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    How Many Died from Chernobyl Radiation?

    During their debate on Democracy Now, George Monbiot and Helen Caldicott differed sharply over the actual, documented effects of the radiation from Chernobyl. Caldicott claimed that up to a million had died, while Monbiot claimed that only 43 had died from the effects of Chernobyl. That's an enormous discrepancy between two activists I have always respected, but that discrepancy is reflected in their sources.

    Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, which is the New York Academy of Sciences report that Caldicott cited, is only available for subscribers, or those who buy the book. It isn't really an NYAS report, though:

    This is a collection of papers translated from the Russian with some revised and updated contributions. Written by leading authorities from Eastern Europe, the volume outlines the history of the health and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. According to the authors, 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.

    Environment News Service discussed the book last year:

    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. ...
    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.

    The data may be extensive, but the chain of custody will always be a target for doubters.

    Monbiot repeatedly cited the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation as if it was unassailable, and cited Chinese statistics for coal deaths:

    The accident at the Chernobyl ... caused the deaths, within a few weeks, of 30 workers and radiation injuries to over a hundred others. ... Large areas of three countries were contaminated with radioactive materials, and radionuclides from the Chernobyl release were measurable in all countries of the northern hemisphere.

    Among the residents of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, there had been up to the year 2005 more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer reported in children and adolescents who were exposed at the time of the accident, and more cases can be expected during the next decades. Notwithstanding the influence of enhanced screening regimes, many of those cancers were most likely caused by radiation exposures shortly after the accident. Apart from this increase, there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure two decades after the accident. There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure. The incidence of leukaemia in the general population, one of the main concerns owing to the shorter time expected between exposure and its occurrence compared with solid cancers, does not appear to be elevated. Although those most highly exposed individuals are at an increased risk of radiation-associated effects, the great majority of the population is not likely to experience serious health consequences as a result of radiation from the Chernobyl accident. Many other health problems have been noted in the populations that are not related to radiation exposure.

    Certainly part of the problem is deciding whether deaths over the last 25 years were due to Chernobyl, natural causes or the generally carcinogen-strewn environment most of us endure. Just as certainly, industry forces have exploited that doubt for political advantage. Perhaps the effects of Fukushima will be better reported.

    Update: Radiation Dose Chart from Click to enlarge.



    The only thing I can say or comment at this time is that the whole incident - the effects and aftermath - have been greatly underestimated and covered up. The nuclear industry has much to loose if the whole truth of what happened were to be make public, I think.

    Power companies (use to) like nuclear a lot since it was heavily subsidized and their financial risks were minimized. This is not longer the case even though Obama and the anti-coal lobby likes it a lot.

    Power companies are notorious for putting the bare minimum into maintaining their equipment. Just look at the power poles and distribution transformers. None of which are replaced until they totally fail.

    Yeah and don't forget that the Japanese Government is attempting to lay this all on the private corporations that run the reactors!

    Sometimes the fingerpointing leads to paper battles and the world is allowed to see some of the files.

    I've said it before - Monbiot is batshit. 

    Seriously. Whatever the guy argues, he finds the most extreme position possible, finds outlying data, and then uses it to cause sensation. 

    He's an ego and a brand name at this point, not someone to follow for sensible positions. 

    @Quinn - And Caldicott is...?  Activists in general seem to be defined as alarmists these days.  None knows what they are talking about.  Most have no education and even less experience working with the things they fight so strongly against.  Ignorance at its most damaging....

    Caldicott didn't claim on a news show that, "so far the death toll from Chernobyl amongst both workers and local people is 43." Monbiot did cite that number as unchallenged fact, even though a year earlier his employer, the Guardian, published, Chernobyl nuclear accident: figures for deaths and cancers still in dispute:

    The UN's World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency claim that only 56 people have died as a direct result of the radiation released at Chernobyl and that about 4,000 will die from it eventually.

    They also say that only a few children have died of cancers since the accident and, that most of the illnesses usually linked to Chernobyl are due to psychological distress, radiophobia or poverty and unhealthy living.

    But other reputable scientists researching the most radiation-contaminated areas of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are not convinced. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, another UN agency, predicts 16,000 deaths from Chernobyl; an assessment by the Russian academy of sciences says there have been 60,000 deaths so far in Russia and an estimated 140,000 in Ukraine and Belarus.

