Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

Chernobyl's myths and misconceptions

Kalman MizseiKalman Mizsei (pictured) is UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Development Program Director for Europe and the CIS. Louisa Vinton is UNDP Senior Programme Manager responsible for the Western CIS and Caucasus countries, as well as Chernobyl.

by Kalman Mizsei and Louisa Vinton

The twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident of April 26, 1986 is prompting a new wave of alarmist claims about its impact on human health and the environment. As has become a ritual on such commemorative occasions, the death toll is tallied in the hundreds of thousands, and fresh reports are made of elevated rates of cancer, birth defects, and overall mortality.

This picture is both badly distorted – and harmful to the victims of the Chernobyl accident. All reputable scientific studies conducted so far have concluded that the impact of radiation has been less damaging than was feared. A few dozen emergency workers who battled the fire at the reactor succumbed to acute radiation sickness. Studies are still under way into elevated rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease among the “liquidators” who worked at the reactor site in the months following the accident. And some 5,000 cases of thyroid cancer, attributed to radioactive iodine absorbed through consumption of milk in the weeks immediately following the accident, have been detected among those who were children at the time.

There has been real suffering, particularly among the 330,000 people who were relocated after the accident. About that there is no doubt. But, for the five million people living in affected regions who are designated as Chernobyl “victims,” radiation has had no discernable impact on physical health.

This is because these people were exposed to low radiation doses that in most cases were comparable to natural background levels. Two decades of natural decay and remediation measures mean that most territories originally deemed “contaminated” no longer merit that label. Aside from thyroid cancer, which has been successfully treated in 98.5% of cases, scientists have not been able to document any connection between radiation and any physical condition.

Where a clear impact has been found is mental health. Fear of radiation, it seems, poses a far more potent health threat than does radiation itself. Symptoms of stress are rampant, and many residents of affected areas firmly believe themselves to be condemned by radiation to ill health and early death.

In part, this is because the initial Soviet response was secretive: Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader at the time, addressed the issue on television only weeks later, on May 14, 1986. Myths and misconceptions have taken root, and these have outlasted subsequent efforts to provide reliable information. Combined with sweeping government benefit policies that classify millions of people living in Chernobyl-affected areas as invalids, such myths encouraged fatalistic and passive behaviors and created a “culture of dependency” among affected communities.

The United Nations Chernobyl Forum, a consortium of eight UN agencies and representatives of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, reinforced these findings. Chernobyl Forum was created to address the prevailing confusion concerning the impact of the accident, both among the public and government officials, by declaring a clear verdict on issues where a scientific consensus could be found. The Forum succeeded in this effort, and a fresh and reassuring message on the impact of radiation was made public in September. [An easily digestible summary is available at .]

The Chernobyl Forum findings should have brought relief, for they show that the specter haunting the region is not invincible radiation, but conquerable poverty. What the region needs are policies aimed at generating new livelihoods rather than reinforcing dependency; public-health campaigns that address the lifestyle issues (smoking and drinking) that undermine health across the former Soviet Union; and community development initiatives that promote self-reliance and a return to normalcy.

But the reception given to the Chernobyl Forum’s message has been surprisingly mixed. Some officials have reverted to alarmist language on the number of fatalities attributed to Chernobyl. Some NGO’s and Chernobyl charities have responded with disbelief, citing as evidence the general population’s admittedly poor health. Opponents of nuclear power have suggested that self-interest has compromised the Chernobyl Forum’s integrity.

Set against the impressive body of science underpinning the Chernobyl Forum, such responses reflect the tenacity not only of myths and misconceptions, but also of vested interests. The new view on Chernobyl threatens the existence of charities – such as those offering health “respites” abroad for children – that depend for their fund-raising on graphic footage of deformed babies.

The new understanding also deprives the region’s officials of a routine way to seek international sympathy, even if the repetition of such appeals after two decades yields little financial aid. By misstating the problems, these approaches threaten to divert scarce resources into the wrong remedies.

The twentieth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident is an ideal occasion for all actors to do some honest soul-searching. Governments are right to worry about the fate of Chernobyl-affected territories, but the way forward will require fresh thinking and bold decisions, particularly a shift in priorities from paying paltry benefits to millions to targeted spending that helps to promote jobs and economic growth. Similarly, charities are right to worry about the population’s health, but they should focus on promoting healthy lifestyles in affected communities rather than whisking children abroad as if their homes were poisonous.

