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New Book Concludes: Chernobyl death toll: 985,000, mostly from cancer

By       Message Karl Grossman       (Page 2 of 4 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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"How fortunate," said Ms. Slater, "that independent scientists have now revealed the horrific costs of the Chernobyl accident."

The book also scores the position of the IAEA, set up through the UN in 1957 "to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy," and its 1959 agreement with WHO. There is a "need to change," it says, the IAEA-WHO pact. It has muzzled the WHO, providing for the "hiding" from the "public of any information"unwanted" by the nuclear industry.

"An important lesson from the Chernobyl experience is that experts and organizations tied to the nuclear industry have dismissed and ignored the consequences of the catastrophe," it states.

The book details the spread of radioactive poisons following the explosion of Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant on April 26, 1986. These major releases only ended when the fire at the reactor was brought under control in mid-May. Emitted were "hundreds of millions of curies, a quantity hundreds of times larger than the fallout from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki." The most extensive fall-out occurred in regions closest to the plant--in the Ukraine (the reactor was 60 miles from Kiev in Ukraine), Belarus and Russia.

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However, there was fallout all over the world as the winds kept changing direction "so the radioactive emissions"covered an enormous territory."

The radioactive poisons sent billowing from the plant into the air included Cesium-137, Plutonium, Iodine-131 and Strontium-90.

There is a breakdown by country, highlighted by maps, of where the radionuclides fell out. Beyond Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, the countries included Bulgaria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The radiological measurements show that some 10% of Chernobyl poisons "fell on Asia"Huge areas" of eastern Turkey and central China "were highly contaminated," reports the book. Northwestern Japan was impacted, too.

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Northern Africa was hit with "more than 5% of all Chernobyl releases." The finding of Cesium-137 and both Plutonium-239 and Plutonium-240 "in accumulated Nile River sediment is evidence of significant Chernobyl contamination," it states.

"Areas of North America were contaminated from the first, most powerful explosion, which lifted a cloud of radionuclides to a height of more than 10 km. Some 1% of all Chernobyl nuclides," says the book, "fell on North America."

The consequences on public health are extensively analyzed. Medical records involving children--the young, their cells more rapidly multiplying, are especially affected by radioactivity--are considered. Before the accident, more than 80% of the children in the territories of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia extensively contaminated by Chernobyl "were healthy," the book reports, based on health data. But "today fewer than 20% are well."

There is an examination of genetic impacts with records reflecting an increase in "chromosomal aberrations" wherever there was fallout. This will continue through the "children of irradiated parents for as many as seven generations." So "the genetic consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe will impact hundreds of millions of people."

As to deaths, the list of countries and consequences begins with Belarus. "For the period 1990-2000 cancer mortality in Belarus increased 40%," it states, again based on medical data and illuminated by tables in the book. "The increase was a maximum in the most highly contaminated Gomel Province and lower in the less contaminated Brest and Mogilev provinces." They include childhood cancers, thyroid cancer, leukemia and other cancers.

Considering health data of people in all nations impacted by the fallout, the "overall mortality for the period from April 1986 to the end of 2004 from the Chernobyl catastrophe was estimated as 985,000 additional deaths."

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Further, "the concentrations" of some of the poisons, because they have radioactive half-lives ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 years, "will remain practically the same virtually forever."

The book also examines the impact on plants and animals. "Immediately after the catastrophe, the frequency of plant mutations in the contaminated territories increased sharply."

There are photographs of some of these plant mutations. "Chernobyl irradiation has caused many structural anomalies and tumorlike changes in many plant species and has led to genetic disorders, sometimes continuing for many years," it says. "Twenty-three years after the catastrophe it is still too early to know if the whole spectrum of plant radiogenic changes has been discerned. We are far from knowing all of the consequences for flora resulting from the catastrophe."

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Karl Grossman is a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and host of the nationally syndicated TV program Enviro Close-Up.

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