    Meanwhile, the Belarus national academy of sciences estimates 93,000 deaths so far and 270,000 cancers, and the Ukrainian national commission for radiation protection calculates 500,000 deaths so far.

    The mismatches in figures arise because there have been no comprehensive, co-ordinated studies of the health consequences of the accident. This is in contrast to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where official research showed that the main rise in most types of cancer and non-cancer diseases only became apparent years after the atomic bombs fell.

    But those studies don't count:

    Controversy rages over the agendas of the IAEA, which has promoted civil nuclear power over the past 30 years, and the WHO. The UN accepts only peer-reviewed scientific studies written in certain journals in English, a rule said to exclude dozens of other studies.

    So essentially it is Monbiot who is cherry-picking his data, with the collusion of the UN, IAEA and WHO, not Caldicott.

    And here's a more recent article from the Guardian (which I also posted in the News section):

    Five years ago I visited the still highly contaminated areas of Ukraine and the Belarus border where much of the radioactive plume from Chernobyl descended on 26 April 1986. ...

    It was grim. We went from hospital to hospital and from one contaminated village to another. We found deformed and genetically mutated babies in the wards; pitifully sick children in the homes; adolescents with stunted growth and dwarf torsos; foetuses without thighs or fingers and villagers who told us every member of their family was sick.

    This was 20 years after the accident but we heard of many unusual clusters of people with rare bone cancers. One doctor, in tears, told us that one in three pregnancies in some places was malformed and that she was overwhelmed by people with immune and endocrine system disorders. Others said they still saw caesium and strontium in the breast milk of mothers living far from the areas thought to be most affected, and significant radiation still in the food chain. Villages testified that "the Chernobyl necklace" – thyroid cancer – was so common as to be unremarkable; many showed signs of accelerated ageing.

    The doctors and scientists who have dealt directly with the catastrophe said that the UN International Atomic Energy Agency's "official" toll, through its Chernobyl Forum, of 50 dead and perhaps 4,000 eventual fatalities was insulting and grossly simplistic. The Ukrainian Scientific Centre for Radiation, which estimated that infant mortality increased 20 to 30% after the accident, said their data had not been accepted by the UN because it had not been published in a major scientific journal.

    Konstantin Tatuyan, one of the "liquidators" who had helped clean up the plant, told us that nearly all his colleagues had died or had cancers of one sort or another, but that no one had ever asked him for evidence. There was burning resentment at the way the UN, the industry and ill-informed pundits had played down the catastrophe.

    Quin likes to suggest Dr Haldicott has no education?

         -"Activists in general seem to be defined as alarmists these days.  None knows what they are talking about.  Most have no education and even less experience working with the things they fight so strongly against.  Ignorance at its most damaging...."


    Dr Haldicott's MO doesn't quite sound like someone who is "uneducated.."

    "Born in Melbourne, Australia in 1938, Dr Caldicott received her medical degree from the University of Adelaide Medical School in 1961. She founded the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital in 1975 and subsequently was an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and on the staff of the Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Boston, Mass., until 1980 when she resigned to work full time on the prevention of nuclear war."


    Fukushima Internal Emitters 
    An ill wind comes arising 
    Across the cities of the plain 
    There's no swimming in the heavy water 
    No singing in the acid rain 
    Absalom Absalom Absalom

    Good to find this page. I'm trying to spread the info below as widely as possible. Hope it's of some interest to you also......... 




    Some common arguments of the pro-nuclear movement and a basic reply……

    “Chernobyl only killed 43 people. UNSCEAR, the most authoritative body to investigate the issue, said so.”
    This has been one of the most quoted and misquoted reports in recent times by the pro-nuclear movement. 43 may be the number that can be individually proved to have been killed by Chernobyl, so far, but it is completely disingenuous to present this as the final total. The UNSCEAR report, endlessly cited as though it were the absolute final word on everything related to radiation did no epidemiological research itself at all. It completely ignored deaths outside the old USSR, ignored the universally recommended Linear Non Threshold model and its clear implications of tens of thousands of cancer deaths. Instead it looked at third party studies, dismissing (possibly with some reason) the many studies finding excess deaths, instead focusing on a few studies of low statistical power. Most importantly, UNSCEAR did not state that the final death toll would definitely be of the order of 43. Given the long latency period for many cancers, even this flawed UNSCEAR report could not go that far and remain scientifically credible. Furthermore, buried in the report is the admission that the cancer rate may increase slightly. What people want and need to know is the bottom line, a rough idea of the final death toll, not some small initial figure highlighted and trumpeted to the heavens, with vague muttering buried deep in the report about possible eventual increases in the cancer rate, with deliberate non-clarity about final numbers. Even a 0.1 % increase in the cancer rate would result in tens of thousands of deaths.

