April 26 marks the 20th anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Anti-nuclear activists are still trying to turn Chernobyl into a bigger disaster than it really was.
Although the Number Four nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded just before dawn on April 26, 1986, Soviet secrecy prevented the world from learning about the accident for days. Once details began to emerge, however, the anti-nuclear scare machine swung into action.
Three days after the accident Greenpeace “scientists” predicted the accident would cause 10,000 people to get cancer over a 20-year period within a 625-mile radius of the plant. Greenpeace also estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 people in Sweden would develop cancer over a 30-year period from the radioactive fallout.
At the same time, Helen Caldicott, president emeritus of the anti-nuclear Physicians for Social Responsibility, predicted the accident would cause almost 300,000 cancers in 5 to 50 years and cause almost 1 million people either to be rendered sterile or mentally retarded, or to develop radiation sickness, menstrual problems and other health problems.
University of California-Berkeley medical physicist and nuclear power critic Dr. John Gofman made the most dire forecast. He predicted at an American Chemical Society meeting that the Chernobyl accident would cause 1 million cancers worldwide, half of them fatal.
But the reality of the health consequences of the Chernobyl accident seems to be quite different than predicted by the anti-nuke crowd.
As of mid-2005, fewer than 50 deaths were attributed to radiation from the accident – that’s according to a report, entitled “Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts,” produced by an international team of 100 scientists working under the auspices of the United Nations. Almost all of those 50 deaths were rescue workers who were highly exposed to radiation and died within months of the accident.
So far, there have been about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children. But except for nine deaths, all of those with thyroid cancer have recovered, according to the report.
Despite the UN report, the anti-nuclear mob hasn’t given up on Chernobyl scaremongering.
According to a March 25 report in The Guardian (UK), Greenpeace and others are set to issue a report around the 20th anniversary of the accident claiming that at least 500,000 people may have already died as a result of the accident.
Ukraine’s government appears to be on board with the casualty inflation game, perhaps looking for more international aid for the economically-struggling former Soviet republic.
The Guardian article quoted the deputy head of the Ukraine National Commission for Radiation Protection as touting the 500,000-deaths figure. A spokesman for the Ukraine government’s Scientific Center for Radiation Medicine told The Guardian, “We’re overwhelmed by thyroid cancers, leukemias and genetic mutations that are not recorded in the [UN] data and which were practically unknown 20 years ago.”
Putting aside the anti-nuclear movement’s track record of making wild claims and predictions in order advance its political agenda, I put more credence in the UN’s estimates because it squares with what we know about real-life exposures to high levels of radiation.
Among the more than 86,000 survivors of the atomic bomb blasts that ended World War II, for example, “only” about 500 or so “extra” cancers have occurred since 1950. Exposure to high-levels of radiation does increase cancer risk, but only slightly.
There is no doubt that Chernobyl was a disaster, but it was not one of mythical proportions.
Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – the U.S. nuclear plant that accidentally released a small amount radiation in 1979 – are examples of how the anti-nuclear lobby takes every available opportunity to scare the public about nuclear power.
But no one was harmed by the incident at Three Mile Island. The Chernobyl accident can be chalked up to deficiencies in its Soviet-era design and operation. Neither reflect poorly on the track record of safety demonstrated by nuclear power plants designed, built and operated in countries like the U.S., U.K., France and Japan.
It’s quite ironic that while Greenpeace squawks about the need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in order to avert the much-dreaded global warming, the group continues spreading fear about greenhouse gas-free nuclear power plants – the only practical alternative to burning fossil fuels for producing electricity.
Apparently, Greenpeace’s solution to our energy problems is simply to turn the lights off – for good.