All parties are right to worry about the affected populations, but, more than any sophisticated diagnostic equipment, what is needed is credible information, presented in a digestible format, to counter Chernobyl’s destructive legacy of fear. The children of Chernobyl are all grown up; their interests, and those of their own children, are best served not by continually evoking the nightmare of radiation, but by giving them the tools and authority they need to rebuild their own communities.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2006.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

What should replace nuclear power?

Justin Tutty, do you think all countries should decommission their nuclear power plants or just the US? Also what method of power generation do you suggest be installed to replace the 65 nuclear plants in the US and the 59 in France? That’s approx 790 billion kWh in the US and 550 billion kWh in France per year that will need to be replaced. I made some estimates based on analysis conducted by ecologists at Cornell University (see “Renewable energy systems would replace only half U.S. fossil-fuel use, while occupying vast tracts of land”). To replace all the American and French nuclear plants with wind power would require more than 18 million hectares of land. To use solar instead would require about 1.5 million hectares (Tasmania is 6.8 million hectares). I assume you’re against coal fired power replacing nuclear.

A back of the envelope calculation

Gareth Eastwood, using the figures you supplied in the above post, a back of the envelope calculation reveals the following (and please bear in mind that I was away from school the day we had arithmetic):

Annual US production of electric power = 7.90 x 10^11 kWh. As there are 8760 hours in a year, from that we get an average continuous required generation of (7.90 x 10^11)/8760 = 9 x 10^8 kW. ~ 10^9 kW. There are 300 million (3 x 10^8) people in the US.  Let us assume 3 per home, giving 10^8 homes. (Thus each home requires(10^9 kW)/(10^8 homes) or 10 continuous kilowatts to consume the entire national total power production.) Let us also assume the average roof area per home to be 100 sq m (ie of a house 10 m x 10 m, disregarding gables etc. Apartment buildings have less roof area per person but are less numerous than houses). Assume one continuous kilowatt per square metre of solar panel placed normal to the sun’s rays in daylight hours (say for a third of the day), converted to electricity at 20% efficiency. That gives us 100 kW x 0.33 x 0.2 = 6.6 kW ‘continuous’ (averaged over the day) per home. Let’s round this down to 6 kW, and then multiply by the number of homes. Total = 6 x 10^8 kW ‘continuous’. That gives us 60% of the total electricity consumption of the US, from solar panels on the rooves of houses, never mind panels anywhere else or other energy sources or converters.

Looked at another way, if every roof was an electric radiator operating at just 0.1 kW/ sq metre, they would all together chew up the entire national power production. Putting that 0.1 kW in via solar panels on a roof receiving just one third of 20% of a continuous kilowatt (= 0.7 kW) would appear feasible. (0.1 kW/m^2 x 100 m^2 = 10 kW.) The roof is getting about 70% of the convertible ‘continuous’ energy needed for the national production per house.

“To replace all the American and French nuclear plants with wind power would require more than 18 million hectares of land.”

By your figures, the total US + French electricity production per year is 1.3 x 10^12 kWh, or 1.3 x 10^12 kWh / 8760 h = 1.14 x 10^8 kW ‘continuous’. But 18 million hectares is 1.8 x 10^11 sq m or about 2 x 10^5 (or 200 000) square kilometres. That is a wind farm 447 km square; pretty big. But it is replacing nuclear power for not only all of the US, but all of France as well.

Wind power is delivering according to this around (1.14 x 10^8 kW)/( 1.8 x 10^11 sq m) ~ 1 W/sq m. If each wind turbine is 1 MW in capacity it will need 1 million sq m of land, or an area of 1 square kilometre. If operating at only, say, 10% rated capacity, it will for some presumably understandable reason need 10 times more. I assume that wind turbines cannot be located too close to one another for practical reasons having to do with vortices and turbulence created downwind of a tower. But apart from that, the land under a wind turbine does not have to be taken out of agricultural production, as a visit to the wind farm at Crookwell, NSW will demonstrate. Sheep can still safely graze, nymphs and shepherds do as they wish, and the ploughman homeward plod his weary way, just as ever.

