May 2004 (vol. 20, #4)
1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716
c 2004 Physicians for Civil Defense
The Popular Internet Photographic Tour
It is claimed that millions of people every month visit the "Ghost Town" website, based on Elena's motorocycle tour of the Chernobyl area, nearly abandoned by human beings, though photographs show luxuriantly blooming nature. You can find it with an AltaVista search on "Chernobyl" and "microrads" (www.kiddofspeed.com).
"Radiation will stay in the Chernobyl area for the next 48,000 years," Elena writes [or is it until the end of time?], "but humans may begin repopulating the area in about 600 years"give or take three centuries." Rapidly growing populations of wolves and wild boars have already moved into the abandoned houses.
Staying on the roadway is pretty safe, she says, as radiation "is not retained by asphalt." But look out for the houses because "wood absorbs radiation like a sponge." She compares her heroic trips to "walking on a high wire with a balancing pole." A giant egg "marks the point where civilization as we know it ends." It is supposed to represent life breaking through the hard shell of the unknown.
In the territory of the Atomic Power Plant the Geiger counter soars to 500-3000 microroentgen/hr (0.5-3.0 mrad/hr or 0.005-0.03 mGy/hr, 0.12-0.72 mGy/day, 48-274 mGy/yr).
Elena claims that the official toll of people who died from radiation ranges from 300 to 300,000, and that the final toll will not be known in our lifetime.
The lessons learned from Chernobyl tragedy by Zbigniew Jaborowoski, of the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection in Warsaw, Poland, won't be read by the millions-yet. It "sheds light on how easily the global community may leave the realm of rationality when facing an imaginary emergency," he writes (Newsletter #30, Australasian Radiation Protection Society, April 2004).
For many though not all professionals in the field, Chernobyl was the watershed that changed the paradigm on which current radiologic protection standards are based: "the holy mantra of LNT-the linear no-threshold assumption."
"The LNT assumption is in direct contradiction to a vast sea of data on the beneficial effects of low doses of radiation. When in 1980, as a chairman of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), I tried to convince its members that we should not ignore but rather peruse and assess these data, published in the scientific literature since the end of 19th century, everybody in the Committee was against it. In each of the next seven years I repeated the proposal, to no avail. Finally, the accident at Chernobyl appeared to be an eye opener: two years after the accident, in 1988, the Committee saw the light and decided to study radiation hormesis, i.e. the adaptive and beneficial effects of low levels of radiation. Six years of the Committee=s work and hot discussions later, Annex B `Adaptive responses to radiation in cells and organisms' appeared in the UNSCEAR 1994 Report, fourteen years after my original proposal. The Annex started a virtual revolution in research related to radiation protection but, because of many vested interests and conservatism to change the international and national regulations, there is still a long way to go."
The LNT/hormesis controversy, Jaworowski notes, poses questions for practically all noxious agents, whether physical, chemical, or biological.
In the state of shock surrounding the accident, intervention levels of radioactivity varied by a factor of 50,000, reflecting the emotional state of the regulators. The limit of Cesium-137 concentration in meat was 6 Bq/kg in the Philippines and 6,000 Bq/kg in Norway.
When asked whether standards could be met by diluting 1 liter of "contaminated" milk with 10 liters of "clean" milk, regulators said no. Authorities said that even though dilution diminished individual risk, the number of consumers would increase, so the total risk would be the same, spread over a larger number of persons. The dogmatic application of the LNT caused the cost of the Chernobyl accident to exceed $100 billion in Western Europe.
"The most nonsensical action, however, was the evacuation of 336,000 people from the regions of the former Soviet Union, where during the years 1986-1995 the Chernobyl fallout increased the average natural radiation dose (about 2.5 mGy per year) by 0.8 to 1.4 mSv per year, i.e. by about 30% to 50%."
In the "ghost town" of Pripyat, the external gamma dose rate measured by a Polish team in 2001 was 0.9 mSv per year, the same as in Warsaw and five times lower than in Grand Central Station in New York. The evacuation caused "mass psychosomatic disturbances, great economical losses, and traumatic social consequences." Current radiation protection standards "have become a health hazard."
There were 31 fatalities in rescue workers and power station employees, 28 from high-dose radiation and three from other causes. Acute radiation sickness was confirmed in 134 of 237 reactor staff and emergency workers examined for this purpose; 11 had died by 1998. The average standardized incidence ratio (SIR) for leukemia among recovery workers ranged from 0.94 to 7.76. But since a similar increase was seen for chronic lymphatic leukemia, which is not deemed to be induced by radiation exposure, the effect could be from screening or diagnostic bias.
The SIR for leukemia in the general population was 0.46 to 0.62 in Belarus, 0.93 to 0.99 in Russia, and 1.05 to 1.43 in Ukraine. The SIR for all cancers ranged from 0.30 to 0.69 in Belarus, 0.89 to 0.98 in Russia, and 0.80 to 0.82 in Ukraine. Hence, the incidence of all cancers appears to be lower than expected in a similar, nonirradiated population.