    Almost all national and international radiological protection services recommend the use of the linear non-threshold (LNT) model* . UNSCEAR estimates a total dose of 600,000 manSievert from Chernobyl. The International Commission on Radiological Protection estimates the risk of fatal cancer to be 5% per sievert. Putting these figures together you get a possible death toll of 30,000**. It may be more, it may be less, but that is roughly where even the official figures, NB the official figures, point. NNB This is not, as many in the nuclear sect would have it, some tenuous bit of voodoo science from a few eccentric tree-huggers. It is the radiation establishment opinion, firmly grounded in decades of work. It is profoundly shocking that this notion that the death toll from Chernobyl’s radiation is, and will continue to be, very low, this travesty, this complete inversion of the truth, can continue to be perpetuated as though it were the scientific view, and its opponents pilloried as an unscientific minority.

    This issue is not inconsequential. If the record so far is 30,000 dead after a few decades, from Chernobyl alone, one of  400 nuclear poison stations globally, what is the likely toll after the industry expands tenfold, a hundredfold, with hundreds, if not thousands of stations located in countries that make the old Soviet Union look like a model of efficiency and best practice?

    “Natural radiation is all around us, so what’s the big deal about more from nuclear poison stations?”
    Unmentioned here for some reason is the fact that natural radiation kills people. So it’s like saying that it’s ok to deliberately electrocute people since people are killed every year by lightning. 

    “We get more radiation every year from CT scans than from Chernobyl and Fukushima combined.”
    As above, the crucial fact omitted here is that the average whole-body 10mSv CT scan involves a one in 2,000 risk of developing a fatal cancer. Again, this is the universally accepted medical figure, as recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Any doctor recommending a CT scan should explain this, and how in his view the benefits outweigh the risks, and leave the decision to the patient. The risk/benefit calculation is somewhat different when a nuclear poison plant you didn't want in the first place explodes anywhere within a continent of you, and the people who assured you that it could never blow up now assure you that the radiation levels are nothing to worry your little unscientific head about.

    “The risks are “tiny/insignificant””
    The issue is a bit like looking through different ends of a telescope. It is perfectly true that a tiny level of radiation involves, statistically, only a tiny risk. Anyone who would argue otherwise would be looking through the magnifying end of the scope. Conversely, the nuclear poison enthusiast have their eye firmly glued to the wrong end of the telescope, arguing endlessly that the risks to individuals are insignificant, pooh-pooh, putting up internet graphs and diagrams to show how small the individual risks are in comparison with other risks, dismissing tiny individual risks while ignoring aggregated large societal risks. Put more simply, if the risks of a particular exposure are, say, one per million (“tiny”), and a hundred million people are exposed, then one hundred people die from cancer (not “tiny/insignificant”). If you have any kind of genuine commitment to public health, or science, or reason, or morality, then you openly acknowledge that, rather than, as the nuclear cult does, concentrate endlessly on what its perverted value judgements regard as “insignificant” individual risks***.

    “We’ve done studies on areas of high natural background radiation and there was no increase in cancer deaths detected. There was actually less cancer than expected.”

    More stunningly ignorant pronouncements from an allegedly scientifically literate nuclear priesthood, who continually denounce the anti-nuclear movement and the public as being ignorant and irrational. Even the Institute of Physics, hardly a bunch of hippies, can admit that the populations of those areas are too small to yield meaningful statistics.  

