It will be a long time before we have a complete picture of the unfolding nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima, and much longer before the scale of the impacts can truly be understood. Misinformation and disinformation abound in an emotive and exceptionally polarised debate over the nuclear power industry. Teasing apart fact from fiction will be a major task. First we need to look at the latest information on the state of affairs at Fukushima, and then turn to the debate over the health impacts of radiation and comparisons with Chernobyl.
The best interpretation of data and events at Fukushima is being provided by Arnie Gundersen at Fairewind Associates, a nuclear engineer of long experience. His most recent contribution puts the events of the last six seeks in stark perspective. He compares the explosive events at units 1 and 3, providing a very convincing case for the unit 3 detonation having resulted from a prompt criticality in the spent fuel pool. Pieces of fuel rods have been discovered as much as two miles away, plutonium dust has been detected on site and uranium and americium powder has been detected as far away as the US, indicating the volatilisation of nuclear fuel.
Much of the building is missing, enough for it to be impossible for the spent fuel pool to have survived. TEPCO data appears to suggest the reactor itself is intact, but the scale of the destruction must lead to some considerable doubt.
The spent fuel at the plant is a major concern, with at least two spent fuel pool (at units 3 and 4) either damaged or destroyed. The pool at unit 3 contained almost an entire reactor core of spent fuel, and at unit 4 the total was even much higher – between two and three reactor cores.
In addition to the individual spent fuel pools, there is a common pool, which has also had cooling difficulties.
In addition to these individual pools, there is a larger common spent fuel pool that is used to store spent fuel from all 6 reactors once it has been out of the reactor for 19 months and has cooled down. It has a volume of 3,828 cubic meters (29m x 12m x11m deep) and currently has 6,375 spent fuel assemblies in it. It is located 50 meters west of Unit 4. Reports also say that this pool continues to have water supplies but its cooling system is not functional.
The quantity of radioactive material at the site is simply staggering, and its condition precarious. We could yet see more uncontrolled releases of contamination from this material, in addition to the on-going releases due to containment breaches, radioactive steam emissions and water flooding:
Radiation readings at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station rose to the highest since an earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems, impeding efforts to contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. Two robots sent into the reactor No. 1 building at the plant yesterday took readings as high as 1,120 millisierverts of radiation per hour, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co., said today. That’s more than four times the annual dose permitted to nuclear workers at the stricken plant.
Turbine areas at reactors No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 contain nearly 70,000 metric tons of significantly contaminated water, the International Atomic Energy Agency said. Transfers of fresh water continued into reactors No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, and a vehicle over the weekend fired 305 metric tons of fresh water on the No. 4 reactor’s spent fuel cooling pond. The liquid is intended to prevent additional releases of radiation from the cooling ponds.
Data released on April 28, 2011 by TEPCO is now unequivocal in showing ongoing criticalities at Unit 2, with a peak on April 13. TEPCO graphs of radioactivity-versus-time in water under each of the six reactors show an ongoing nuclear chain reaction creating high levels of “fresh” I-131 in Unit 2, the same reactor pressure vessel (RPV) with a leak path to reactor floor, aux building, and outdoor trenches, that is uncontrollably leaking high levels of I-131, Cs-134, Cs-137 into the Pacific Ocean.
Because I-131 has no long-lived “parent” to “feed it” by parent decay, the levels of I-131 in scrammed reactors with intact geometry will decrease exponentially with an 8-day half-life, meaning that after 5 half-lives (40 days) the I-131 levels are only 3% of what they were at scram. But instead of seeing that expected decrease in I-131 levels relative to Cs-134 and Cs-137 in the regular TEPCO press releases, I-131 was seen to be increasing, instead of decreasing as the physics said it should.
“Outlier” Unit 2 has I-131 levels roughly 20 times its levels of Cs-134/137. The only possible source of I-131 would be “pockets” of molten core in the Unit 2 RPV settled in such a way that the boron in the injected water is insufficient to stop the localised criticalities.
The scope of the accident and its likely impact on the surrounding heavily populated area continues to be considerably underestimated, and evacuation efforts remain grossly inadequate.
