Whitewashing Chernobyl's impacts

Press release - 5 September, 2005
At a press conference today, the IAEA presented the conclusions of its digest report, "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts," just released by the Chernobyl Forum. The digest, based on a three-volume, 600-page report and incorporating the work of hundreds of scientists, economists and health experts, assesses the 20-year impact of the largest nuclear accident in history.

According to the Agency "fewer than 50 deaths had been directlyattributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highlyexposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident butothers who died as late as 2004."

However, these conclusions are not substantiated by reports upon whichthe digest is based. Indeed they are contradicted by them. Often,research has been omitted and where scientific uncertainty exists, theauthors simply conclude that there is no impact. A more careful readingof the 600-page report, as well as previous published research byUN-bodies leads to very different conclusions. For example:

* The World Health Organisation refers to a study of 72,000 Russianclean-up workers of which 212 died as the result of radiation. Thetotal number of 'liquidators' (in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine) isestimated at some 600,000;

* The number of 4,000 deaths relates only to a population of 600,000,whereas radiation was spread over most of Europe. The IAEA has omittedthe impacts of Chernobyl fall out on millions of Europeans;

* The IAEA tries to make strict distinction between health impactsattributable to radiation and other health impacts attributable tostress, social situation etc. However, the WHO is referring to numerousreports which indicate an impact of radiation on the immune system,causing a wide range of health effects;

The IAEA states today that previous researchers who have estimated thenumber of deaths up to hundreds of thousands have exaggerated theimpacts. This is not correct.

The WHO rightly refers to 2 different methodological approaches to assess the health impacts of radiation:

* The first - the scientifically most accepted approach - is based onthe standards set by the International Commission on RadiationProtection (ICRP) and which assumes that there is a linear relationshipbetween radiation dose and effect, without a threshold. This means thatif a very large population is subjected to a very low dose, thecollective impact can still be very serious. In the case of theChernobyl accident, this leads to estimates long term fatalityestimates in the hundreds of thousands.

* The other approach is based on epidemiology and tries to report theactual number of casualties and use statistical methods to estimate thetotal number of casualties for a population. This approach is valuablein well controlled situations, but can become very problematic incomplex situations such as in Europe, where were it will be absolutelyimpossible to relate individual cases cancer e.g. in Belgium or Franceto Chernobyl fallout.

The Chernobyl explosion occurred April 26, 1986, when an out-of-controlnuclear reaction blew off the roof of the steel building and spewedtons of radioactive material into the air. It was the worst nuclearaccident in history.

"It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of one ofthe most serious industrial accidents in human history," said Jan VandePutte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner.

"Denying the realimplications is not only insulting the thousands of victims - who aretold that their illnesses are a result of  stress and irrationalfear and not radiation - but is also leads to dangerousrecommendations, to relocate people back in to contaminatedareas." 

Other contacts: Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner: +32 49 616 15 84Cecilia Goin, Greenpeace International media officer: + 31 6 212 96 908

Notes: Chernobyl: The True Scale of the Accident: http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Focus/Chernobyl/index.shtml WHO, Low doses of radiation linked to small increase in cancer risk. http://www.iarc.fr/ENG/Press_Releases/pr166a.html