerously high for mammals, birds, amphibians, and fish in some areas of Europe. Mutation rates in animal populations in contaminated territories are significantly higher and there is transgenerational genomic instability in animal populations, manifested in adverse cellular and systemic effects. Long-term observations of both wild and experimental animal populations in the heavily contaminated areas show significant increases in morbidity and mortality that bear a striking resemblance to changes in the health of humans - increased occurrence of tumor and immunodeficiencies, decreased life expectancy, early aging, changes in blood and the circulatory system, malformations, and other factors that compromise health.
Of the few microorganisms that have been studied, all underwent rapid changes in the areas heavily contaminated by Chernobyl. Organisms such as tuberculosis bacilli; hepatitis, herpes, and tobacco mosaic viruses; cytomegalovirus; and soil micromycetes and bacteria were activated in various ways. The ultimate long-term consequences for the Chernobyl microbiologic biota may be worse than what we know today. Compared to humans and other mammals, the profound changes that take place among these small live organisms with rapid reproductive turnover do not bode well for the health and survival of other species.
Chapter IV. Radiation Protection after the Chernobyl Catastrophe
Tens of thousands of Chernobyl children (mostly
from Belarus) annually leave to receive treatment and health care in other
countries. Doctors from many countries gratuitously work in the Chernobyl
contaminated territories, helping to minimize the consequences of this
most terrible technologic catastrophe in history. But the scale and spectrum
of the consequences are so high, that no country in the world can cope
alone with the long-term consequences of such a catastrophe as Chernobyl.
The countries that have suffered the most, especially Ukraine and Belarus,
extend gratitude for the help that has come through the United Nations
and other international organizations, as well as from private funds and
initiatives. Twenty-two years after the Chernobyl releases, the annual
individual dose limit in heavily contaminated territories of Belarus, Ukraine,
and European Russia exceed 1 mSv/year just because of the unavoidable consumption
of locally contaminated products. The 11-year experience of the BELRAD
Institute shows that for effective radiation protection it is necessary
to establish the interference level for children at 30% of the official
dangerous limit (i.e., 15-20 Bq/kg). The direct whole body counting measurements
of Cs-137 accumulation in the bodies of inhabitants of the heavily contaminated
Belarussian region shows that the official Dose Catalogue underestimates
the annual dose burdens by three to eight times. For practical reasons
the curative-like use of apple-pectin food additives might be especially
helpful for effective decorporation of Cs-137. From 1996 to 2007 a total
of more than 160,000 Belarussian children received pectin food additives
during 18 to 25 days of treatment (5 g twice a day). As a result, levels
of Cs-137 in children's organs decreased after each course of pectin additives
by an average of 30 to 40%. Manufacture and application of various pectin-based
food additives and drinks (using apples, currants, grapes, sea seaweed,
etc.) is one of the most effective ways for individual radioprotection
(through decorporation) under circumstances where consumption of radioactively
contaminated food is unavoidable.