Chernobyl was the worst possible catastrophe of a badly constructed nuclear reactor, with free emission of radionuclides into the atmosphere for 10 days. "In the centuries to come, the Chernobyl catastrophe will be seen as a proof that nuclear power is a safe means of energy production."
The Polish government, in contrast, at Jaworowski's instigation, administered during three days a single dose of stable iodine to about 18.5 million people, the greatest prophylactic action in the history of medicine performed in so short a time. "I [now] see this action as nonsensical," Jaworowski writes. "We endeavored to save Polish children from developing thyroid cancers by protecting them from a radiation dose of 50 mSv to the thyroid gland." Studies of more than 34,000 Swedish patients had shown a 38% decrease in thyroid cancer in patients given up to 40,000 mSv of I-131.
Jaworowski believes that the 1,800 new thyroid cancers registered among the children from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine are the result of intense screening and should be viewed in respect to extremely high occurrence of the "occult" thyroid cancers in normal populations. The incidence of these cancers, which do not present adverse clinical effects, ranges from 5% in Colombia, to 9% in Poland, 13% in the U.S, and 35% in Finland. In Minsk, Belarus, the normal incidence of occult thyroid cancers is 9.3%. "The greatest incidence of `Chernobyl' thyroid cancers in children under 15 years old, of 0.027%, was registered in 1994 in the Bryansk region of Russia, which was less by a factor of about 90 than the normal incidence of occult thyroid cancers among Finnish children."
In the U.S., the incidence rate of thyroid tumors detected between 1974 and 1979 during a screening program was 21 times higher than before the screening, an increase similar to that observed in three former Soviet countries.
In return for guarantees of financial aid from the West, the Ukraine agreed to shut down the rest of the Chernobyl complex. The aid included funds to build two new nuclear power stations at Rivne and Khymelnytsky. The last Chernobyl reactor was finally closed at the end of 2000, over the strenuous objections of the workers.
Oleksii Lych, head of the Chernobyl [Chornobyl] trade union, said there was no good social or economic reason for taking the nuclear generator offline.
"Everybody says the world will sleep easier after December 15, but how will we sleep with our $18 monthly pensions?" said retired plant engineer Oleksander Bohomaz.
Just before shutdown, the plant had been running at 82.4% of capacity. Many were convinced that with recent improvements, the Chernobyl complex was one of the safest as well as the best energy-generating plants in the world, regardless of its tragic history. They thought it should operate until its originally scheduled retirement in 2010 (Ukrainian Weekly, 1/7/01).
Three of the original 13 Russian plutonium-production reactors continued to operate at the end of 2000 because, without them, one quarter of a million people would be without adequate heat during the Siberian winter (F.A.S. Public Interest Report Nov/Dec 2000).
Since the human population surrounding Chernobyl was removed, the region has become a haven for wildlife, including moose, wild boars, and endangered black storks. A future area for wildlife sightseeing is envisioned. Scientists, however, are looking hard for chromosome damage in the thriving bank voles (Science, op cit.).
American nuclear weapons development sites, restricted to humans because of low-level radioactivity, are also home to flourishing wildlife. Peregrine falcons, cerulean warblers, and more than 40 other endangered or threatened species live at Oak Ridge. The last major spawning ground for salmon at the main stem of the Columbia river flows through the Hanford site. More than 30% of Idaho's winter pronghorn sheep can be found on the 890-square-mile area of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. The Savannah River Site harbors to more than 50 different species of mammals, 100 varieties of freshwater fish, and more than 200 species of birds.
The $150 billion federal clean-up projects at these sites (30 times the amount devoted to protecting endangered species) will disrupt these wildlife habitats (CEI, April 2001).
The accidental use of steel contaminated with Co-60 in the construction of Taiwan apartments 20 years ago created a serendipitous experiment in radiation hormesis. The high-contamination cohort received more than 15 mSv/yr, and the low-contamination cohort between 1 and 5 mSv/yr. From Elena's tour, the level at the site of an abandoned carousel in Ghost Town was 103 microrads/hr, or about 9 mGy/yr.
The 20-year results in Taiwan for exposed apartment dwellers: cancer deaths 3% of expected (rate for general public), and congenital malformations 6.5% of expected (J Am Phys Surg 2004;9:6-10, see www.jpands.org).
Chronic exposures of 10 to 30 mSv/day (3,650-10,950 mSv/yr) increased longevity in mice and guinea pigs by about 20%. (Note that 1 mGy = 100 mrad, and 1 mSv = 100 mrem, the latter being a measure of biological effect, which is higher for certain forms of radiation).
Given the evidence for radiation hormesis, "the LNT model for the effects of low-level radiation exposure lead to phantom risks.... [I]t can be argued that no risk is perhaps the greatest risk of all" (Perspect Biol Med 1999;43:57-68).
Marvin Herndon theorizes that a natural fission reactor at the center of the earth drives volcanic activity and continental drift, and generates the earth's magnetic field. If this is true, devotees of Gaia worship a nuclear reactor. As planets radiate twice as much heat as they receive from the sun, a planetary core uranium reactor may be the norm (eco-logic 7/15/02).