Some may object to the assumptions I have made above. But then, no one source will ever supply all then energy needs of the US or any other country, or one wind farm generate more than a small part of any one country’s electricity. A mix of energy sources will power the future. (I do incidentally personally know of one household that is totally solar powered, using collectors equivalent in area to only about 5% of available roof space.)

But consider this also: Helen Caldicott (president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute) wrote in an article for the Age this week: ”If today's global electricity production was converted to nuclear power, there would only be three years' supply of accessible uranium to fuel the reactors. Uranium is therefore a finite commodity.”

She is dead right about the finite nature of uranium, and I assume she is right on the rest of it. Uranium cannot power the whole world, or even only 10% of the world, for long. Fission reactors using that most dubious of fuels, plutonium, could do it for longer, but only at enormous cost. One article on the economics of plutonium as a nuclear fuel ( by Dr William J Weida Global Resource Action Center for the Environment) states:

The French now give plutonium a zero value and Germany and Britain have zeroed out any economic value for plutonium (New Scientist, 1995). However, plutonium’s value is not zero. John Gibbons, the White House Science advisor says "plutonium has essentially a negative economic value.” (Wald and Gordon, 1994).

So, though we humans have been like pay night millionaires in our use of fossil fuels to date, the party is sadly drawing to a close. Whatever we do, we have to live within our energy means, and as the old saying goes, cut our coat to suit our cloth.

replacing nuclear power

Great question, Gareth.

(The title, that is. Refer to the previous discussion about Iran for your query about who should decommission nuclear. I don't see that the flavour of any regime has much bearing upon the inherent risks of their nuclear programs)

I think your estimates are an important consideration (although it is significant to note that you've accounted for two particularly major nuclear energy consumers, and that we cannot extrapolate globally). And thanks for the reference from Cornell (I can't help imagining that the article could benefit from some visual representation of the various costs of the various energy sources).

I find my immediate response quite clearly made in that referenced article, which states
"The biggest problem is our extraordinary rate of energy consumption
... calling for energy conservation as a proven alternative."

The energy sources and technologies we should be investing in are those which are truly renewable (non-depletable), and ecologically sustainable. In America, as in Australia, the combination of renewable sources will vary with the landscape, taking advantage of the suitability of each to the characteristics of the neighbourhood.

But this is not to say that nuclear can or should be 'replaced' by renewables. The switch to sustainable energy sources is not simply about flicking a switch from one centralised mass-power plant to another, but rather about changing the way we produce, consume, transmit, store and conserve energy.

I live in the Northern Territory, where a lot can be gained by immediately switching smaller communities from diesel generators to renewable energy sources. It's easy to work at that scale, the savings are broad and immediate, and it contributes to growing the inevitable renewable energy industries and technologies of the future. However in larger population centres, even just a large country town like Darwin, there is more to be gained in the short term by immediately pursuing energy efficiency and conservation measures. While there remains significant scope for further R&D into efficiency, what we already know could save us a lot of money, energy and dry land, with far less up-front investment than required for alternative energy sources.

So while we should begin to invest appropriately in those sustainable energy industries and renewable energy sources which must become a part of our future, our immediate focus should be on reducing our energy demands, by implementing readily available efficiency meaasures and tailoring our lifestyles to fit our environments.

I refer you to the interesting discussion on webdiary's review of James Lovelock's, The Revenge of Gaia at which covers some of this ground, and discusses the advantages of matching different energy needs to the most appropriate solutions.

Not Long to Wait C.Parsons

I'm not sure how this thread has been hi-jacked by the hapless Cubans but I perceive you will not have long to wait C Parsons for change there. Not even Fidel can last forever. And if the many emails I get from a friend in the Bahamas telling me tales of how Fidel's son conducts numerous business meetings with corporate entities from everywhere itching to set up shop in Cuba, it's almost ready for a boom.

Why is it no surprise that you admire the Florida based Cubans who overwhelmingly, unlike any other US ethnic group, vote Republican and vote for Jeb Bush. Strange place Florida - Run by a Bush and home of shadowy terrorist groups who have committed terrible atrocities upon Cuba including blowing up civillian airliners. Home of the US illicit drug trade that emantes outwards across the country and run by ruthless mini drug barons.