Today the IAEA has finally confirmed what some analysts have suspected for days: that the concentration per area of long-lived caesium-137 (Cs-137) is extremely high as far as tens of kilometres from the release site at Fukushima Dai-Ichi, and in fact would trigger compulsory evacuation under IAEA guidelines.
The IAEA is reporting that measured soil concentrations of Cs-137 as far away as Iitate Village, 40 kilometers northwest of Fukushima-Dai-Ichi, correspond to deposition levels of up to 3.7 megabecquerels per square meter (MBq/sq.m). This is far higher than previous IAEA reports of values of Cs-137 deposition, and comparable to the total beta-gamma measurements reported previously by IAEA.
This should be compared with the deposition level that triggered compulsory relocation in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident: the level set in 1990 by the Soviet Union was 1.48 MBq/sq.m. Thus, it is now abundantly clear that Japanese authorities were negligent in restricting the emergency evacuation zone to only 20 kilometres from the release site.
Arnie Gundersen calls the exposure limits being applied for children in the area of the stricken plant “a gross miscarriage of radiation science”. Children are particularly vulnerable to radiation, as their cells are dividing very rapidly. The impact of a given dose is therefore 10-100 times greater, yet the dose limit for children in the area of Fukushima is set at a level most countries would use for adults working at a nuclear plant.
Toshio Kosako, a government advisor on radiation safety, recently resigned in protest over the handling of the accident by the Japanese government.
In one of his most damaging charges, the adviser, Toshiso Kosako, drew attention to a recent government decision to allow children living near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to receive doses of radiation equal to the international standard for nuclear power plant workers. That level is far higher than international standards set for the public. “I cannot allow this as a scholar,” said Mr. Kosako, an expert on radiation safety at the University of Tokyo.
He also blasted the government for what he said was a lack of transparency in releasing radiation levels around the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and for setting an overly high limit on radiation exposure for workers who have spent weeks struggling to keep the plant under control.
Government advisory positions are considered prestigious, and it is highly unusual for an academic to quit one in protest.
Another senior advisor, Michio Ishikawa, the former head of the Japan Nuclear Technology Institute and an ardent supporter of the nuclear industry, also made dramatic claims contradicting the official version of the extent of the damage at Fukushima.
I believe the fuel rods are completely melted. They may already have escaped the pressure vessel. Yes, they say 55% or 30%, but I believe they are all melted down. When the fuel rods melt, they melt from the middle part on down.
I think the temperature inside the melted core is 2000 degrees to 2000 and several hundred degrees Celsius. A crust has formed on the surface where the water hits. Decay heat is 2000 to 3000 kilowatts, and through the cracks on the crust the radioactive materials (mostly noble gas and iodine) are escaping into the air.
Volatile gas has almost all escaped from the reactor by now. The water [inside the pressure vessel] is highly contaminated with uranium, plutonium, caesium, cobalt, in the concentration we’ve never seen before.
My old colleague contacted me and shared his calculation with me. At the decay heat of 2000 kilowatt… There’s a substance called cobalt 60. Highly radioactive, needs 1 to 1.5 meter thick shields. It kills people at 1000 curies. He calculated that there are 10 million curies of cobalt-60 in the reactor core. If 10% of cobalt-60 in the core dissolve into water, it’s 1 million curies.
They (TEPCO) want to circulate this highly contaminated water to cool the reactor core. Even if they are able to set up the circulation system, it will be a very difficult task to shield the radiation. It will be a very difficult work to build the system, but it has to be done.
It is imperative to know the current condition of the reactor cores. It is my assumption [that the cores have melted], but wait one day, and we have water more contaminated with radioactive materials. This is a war, and we need to build a “bridgehead” at the reactor itself instead of fooling around with the turbine buildings or transporting contaminated water.
While acknowledging high radiation levels, he nevertheless declared those levels to be safe and said that people in the evacuation zone should be allowed to return to their homes.
The Fukushima disaster inevitably leads to comparisons with Chernobyl, particularly with regard to the expected health impacts. Twenty-five years after Chernobyl, estimates of morbidity and mortality are almost inconceivably variable. The official story is that fewer than 50 people died as a direct result of the accident, and that the only other identifiable impact has been a few thousand cases of thyroid cancer in children exposed to radioactive iodine in milk.
