Tuesday, September 6, 2005

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Good news about Chernobyl

Peter Finn reports in the Washington Post that twenty years after the disaster at Chernobyl, the health effects have been much less than prior estimates would have suggested:

The long-term health and environmental impacts of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, while severe, were far less catastrophic than feared, according to a major new report by eight U.N. agencies.

The governments of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, the three countries most affected by radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, should strive to end the "paralyzing fatalism" of tens of thousands of their citizens who wrongly believe they are still at risk of an early death, according to the study released Monday.

The 600-page report found that as of the middle of this year, the accident had caused fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to radiation, most of them among emergency workers who died in the first months after the accident. In the wake of the world's largest nuclear disaster, there were numerous predictions of mass fatalities from radiation.

The report said that nine children had died of thyroid cancer, but that the survival rate among the 4,000 children in the region who had developed thyroid cancer has been 99 percent. An expected spike in fertility problems and birth defects also failed to materialize, the study found....

Officials said that the continued intense medical monitoring of tens of thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is no longer a smart use of limited resources and is, in fact, contributing to mental health problems among many residents nearly 20 years later. In Belarus and Ukraine, 5 percent to 7 percent of government spending is consumed by benefits and programs for Chernobyl victims. And in the three countries, as many as 7 million people are receiving Chernobyl-related social benefits.

"The monitoring of people with incredibly low doses uses huge amounts of resources and does more psychological harm than good," said Fred Mettler, a professor of radiology at the University of New Mexico who chaired one of three health groups in the study, titled "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts."

Here's a link to the World Health Organization's press release on the report -- compare and contrast with this media assessment from a decade ago.

Environmentalists will likely not appreciate the irony of Finn's closing paragraphs:

The abandonment of large tracts of land, combined with a ban on hunting, has led to a dramatic increase in wild animals and birds, including wolves, elk, wild boars, white-tailed eagles, owls, cranes and black storks.

"Without a permanent residency of humans for 20 years, the ecosystems around the Chernobyl site are now flourishing," the report said. "It looks like the nature park it has become."

posted by Dan on 09.06.05 at 12:48 AM


Dear Sirs,

I should hope that this might defuse some of the hysteria about WMD. Chernobyl was the largest "dirty bomb" imaginable. The sarin gas attack in the Japanese subway (a true "perfect storm" scenario) killed 8 people. The anthrax attacks after 9/11 killed 5 people. The only real WMD is a nuclear bomb, or a category 4 hurricane.


p.s., I agree fully with the actions of the United States in re Afghanistan, Iraq and any other crazy bastards who don't get the word.

posted by: Roy Lofquist on 09.06.05 at 12:48 AM [permalink]

Re: Last Paragraph

The return of the Chernobyl area to a relatively wild state is not news. This has been known and recognized for over a decade and reported in such prominent journals as Nature. The general phenomenon is recognized well; remove humans and a good deal of the natural world returns. For a number of years, the East/West German border was a defacto nature reserve for this reason. The effect, however, is usually incomplete. Studies comparing reforested land in the USA with the small amount of virgin forest usually disclose significantly higher species diversity in the virgin forest.

posted by: Roger Albin on 09.06.05 at 12:48 AM [permalink]

No mention of modern-day Chernobyl would be complete without Elena Filatova, the Russian biker:


posted by: Mike on 09.06.05 at 12:48 AM [permalink]

"Without a permanent residency of humans for 20 years, the ecosystems around the Chernobyl site are now flourishing," the report said. "It looks like the nature park it has become."

Something similar has happened in the portions of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, where humans are not permitted due to various security concerns.

It's a shame it takes nuclear health hazards to get people to leave certain places alone.

posted by: rosignol on 09.06.05 at 12:48 AM [permalink]

Doesn't anyone find it the least bit fishy that this information was released just as Great Britain and the U.S. are considering commissioning new nuclear plants?

posted by: Sara on 09.06.05 at 12:48 AM [permalink]

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