Just like Iraq, where so many innocents have died but which you claim is well on the way to democracy - although many would dispute that, you must look at Fidel Castro's overall plan that has at least raised Cubans from the utter poverty levels that existed before he saw off the revolting dictator that came before him. Then the only decent job was in a bordello - for young males and females alike such was their popularity. A nation of peasants or bordello and casino workers. The USSR may have abandoned Cuba through it's own collapse but over-all Fidel has been a positive for the country. Cubans seem to think so.

Family businesses and "the biological solution".

Michael de Angelos: "And if the many emails I get from a friend in the Bahamas telling me tales of how Fidel's son conducts numerous business meetings with corporate entities from everywhere itching to set up shop in Cuba, it's almost ready for a boom."

Yeah, it's a real triumph for socialism, Cuba. If it's not Fidel's son selling cheap labour to multinationals, it's Fidel's brother rounding up librarians, philosophy students and other dire threats to the family business.

Cuba's been "almost ready for a boom" since 1959, according to the Party propaganda sheets.

Say, Michael. What makes you think those prostitutes disappeared off Havana's streets?

How many Cubans have you known, Michael?

I've known several when living in Los Angeles in the 1980s and all of them, Democrat or Republican, utterly despised Castro with a vehemence that I found almost pathological. But when your family and friends have been persecuted, tortured, etc. I guess it makes sense. In any case your "Fidel has been a positive for the country. Cubans seem to think so" is nonsense.

strange obsession

You certainly have it in for the Cubans, C Parsons. Are you sure you weren't involved in the Bay of Pigs or are you related to Santo Trafficante or some other Mafia figure that ran the clubs and brothels pre-Castro?

Maybe let the Cubans run Cuba.

Michael de Angelos: "You certainly have it in for the Cubans, C Parsons."

The Cubans are a gracious and enterprising people, Michael.

The Cuban refugee population in Florida is among the most successful and enterprising migrant communities in the United States, having flourished both culturally and economically to a degree that is the envy of most.

Miami and Fort Lauderdale would be stagnant backwaters if it wasn't for Cuban Americans.

It sorta makes you wonder what Cuba itself would be like if the Cuban people had a say in running the place.

As it is, Cuba is being raped environmentally and economically by large multinationals attracted by the low wages paid to Cuban workers, the lack of free trade unions, and the local repressive family-run dictatorship which keeps it all under control.

my mistake

I should have said greenie C Parsons.  I doubt Cuba can afford nuclear energy. Perhaps the US may donate a reactor to help the 11 million Cubans who apparently must suffer because of America's bizarrre and insane hatred of Fidel.

How would I know why Kalman Mizsei and Louisa Vinton have been promoting this story? I haven't noticed any great sensationalising of the Chernobyl incident apart from this week's 60 Minutes and Richard Carleton's admirable bravery. Maybe he took a Harrod's hamper inside the reactor with him.

Ask Spain, Canada, Brazil, China, etc, etc

Michael de Angelos: "I doubt Cuba can afford nuclear energy. Perhaps the US may donate a reactor to help the 11 million Cubans who apparently must suffer because of America's bizarrre and insane hatred of Fidel."

Maybe the Cuban government should approach one of the many nations it trades with for a nuclear reactor - instead of blaming all its failures on the one country with which they have no contact whatsoever.

Maybe China could help them?

Or how about Canada and Spain, Cuba's main trading partners?

Does Fidel still speak with Russia? Maybe they could help?

Cuba trades with India. Why not ask them? They can afford reactors.

Maybe they could ask Angola?

Actually, it's not entirely true that Cuba has no contact with the USA.

Cuba's population lives there, after all. Those that aren't machine gunned at sea, of course.

Cuba embargo

It's gotten to the point where it's just plain silly. It should have been scrapped years ago.

If the US really wanted to get rid of Castro, they would drop the embargo and open up to Cuba completely. Uncle Fidel wouldn't last a week.

A large part of the reason the embargo persists is that the Cuban ex-pat lobby is politically strong in Florida, and of course Florida is a key swing state neither party can afford to ignore. (There's a overlap between this same lobby group and those pushing for agricultural subsidies for sugar.)

Australian Wheat Board - eat your heart out

Will Howard: "If the US really wanted to get rid of Castro, they would drop the embargo and open up to Cuba completely. Uncle Fidel wouldn't last a week."

Will, Hi!