This impact is said to have been preventable with appropriate restrictions on consumption of contaminated food, and its seriousness is minimised in the official discourse as thyroid cancer is described as readily curable. This official position incenses those who lived through the Chernobyl catastrophe and have been involved in dealing with its aftermath.
The debate hinges on the nature of the data and evidence, with huge disagreement as to what should be taken into consideration. The outcome is far from purely academic, as it will determine the future of the nuclear power industry.
Most recently the two sides have been personified by George Monbiot, an environmental journalist and recent convert to nuclear power, and Helen Caldicott, a doctor and long term opponent of the nuclear industry. Monbiot began the exchange immediately following the events at Fukushima:
You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.
A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation. [..] Yes, I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry.
Yes, I would prefer to see the entire sector shut down, if there were harmless alternatives. But there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the impact on people and the planet has been small.
Monbiot accepts the official position on the impact of Chernobyl, on the grounds that it represents the scientific consensus, and has become increasingly vociferous in his condemnation of the evidence for greater health consequences:
Over the past fortnight I’ve made a deeply troubling discovery. The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice. [..]
For the past 25 years, anti-nuclear campaigners have been racking up the figures for deaths and diseases caused by the Chernobyl disaster, and parading deformed babies like a mediaevel circus. They now claim that 985,000 people have been killed by Chernobyl, and that it will continue to slaughter people for generations to come. These claims are false [..]
Professor Gerry Thomas, who worked on the health effects of Chernobyl for Unscear (UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation), tells me that there is “absolutely no evidence” for an increase in birth defects.
In the normal course of operations, at least six people are killed in Chinese coal mines every day. Even if you accept the official figure, Chinese coal mining alone kills as many people every week as the worst nuclear power accident in history – the Chernobyl explosion – has done in 25 years.
Monbiot accuses those who oppose nuclear power on health grounds of “failing to provide sources, refuting data with anecdote, cherry-picking studies, scorning the scientific consensus, invoking a cover-up to explain it”.
We emphasise, when debating climate change, the importance of the scientific consensus, and reliance on solid, peer-reviewed studies. But as soon as we start discussing the dangers of low-level radiation, we abandon that and endorse the pseudo-scientific gibberish of a motley collection of cranks and quacks, who appear to have begun with the assumption that it must be killing thousands of people every year, and retrofitted the evidence to match it.
Monbiot places a great deal of faith in scientific consensus, but this presents considerable pitfalls in its own right. Truth and consensus are not necessarily identical, nor even comparable. There are many academic fields, including economics and finance which we focus on here at The Automatic Earth, where an established consensus acts as a substantial impediment to discovering the truth about events and to making sense of them.
It can be virtually impossible to fund or publish studies conflicting with received wisdom which has hardened into dogma. Since only data from peer reviewed publications is considered evidence, it is possible to ignore huge amounts of relevant information and reinforce the fallacious consensus even further. All conflicting information is then dismissed as anecdotal. This is exactly what appears to have occurred in relation to Chernobyl.
In a review of the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, which Monbiot has read and dismissed as unscientific, Dr. Rosalie Bertell writes:
Until now we have read about the published reports of limited spotty investigations by western scientists who undertook projects in the affected territories. Even the prestigious IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR reports have been based on about 300 such western research papers, leaving out the findings of some 30,000 scientific papers prepared by scientists working and living in the stricken territories and suffering the everyday problems of residential contamination with nuclear debris and a contaminated food supply[..]
The government of the former Soviet Union previously classified many documents now accessible to the authors. For example, we now know that the number of people hospitalised for acute radiation sickness was more than a hundred times larger than the number recently quoted by the IAEA, WHO and UNSCEAR.
Unmentioned by the technocrats were the problems of “hot particles” of burning uranium that caused nasopharyngeal problems, and the radioactive fallout that resulted in general deterioration of the health of children, wide spread blood and lymph system diseases, reproductive loss, premature and small infant births, chromosomal mutations, congenital and developmental abnormalities, multiple endocrine diseases, mental disorders and cancer.