    “Coal/oil/gas/wind power/solar/geothermal/conservation/using less energy/doing nothing/whatever you’re having yourself/ kills people too.”
     This is almost too stupid to respond too, apart from noting that maybe two wrongs don’t make a right, and that alleged concerns by the rejuvenated nuclear poison club about global warming or the safety of other power sources are an argument for increasing the safety of those sources, or for moving to genuinely safer, more environmentally responsible sources, for conservation, for a reduction in consumption and energy use. They are not an argument for recommending that globally we spend trillions we haven’t got building thousands of nuclear poison plants, many of them in impoverished, inefficient, corrupt countries with an eye on getting nuclear weapons. It is also worth remembering that nuclear power was originally sold to an unsuspecting public on the grounds that it would be too cheap to meter, that there would not be any major accidents, and that low level radiation was completely safe. All this lesser-of-two-evils comparison garbage was invented as a Plan B, when perfectly safe nuclear poison plants began to blow up, and as the truth about low level radiation emerged. Again, shocking “logic”, especially given the insults directed by these people at the anti-nuclear movement and the public.

    “100mSv is the dose needed to develop cancer.” 
    Another bald lie. It was the case, that, from the A-bomb studies, 100mSv was the dose where cancers were observed, but this did not mean that the cancers were not occurring, Get this guys – it’s a linear NON-THRESHOLD model, meaning NO safe dose. It does NOT  mean 100mSV is safe. Further, continued work on the A-bomb studies now shows cancer induction down to 50mSv and possibly down to 20mSv. 

    “The levels are well within safety/permissible levels.“
    Few in the nuclear industry actually use the expression “safety levels” anymore – this seems to be largely done by an ignorant, supine media - and the nuclear industry covers itself somewhat by using the phrase “permissible levels” (What’s the difference between “permissible” and “safety”? “Permissible” by who? Set by who? Have you, the reader, agreed to these levels for yourself and your children). As stated above, no level of radiation is safe, so the idea of a “permissible” level is at best disingenuous.  Even using official figures, if everyone of the 300 million population of the US were to receive the “permitted” dose of 1mSv per year every year, you could eventually expect roughly 15,000 fatal cancers to develop per year every year as a result.

    “There are no cancer clusters around nuclear poison plants.”
    Since even the dogs in the streets now know that there are cancer clusters around nuclear poison plants, this “argument” has generally shifted to…
    “The levels of radiation emitted by nuclear poison plants are too low to account for the (previously non-existent) cancer clusters around nuclear poison plants.”
    This would lead to the rather odd conclusion that the higher the number of cancers around nuclear poison plants, the less radiation must be responsible. That it might, just might, be possible that radiation emission levels have been deliberately or accidentally unreported, unrecorded, misrecorded, or underestimated; that measurement of the resulting radiation dose to the public has been inadequate; that the impact of low level radiation, particularly ingested or inhaled radiation, has been underestimated etc etc., is all dismissed out of hand.

    “Hormesis. Radiation is good for you.”
    The holy grail of nuclear enthusiasts. Some tiny evidence, yet to be confirmed, confined to test tubes, breathlessly exaggerated enormously by nuclear fans. Other so-called evidence, also touted endlessly over recent decades, from Cobalt in buildings, from nuclear worker studies, and from high background areas of radiation, all now discredited. Basically pie in the sky rubbish, not taken seriously by anyone bar nuclear quacks.

    Yours sincerely,

    Chris Murray.


    *Linear No Threshold (LNT) model - that the relationship between radiation and its effects are linear – ie that if 1000 units of radiation cause 1000 deaths, then one hundred units will cause one hundred deaths, ten units will cause ten deaths etc., and that there is no safe dose – no threshold below which radiation is safe)

    ** the true picture is of course more complex, since individuals vary in their response to radiation depending on age, health, the type of radiation, whether the radiation is external, or ingested, or inhaled, the pathways by which exposure occurs, etc. etc., and one cannot be anything like exact in these matters. However, LNT does offer some basic estimate of the casualty figures. The ICRP admittedly warn sternly that such use of LNT after an accident is “inappropriate”. However, they do not have a monopoly on the use of LNT, they do not have a monopoly on logic, or reason, or common sense, and they do not offer any alternative “appropriate” method for even roughly estimating the total casualties in the event of an accident. It is somewhat peculiar that just a radiation protection is most needed, after a catastrophic nuclear accident, when millions are at risk, that the ICRP claims the LNT model cannot be used. It is worth mentioning that national bodies such as the RPII and the Institute of Physics have no qualms about using such an approach. It is also worth mentioning that LNT may significantly underestimate the risks, in particular the risks from inhaled or ingested radionuclides.

    *** And, of course, to those who develop cancer as a result, and to their families and friends, this is hardly “insignificant”.

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