You are still operating on the assumption that the Cuban regime does not trade much with the outside world. In fact, many, many countries do trade with Cuba.

Also, foreign companies can and do invest directly in Cuba.

Here's why;

Labor regime:

- The Ministry of Labor and Social Security will determine the minimum salaries.

- The concessionary of mixed capital may act as employing entity to engage his workers and those required by the operator. The concessionary of wholly foreign capital will engage the workers through an entity proposed by the Ministry for Foreign Investment and approved by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

The Cuban dictator's family determines the "wages" paid to Cuban workers. And these are low by international standards.

And these "wages" are not paid to the workers themselves.

They are paid to the "entity" set up for this purpose by the dictator and his family.

The "wages" are then skimmed, mostly going straight to the regime.

Only a small part goes to the workers. (I have heard  less than ten percent in some cases).

It's a kickback scheme not unlike that run by Saddam, but instead of paying a "foreign" trucking company, the multinational pays "the entity" established by the dictator and his family.

It would be as if John Howard was the un-elected Prime Minister of Australia for 47 years, and he determined what wages foreign companies paid Australian workers.

And then the companies paid the wages directly to him. And then he passed the wages on to the workers. Minus what he felt he should deduct for his own purposes.

There are people alive in the world who actually defend this system and swear that it has created paradise on earth for Cuban workers.

They also think there's no prostitution in Cuba. And that all Cuban refugees are gangsters.

Greenpeace - a carping critic

I just heard on ABC News Radio that Greenpeace is about to release a report highly critical of the Chernobyl Forum findings. (I think that is what it was about, but I only started concentrating half way through.)

I can't find the details on the ABC site, but the BBC has Chernobyl death figures 'too low'.

There are a few things that were in the ABC report that aren't on the BBC. Apparently, dosages under a particular (low) figure were excluded from the calculations. This caused considerable "debate" among the scientists (as well it might - I thought that it was standard practice with radioactivity exposure to go "all the way down").

The interviewee was asked if it might have been a matter of a reasonable disagreement among scientists over the most appropriate procedures. He replied that that was his first thought, but that there is evidence of political pressure.

The Chernobyl Forum report & summary are at IAEA. And I have just discovered the Greenpeace report here.

warping / carping

The Linear-No-Threshold (LNT) model states that your risk of disease after exposure to ionizing radiation is constant across all dose ranges, increasing with higher doses and decreasing with lower doses in proportion. A logical extension is that there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation (no threshold).

While there are other theories, and other models prove more valid for diseases other than cancer, this model has stood up to continuous scientific investigation, and is most recently and exhaustively explored in the book Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2 (2006) which states:

A comprehensive review of available biological and biophysical data supports a "linear-no-threshold" (LNT) risk model—that the risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and that the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans.

I believe that the exclusion of 'low' doses is an error.

as for CP, you've set me quite a task. let's see ...

I take your point about propaganda. I note that the UN's Chernobyl Forum is made up of a number of agencies, including the World Bank and the IAEA. The primary role of the Atomic Energy Agency is the promotion and propogation of nuclear power technology.

I oppose all nuclear programs, civilian and military. Iranian, North Korean, Indonesian, American : IMHO, the flavour of the regime has little bearing upon the inherent risks. I'm not at all really sure I follow your points about Socialist Alliance and Green Left Weekly. I do recall reading one misguided contributor to GLW a few years ago, suggesting we should defend Iran's right to develop their nuclear program, a proposal I heartily disagree with. I don't think any nation has a right to subject the planet to millions of years of radioactive waste. I am disappointed to see Iran pursuing a nuclear program. But I would not welcome another US(a) war over it. I'd rather see the US(a) lead by example, by pursuing rapid decommissioning of their own nuclear weapons and nuclear power programs.

I find the comments attributed to Shirin Ebadi particularly unimpressive, and reminiscent of the rhetoric we heard from India to justify their illegal nuclear testing in the 90s. I remain hopeful that a proud old nation with a glorious history can see towards a glorious nuclear free future. That said, Ebadi's description may well be an accurate representation of the current climte in Iran. I imagine that the attraction of nuclear power to Iran is similar to the attraction of a 'research' reactor program to Australia. The most polite description I've heard refers to the perceived 'international prestige' of belonging to 'the nuclear club'.