The authors systematically explain the secrecy conditions imposed by the government, the failure of technocrats to collect data on the number and distribution of all of the radionuclides of major concern, and the restrictions placed on physicians against calling any medical findings radiation related unless the patient had been a certified “acute radiation sickness” patient during the disaster, thus assuring that only 1% of injuries would be so reported.
From John Vidal, writing in The Guardian:
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 [..]
While there have been thousands of east European studies into the health effects of radiation from Chernobyl, only a very few have been accepted by the UN, and there have been just a handful of international studies trying to gauge an overall figure [..]
Further, as Prof Dimitro Godzinsky, of the Ukranian National Academy of Sciences, states in his introduction to the report: “Against this background of such persuasive data some defenders of atomic energy look specious as they deny the obvious negative effects of radiation upon populations. In fact, their reactions include almost complete refusal to fund medical and biological studies, even liquidating government bodies that were in charge of the ‘affairs of Chernobyl’. Under pressure from the nuclear lobby, officials have also diverted scientific personnel away from studying the problems caused by Chernobyl.
I suggest that readers evaluate the evidence for themselves, beginning with this interview with one of its authors, Dr Alexey Yablokov, who was head of the Russian Academy of Sciences under Gorbachev.
Dr Helen Caldicott has been the focus of Monbiot’s ire since they began to debate the issue of radiation safety. She is a long standing opponent of nuclear power and has been a tireless campaigner on issues surrounding ionizing radiation for decades. Her position is that the consequences of Chernobyl constitute “one of the most monstrous cover-ups in the history of medicine”. In her opinion, Fukushima is “orders of magnitude” worse than Chernobyl.
Dr. Caldicott makes some questionable assertions in this video. For starters, her estimation of the quantity of spent fuel (10 to 20 times as much as in reactor cores) does not accord with other data sources, either per reactor and corresponding spent fuel pool, or for all reactors and spent fuel pools taken together with the common fuel pool included. While spent fuel is obviously a major issue, she appears to overstate it. She mentions bioaccumulation of isotopes in the food chain, but that will depend on the isotope, its radiological half-life, how it is taken up and distributed in the body and what its ‘biological half-life’ may be (ie how long it is retained in body tissues). Bioaccumulation is extremely complex.
Her comparison between Chernobyl and Fukushima is also problematic. While there is more radioactive material at Fukushima, it is likely that less of it has escaped into the environment, at least so far. The material from the reactor cores is still mostly contained, thanks to the containment structures that Chernobyl lacked entirely.
The containment at Fukushima is breached, but not appears not to be destroyed, at least at most units. Also, the accident mode at Chernobyl – a prompt neutron surge causing an operating reactor to explode – was not replicated in the Fukushima reactors, which did scram (shut down) in response to the earthquake.
The Chernobyl combination of a nuclear explosion, a moderator fire propelling radiation high into the atmosphere for days, and no containment whatsoever, was not replicated at Fukushima. Chernobyl dispersed radiation more effectively than it appears Fukushima will, meaning that at a distance the health impacts should be minimal (see this interview between Arnie Gundersen and epidemiologist Dr Stephen Wing for discussion of distance impacts).
However, that is no comfort to those close to the plant, where the impact will arguably be greater than it was in the region around Chernobyl. Given that this region is home to far more people than was the rural Ukraine, the scale of human suffering is likely to be much worse.
Dr. Caldicott also says that since 40% of Europe is contaminated with radioactive caesium fallout, one should not eat European food for the next 600 years. In an era of diminishing energy for food transportation, there will come a time when Europeans not prepared to eat European food will have a bigger problem in six weeks of starving to death than they would have taking a risk of possibly getting cancer in thirty year by eating locally available food.
Perspective is important, and Dr. Caldicott’s passion sometimes interferes with her ability to maintain it. She has made many cogent arguments, however, and her work is an important contribution to a vitally important debate, particularly in relation to raising awareness of the distinction between external and internal radiation emitters.
The former is what populations were exposed to when the atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945; their profound and on-going medical effects are well documented. Internal radiation, on the other hand, emanates from radioactive elements which enter the body by inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption. Hazardous radionuclides such as iodine-131, caesium 137, and other isotopes currently being released in the sea and air around Fukushima bio-concentrate at each step of various food chains (for example into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow’s meat and milk, then humans).
