From the new May-June 2014 issue of News & Letters:
Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, by Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).
“The Chernobyl catastrophe demonstrates that the nuclear industry’s willingness to risk the health of humanity and our environment with nuclear power plants will result, not only theoretically, but practically, in the same level of hazard as nuclear weapons.”
Chernobyl is a compendium of 23 years of scientific observations generated between the 1986 accident and 2009. The book is encyclopedic, beginning with an overview as the contamination swept west through Europe and east through the Caucasus, northern Africa, northern South Asia and across the Pacific to California (modeled by Livermore National Labs). There follow analyses of consequences to public health and the environment, ending with ways the public can protect itself from the menace of silent, unseen radiation.
Radiation affects public health in increased general malaise, impairment, disability and death brought on by immune-system damage, premature aging of tissues and organs, and increased cancer rates: within a few months or years thyroid cancer, leukemia and lymphoma; but within a couple of decades, a huge variety of cancers and infectious diseases. Add to this the generational effect of chromosome aberrations and permanent gene mutation (Chernobyl is unequivocal that generations multiply radiation damage to biological systems), increased stillbirth and birth defects and the suffering of children. Chernobyl treats these problems by area as the distance from the catastrophe increases.
Names were invented for some diseases that appeared after the accident. Vegetovascular dystonia is an autonomic nervous system dysfunction; incorporated long-life radionuclides is a complete mess-up by radiation inside organs and tissues. Acute inhalation lesions of the upper respiratory tract is the worst cold you ever had–except it continues to get worse.
Diversity in soil bacteria was halved in areas of highest contamination. But without the historical complement of decay-causing organisms (including insects and fungi), the scots pine forest of Chernobyl is not decaying. It’s been 30 years now and dead trees, that under normal circumstances would have long since become soil humus, are still almost whole, a ripe and ready fire danger. The forest carpet in some places is decades thick.
“Liquidators” present a special case, even of Chernobyl’s encyclopedia of horrors. Who were they? About 830,000 mostly young men who devoted about five minutes per exposure to cleaning up the highly radioactive nuclear material in the fiery heart of the reactor. Robots had been found not to work among the energetic gamma rays and highly motile nuclear particles that fouled the interior space of the exploded containment vessel. Liquidators are featured in a section on accelerated aging. The diseases and physical problems listed in page after page were more acute and moved faster in the bodies of the liquidators. Fifty-seven died outright.
The authors of Chernobyl encourage us to face the catastrophe we have handed ourselves with nuclear explosions since Trinity, July 16, 1945.
Now that Fukushima/Daiichi has trumped Chernobyl as the most powerful civilian nuclear explosion in history, governments and peoples won’t be able to ignore the effects for 25 years.Chernobyl tells us what is in store. We must recognize the symptoms and hold accountable the corporations and governments that have tried so hard to make us believe that nuclear generators are safe.