The simplest model of estimating cancer rates due to Chernobyl is to multiply estimated fallout by the standard risk estimate of 0.04 fatal cancers per person-Sievert. In 1996, the IAEA estimated a collective dose of 600,000 person-Sieverts over 50 years from Chernobyl fallout, giving a total estimate of 24,000 cancers.

However in recent years, higher estimates have emerged based on a more detailed analysis of which populations got which doses, rather than averaging the entire pollution over the (large) impacted area. By convulving meteorological records with population maps, and painstakingly cross-referencing against local medical records, some statisticians have raised frightening estimates of many hundred thousand Chernobyl induced cancers. Former senator John Coulter on Radio National's 'Ockham's Razor' last Sunday reported :
"John Gofman, Professor of Medical Physics at Berkeley, a well recognised world expert in both the physics and biology of radiation, has calculated that 950,000 people will have got, or will get cancer as a result of the Chernobyl fallout, and roughly half will die of their cancers."

Trying to understand your reference to the Harbour Bridge, I came across your description of the differences between Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Personally, I am struck by the similarities ; coolant failure. Whoops - someone forgot to check the radiator.
I really can't begin to estimate the impacts of the Harbour Bridge, however I can be confident that many of those you propose will not be so long lived as the 4% of fuel which escaped Chernobyl 4 into the atmosphere. Remember, Uranium-238 has a half-life of over 4 billion years. And how many wrongs make a right?

I think I responded to each prompt, but please let me know if you're not satisfied ...

Tough call

Justin, hi! Thanks for a full, thoughtful and candid response. I have to admit I'm pretty ambivalent about nuclear technology myself.

Its only possible attraction would be as an alternative to coal fired and other fossil fuel dependant energy technologies, and I'm not convinced it's an economically, let alone environmentally practical alternative.

With the chimera of fussion technology ever receding across the horizon, I can understand why energy starved nations, especially with large populations, could be attracted to fission technology.

I cannot imagine the genie ever getting back in the bottle though.

At bottom line, Dr Malthus and Mr Darwin are always looking over our shoulders. So energy demands will ever grow greater.

Unless we can, and I don't suspect we ever will, get to terms with population growth, our species will gop the way of countless others.

Whether and when we choke on carbon monoxide, starve to death, turn our lands to deserts or simply mutate out of existence are the main outstanding questions.

I think I agree Justin Tutty

Just a quick internet search shows the authors Kalman Mizsei and Louisa Vinton have been pushing this story for a long time and I don't really see the reasoning behind it unless they are actively promoting the use of more nuclear energy which I'm not against despite my "leftie" credentials. They also have their critics.

With China now having 6 nuclear stations and set to build up to 35 by 2020 , Iran in the game and with ours on the Sydney doorstep we really do have to investigate and seperate the myths from the real dangers we may face.

After all we now have talk of possible nuclear strikes in the Middle East.

Your leftie credentials

Michael de Angelos: "Just a quick internet search shows the authors Kalman Mizsei and Louisa Vinton have been pushing this story for a long time and I don't really see the reasoning behind it unless they are actively promoting the use of more nuclear energy which I'm not against despite my "leftie" credentials."

Michael, given the long involvement of Left wing regimes with nuclear technology, including of course the Chernobyl power plants in the former Soviet Union, why would your "leftie" credentials exclude your support of nuclear energy?

Also, is Cuba planning to develop nuclear enegy by any chance?

Perhaps as a long term strategy in case its relationship with oil-rich Venezuala should ever sour?

Michael de Angelos: "Kalman Mizsei and Louisa Vinton have been pushing this story for a long time..."

Could you hazard a guess as to which elements in the UN are likely to be best served by their propaganda?

Let's do the time warp noooooow...

Justin Tutty: "I reject this UNDP (UN Development Program) article as irresponsible, misleading propaganda."

Justin, Hi!

Propaganda is typically intended to serve specific political or economic ends. Whose interests do you think this United Nations propaganda is designed to serve?

Also, do you have a view on the current Iranian programme of nuclear development? Or the North Korean programme for that matter?

Also, would you like to comment on this report of remarks by Muslim feminist Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi;

“But defence of (Iran’s nuclear) program came from an unlikely quarter last month when the pro-democracy Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told reporters: "Aside from being economically justified, it has become a cause of national pride for an old nation with a glorious history. No Iranian government, regardless of its ideology or democratic credentials, would dare to stop the program."….”

