By Pavol Stracansky
Almost 25 years after the worst nuclear accident in history, new scientific discoveries suggest that the effects of the Chernobyl explosion have been underestimated.
An increasing number of wild boars with high levels of caesium have been found in the area.
This information was revealed months after doctors in the Ukraine and Belarus detected an increase in the rates of cancer, mutations and blood diseases, and who believe that these are related to Chernobyl.
Meanwhile, an American investigation published in April noted an increase in birth defects, which seems to be a consequence of continuous exposure to low level radiation.
For activists against nuclear energy, these studies show that the inhabitants of the affected area will suffer devastating consequences for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come.
“This is a problem which will not disappear in a few years. It will be there for hundreds of years”, Rianne Teule, from the environmental organisation Greenpeace, told IPS.
She added, “The new investigations confirm that the problems are even greater than the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in 2006 and they will continue to exist and appear in other studies. It is not something which will disappear soon”.
The catastrophe occurred in April 1986 when one of the blocks of the atomic plant located in what is now Ukraine, exploded.
It is estimated that the total radioactivity from Chernobyl was 200 times greater than the combined effect of the nuclear bombs dropped by the United States in 1945 on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The explosion and the fires generated a gigantic radioactive cloud which spread across the whole of Europe, forcing the evacuation of 350 000 people in the areas close to the plant.
Years later, the United Nations (UN), the WHO, the AIEA and other bodies joined with the governments of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to create the Chernobyl Forum, with the aim of carrying out a large study on the effects of the disaster and publishing its results in 2006.
The investigation concluded that there had only been 56 direct deaths (47 rescue workers and nine children with thyroid cancer), and an estimated 4000 indirect deaths.
However, the report was strongly criticised by other groups, who affirm that there was an enormous underestimation of the number of deaths and potential deaths from the accident.
Some have questioned AIEA’s position, which has supported the use of nuclear energy for civil purposes for decades.
These alternatives contradicted some of the Chernobyl Forum’s conclusions, and alerted that the health effects would be far more devastating.
The TORCH report, published in 2006 by the British scientists Ian Fairlie and David Summer, mentioned the incertitude which exists with regard to the health effects of exposure to low doses of radiation or internal radiation through ingestion of contaminated food.
It also signalled that the quantity of radioactive particles which the explosion released into the atmosphere had been underestimated by at least 30 percent.
Official figures from the affected countries also contradict the Chernobyl Forum’s discoveries.
The International Agency for Cancer Research, in the WHO, concluded that the most likely figure for deaths related to the disaster was 16 000, while the Russian Academy of Sciences calculated that 140 000 deaths in Ukraine and Belarus and 60 000 in Russia have been caused to date. The Ukrainian National Commission for Radiation increased this figure to 500 000.
Ukrainian and Belorussian doctors informed the press in the Ukraine at the beginning of this year that there had been an increase in cancer cases, in infant mortality and in other health problems which they are convinced are effects of the disaster.
“The figures used by the UN and the AIEA do not agree with those from other agencies throughout the world which forecast in terms of deaths by cancer”, said Oksana Kostikova, from the Hospital for Children’s Cancer in Minsk.
However, she added that the 16 000 deaths forecast by the International Agency for Cancer Research is a “closer evaluation of what we see on a daily basis”.
The American doctor Wladimir Wertelecki published the results of an extensive investigation of the birth defects in children in the Ukraine in April, revealing higher levels of anomalies in certain areas of the country.
According to the expert, this phenomenon is related to the continued exposure to low doses of radiation.
Wertelecki maintained that the findings of the Chernobyl Forum should be revised to reveal the true effects of the atomic accident.
He added that “The official position is that Chernobyl and the birth defects are not related. This position must be reconsidered.”
*Translation: Kirsty Cumming*