After they enter the body, these elements – called internal emitters – migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain, where they continuously irradiate small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years, can induce uncontrolled cell replication – that is, cancer. Further, many of the nuclides remain radioactive in the environment for generations, and ultimately will cause increased incidences of cancer and genetic diseases over time.
See also Richard Bramhall, writing in The Guardian:
The “sievert”, as Elliott says, is a dose unit for quantifying radiation risk. He did not add that it assumes dose density is uniform.
“There are many kinds of radiation”, he says, but he does not mention how they differ. In fact, external sources like cosmic rays and x-rays distribute their energy evenly, like the sun; others, notably alpha-emitters like uranium, are extremely uneven in the way they irradiate body tissue once they have been inhaled or swallowed.
Because alpha particles emitted from uranium atoms are relatively massive, they slow down rapidly, concentrating all their energy into a minuscule volume of tissue. Applying the sievert to this pinpoint of internal radiation means conceptualising it as a dose to the whole body. It’s an averaging error, like believing it makes no difference whether you sit by the fire to warm yourself or eat a burning coal. The scale of the error can be huge.
Radiation protection officials fell into this averaging trap in 1941. The Manhattan Project, rushing to build the atom bomb, was creating many new radio-elements whose health effects were unknown. Summing them all – external and internal, alpha, beta, gamma or whatever – into a single dose quantity gave an impression of certainty and precision.
Monbiot and Caldicott recently held a debate on Democracy Now, but it was not a particularly edifying spectacle, being marred by misconceptions on both sides. Monbiot clings to a willfully blind scientific consensus, while Caldicott is over-zealous in making her points, leading to exaggeration.
One particular problem with Caldicott’s perspective is a lack of understanding of future energy availability. In her opinion, “there’s enough renewable technology now, right now, which is relatively cheap, to supply the whole of the U.S.’s needs by 2040 without any carbon and any nuclear”. This is completely erroneous for many reasons including peak oil, the net energy cliff, and grid issues. Her sense that there are easy alternatives to nuclear makes it much easier to oppose.
On Monbiot’s part, his understanding of energy issues in general (as gleaned from a number of his previous writings) seems to be better, but he appears to be wedded to our current technological standard of living and feels that the risks of nuclear power are acceptable in order to preserve it.
In my view our current standard of living, or business-as-usual scenario will not be an option no matter what we do, and we will be forced to revert to a much lower level of socioeconomic complexity. Taking enormous risks in the attempt to preserve that which cannot be saved seems very foolish to me.
In order to present some perspective on (or near) the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, we need to review the material that is available on Chernobyl and its aftermath. For starters, everyone should watch The Battle of Chernobyl, followed by Vladimir Shevchenko’s last film, Paul Fusco’s short documentary on the children of Chernobyl and the track of the Chernobyl caesium plume:
Chernobyl continues to have huge impacts, both on humans and wildlife in affected areas:
“How much radiation were you subjected to?
We were never told. We wore dosimeters which measured radiation and we submitted them to the bosses, but they never gave us the results.
But didn’t you realise the danger and want to leave?
Yes, I knew the danger. All sorts of things happened. One colleague stepped into a rainwater pool and the soles of his feet burned off inside his boots. But I felt it was my duty to stay. I was like a firefighter. Imagine if your house was burning and the firemen came and then left because they thought it was too dangerous.
When did you discover the thyroid tumor?
They found it during a routine medical inspection after I had worked there several years. It turned out to be benign. I don’t know when it started to develop. I had an operation to remove half the thyroid gland. The tumor grew back, and last year I had the other half removed. I live on (thyroid) hormones now.
Why did you go back to Chernobyl after getting a thyroid tumor?
Right around the time of my operation, the government passed a law saying the liquidators had to work for exactly 4 1/2 years to get our pension and retire. If you left even one day early, you would not get any benefits.
Really? That seems beyond cruel.
It’s why the nuclear industry is dangerous. They want to deny the dangers. They kept changing the law about what benefits we’d get because if they admitted how much we were affected, it would look bad for the industry. Now we hardly get any benefits.