Shirin Ebadi (Persian: شیرین عبادی; born June 21, 1947) is an Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and founder of the Association for Support of Children's Rights in Iran.

On December 10, 2003, Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the prize.

Also, I couldn't help but notice that the Socialist Alliance activists demonstrating outside John Howard's Sydney residence in Kirribilli on Easter Sunday were carrying placards with the words;

'Hands off Iran'

This presumably is a reference to the US-European Union-Russian push to curtail Iranian nuclear development and/or the supposed impending US led "attack" on Iran.

According to Doug Lorimer of Green Left Weekly;

"As was the case with the US invasion of oil-rich Iraq, the aim of a US invasion of Iran will be to install a pro-US government that will enable the big US oil corporations to take control of Iran’s nationalised oil industry."

Would you like to comment on that?

Why would Iran, with its oil wealth, need nuclear power plants do you think?

Perhaps on environmental grounds or something?

Just some background, Doug Lorimer is perhaps best known as the journalist who paid tribute to the suicide bombers who murdered Sergio Viera de Mello and score of United Nations staff back in August 2003.

Justin Tutty: "The stochastic nature of biological impacts from low-level radiation, coupled with the long onset for some radiation induced cancers, means that it may be decades still before we can recognise these very real impacts of the disaster."

Out of interest, could you give us a link to some of the stochastic modelling available regarding possible long term impacts of Chernobyl?

I certainly take your point that such projections are by definition hypothetical, but it would be interesting to see them nonetheless.

How would the compare with the environmental impacts I attributed to the Harbour Bridge for example (see below)?

measuring the true impacts of the chernobyl disaster

Despite acknowledging that over 300,000 people were displaced by the Chernobyl disaster, this article from the UNDP concludes with the cynical implication that the greatest impact has been the fear associated with the catastrophic release of radioactive pollution. The claim that 'fear of radiation ... poses a far more potent health threat than does radiation itself' is, at the very least, a betrayal of those 300,000 displaced citizens.

Indeed, the absolute confidence expressed by the UNDP in their impact assessment is incompatible with known fundamental characteristics of radioactive pollution. The stochastic nature of biological impacts from low-level radiation, coupled with the long onset for some radiation induced cancers, means that it may be decades still before we can recognise these very real impacts of the disaster. The epidemiological techniques required to recognise, say, the increased cancers in Britain due to Chernobyl fallout, are still being developed. (see the recent work of epidemiologist and statistician John Urquhart)

In the meantime, numerous reports of increased cancer rates and decreased life expectancy in the path of climatic vectors in the wake of the disaster.

A recent article in The Guardian quoted a spokesperson from Ukraine's National Commission for Radiation Protection, who accused the UNDP of ignoring data that demonstrates a 20%-30% increase in infant mortality.

"We sent it to them in March last year and again in June. They've not said why they haven't accepted it." said Nikolai Omelyanets.

Clearly, there is considerable room to doubt the UNDP's confidence that the human health impacts of the Chernobyl disaster can be limited to those immediate deaths due to excessive radiation poisoning. Last years Forum Report (as referenced by the authors) contradicts previous UN publications, and the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency, who in 2002 acknowledged "serious radiological, health and socio-economic consequences for the populations of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, which still suffer from these consequences."

Neither do cancer rates amount to the full impact of the disaster. As nuclear safety organisations around the world now acknowledge, recognised benchmarks for human health stand way above those levels of exposure that can be expected to cause environmental impacts in sensitive species and communities.

I reject this UNDP article as irresponsible, misleading propaganda.

It's too risky

Malcolm B Duncan: "To date, Webdiary has not had a poet laureate. I'd like to nominate C Parsons."

Thanks Malcolm, I accept your nomination.

I would publish my work in books, though I'm deeply concerned about the horrendous damage being inflicted on the planet by dioxins, which are deadly chemicals used in paper manufacturing.

As you know, dioxins are the most deadly poison known to man, including uranium.

Including depleted uranium.

And depleted, depleted uranium, or lead as it is better known.

I've been told that dioxins should kill us all by about 1978 - if a nuclear meltdown doesn't get us first.

Say? Did the core at Chernobyl actually get to China?