Did your health worsen after you finally finished work at Chernobyl?
I was basically disabled at 43. I was having fits similar to epileptic fits. My blood pressure was sky high. It was hard to work for more than six months a year. The doctors didn’t know what to do with me. They wanted to put me in a psychiatric ward and call me crazy. Finally they admitted it was because of the radiation.
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.
From University of South Carolina biology professor Tim Mousseau, one of the few scientists to have probed biodiversity around Chernobyl in depth:
“Chernobyl is definitely not a haven for wildlife,” he said in a phone interview.
“When you actually do the hard work, of conducting a scientific study, where you rigorously control for all the variables, and you do this repeatedly in many different places, the signal is very strong.
“There are many fewer animals and many fewer kinds of animals than you would expect.”
In 2010, Mousseau and colleagues published the biggest-ever census of wildlife in the exclusion zone. It showed that mammals had declined and insect diversity, including bumblebees, grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies, had also fallen.
And in a study published in February this year, they netted 550 birds, belonging to 48 species at eight different sites, and measured their heads to determine the volume of their brains.
Birds living in “hot spots” had five percent smaller brains than those living where radiation was lower — and the difference was especially great among birds less than a year old. Smaller brains are linked to a lower cognitive ability and thus survival. The study suggested many bird embryos probably do not survive at all.
“This clearly ties to the level of background contamination,” said Mousseau. “There are bound to be consequences for the ecosystem as a whole.”
”Chernobyl enriched medicine with new terminology and syndromes, and imparted a new ‘Chernobyl’ ring to old phrases: ‘premature ageing,’ ‘diagnosis of cancer in younger patients,’ ‘in utero irradiation,’ ‘Chernobyl AIDS,’ ‘Chernobyl heart,’ and ‘Chernobyl limbs,’ as well as the syndromes of ‘vegetative-vascular dystonia’ (a functional disorder of nerve regulation of the cardio-vascular system with various presentations), the syndrome of ‘incorporation of long-lived radionuclides,’ (structural and functional changes to the cardio-vascular, nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems and other organs as a result of the accrual of caesium-137 and strontium 90 in the human organism); the syndrome ‘acute inhalation depression of the upper respiratory system,’ ‘chronic fatigue’ syndrome, and ‘lingering radiation sickness…”’
“Specialists with ties to the nuclear industry assert that the increase in illness rates around Chernobyl are not a result of irradiation but rather sociological, economic and psychological factors like stress and ‘radiophobia.’ Socio-economic factors cannot be the fundamental reason because compared groups identical in socio-economic conditions, physical and geographical characteristics of where they live, age and gender differ only in the level of their radiation load.
Radiophobia likewise cannot be a defining reasons because the rate of illness rose universally within a few years of the catastrophe, during which time radiophobia subsided. Finally, the above described health defects in humans have also been observed in animal populations on the radioactively contaminated territory.
The Chernobyl accident is still not over. Attempts to contain the impact continue, as the concrete sarcophagus isolating additional radiation from the environment urgently needs to be replaced. Plans are afoot, but they will be exceptionally expensive to implement, and like the previous, now crumbling, structure, this ‘solution’ also will not be permanent.
The Ukrainian ambassador to Norway, Oleksandr Tsvietkov, had this to say at a recent seminar on Chernobyl:
Chernobyl changed Ukraine fundamentally. Cities were uninhabitable, good farmland became useless overnight – and we still use the five percent of our gross domestic product to deal with the consequences of the accident.With international help, we have now managed to get about three quarters of the 730 million euro needed, and we hope for more support so that future generations in Ukraine will not have to grow up with this threat.
To me it is clear that the official story of Chernobyl has no credibility. Never-anticipated nuclear accidents continue to occur, and when they do the costs – in terms of health, ecological damage, energy demand for clean up, resource use and money – are astronomical.
The EROEI for nuclear power is already unimpressive over its whole lifecycle, and even a small number of dramatic accidents on the scale of Chernobyl and Fukushima can render the energy balance negative. The risk of nuclear accident is unacceptably high. The costs, even in the absence of accidents, are too high. We should learn from our mistakes and turn away from this technology.