And why would it go right through? Wouldn't it just stop at Earth's centre?


I'm also worried about the radiation from this monitor, so I wear a reflective aluminium suit and polarised glass face mask when typing.

I'm also worried about aluminium.

And silicon dust from glass manufacture.

The new Poetics

Dear boy, either it has to rhyme (a la McGonnigall) or you have to do the whole thing in lower case (a la e.e. cummings).

The Sydney Harbour Bridge catastrophe

John Pratt: "C Parsons, What about the Three Mile Island disaster?"

Oh, yeah. That.

Well, here's the main difference at Three Mile Island (TMI)...

Today, the TMI-2 reactor is permanently shut down and defueled, with the reactor coolant system drained, the radioactive water decontaminated and evaporated, radioactive waste shipped off-site to an appropropriate disposal site, reactor fuel and core debris shipped off-site to a Department of Energy facility, and the remainder of the site being monitored.

That's from your own link.

There was no meltdown at Three Mile Island. That's a fairly significant difference, don't you think?

The containment systems at Three Mile Island were not even breached. Nobody was injured in the incident as far as anyone can tell.

The closest anyone came to an actual meltdown in the US was in the 1979 movie The China Syndrome.

Oh, that, and in the lurid revenge fantasies of frustrated "intellectuals" like the "historian" I mentioned.

Part of the problem with the Chernobyl reactor was the backward graphite reactor technology employed, which more or less guranteed huge amounts of radioactive carbon-dioxide would spew into the atmosphere if the core containment system was breached.

This was much in the news at the time, so I recall it well.

People were very upset and frustrated that nothing comparable happened in the US. Not even in The China Syndrome.

But sure, accidents happen. No question.

Take the Sydney Harbour Bridge, for example.

It's probably killed hundreds of people since it was opened in 1932, what with car accidents and even some people falling off it.

That's not even counting the inestimable negative human effects of the devastating environmental impacts of the Bridge on the northern suburbs of Sydney - which would still be mostly bushland and small fishing villages today instead of the vast, polluted swathe of strip development, shopping malls and toxic, traffic choked roads it has become since the Bridge of Death was opened in 1932.

So, yeah. Accidents can happen.

For example, at Three Mile Island.

Though that was nothing compared the effects of the junk food epidemic scything its way through the youth of Australia, leaving in its wake millions of long term heart disease and diabetes victims.

What else have we got here?

Oh, yeah.

Coal fired power stations. Have you ever considered the effects of coal fired power stations on the Earth's atmosphere and health of our population?

Compare that with Three Mile Island. Or even Chernobyl.

What else?

Oh, yeah. Jet fuel and the aircraft industry. Now lemme tell you, pal...

Time for a vote

To date, Webdiary has not had a poet laureate.

I'd like to nominate C Parsons. Perhaps CP might compose an epic for the harbour Bridge along the lines of  McGonnigall's Tay Bridge Disaster.

Over proof

Seconded - provided Jay White does the proofreading.

I don't understand you logic.

C Parsons, What about the Three Mile Island disaster? See here.

If “The 1969 moon landings showed who was winning the Cold War. Chernobyl showed who was losing?” What did the Three Mile Island disaster show?

Accidents happened on both sides of the wall.

Capitalism really fouls things up

There used to be in the early Eighties a little yellow and black bumper sticker showing a cartoon picture of a cracked nuclear reactor dome with plumes of black fumes spewing out in to the air.

The sticker read: "Capitalism really fouls things up."

It was everywhere at one point. On brief cases. On the bumpers of Morris Minors and Renaults all over Glebe and Newton.

In student rooms and on common room walls and on fridges.

You could by them from East Wind Bookshop and Glebe Books for a few cents.

Then Chernobyl happened.

And suddenly you couldn't get one of those bumper stickers for love nor money.

At the time, I was working the University of Western Sydney.

About three days before Chernobyl, one of Sydney's best know left-wing historians half-joked in a staff room how she "hoped and prayed" that a nuclear reactor in the United States would melt down to "teach them a lesson".

Then reports started streaming in from Sweden about massively increased levels of airborne radioactive contaminants pouring in from across the Russian border.

The matter was never raised again in her presence.

The 1969 moon landings showed who was winning the Cold War.

Chernobyl showed who was losing.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2006, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner