Aug 1, 2010

Chernobyl disaster killed nearly one million, with hundred-fold more radioactive emissions than Hiroshima; India ignores the warning, getting ready with a safe passage for setting up nuclear plants

The picture above is a reminder of what a nuclear disaster means: This is an aerial photo of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant taken two or three days after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion which spread clouds of radioactive dust across the western part of the Soviet Union and Europe. -- AP photo by Volodymir Repik

While the UPA-II government is planning to table the controversial Nuclear Liability bill in Parliament in the ongoing monsoon session so as to keep US President Barack Obama ostensibly happy during his proposed visit to India in November, Russia too is now insisting to exempt its companies from any liability.

India is already under pressure from the US to dilute one of the provisions -- Section 17(b) -- which allows for claims in the event of negligence, says The Hindu (July 30, 2010). The safe passage of the bill is the only remaining step before US companies can start selling reactors to India.

Of the 435 nuclear reactors in the world, 104 are in the United States.

Let us understand. The more the sale of nuclear reactors to India, the more will be the GDP growth. For a government that is desperately clinging to the GDP report card, nuclear reactors therefore means more than the issues regarding public health and environment, and also the argument that American life is more precious than Indian life.

While the arguments fly high, and the spokespersons of the UPA-II are trying their best to obfuscate the media debates by shrieking and shouting, a new book "Chernobyl: Consequence of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment" by Alexey Yablokov of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow, and Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko of the Institute of Radiation Safety, in Minsk, Belarus, should come as an eye-opener.

Accordingly, on April 26, 1986, two explosions occurred at reactor number four at the Chernobyl plant which tore the top from the reactor and its building and exposed the reactor core. The resulting fire sent a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over large parts of the western Soviet Union, Europe and across the Northern Hemisphere. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia had to be evacuated.

Published by the New York Academy of Sciences, the book tells us that nearly one million people died from exposure to radiation released by the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor. This is in contrast to estimates by the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency that initially said only 31 people had died among the "liquidators," though approximately 830,000 people who were in charge of extinguishing the fire at the Chernobyl reactor and deactivation and cleanup of the site. The book finds that by 2005, between 112,000 and 125,000 liquidators had died.

The Environment News Service (ENS) had on April 26, 2010, carried the highlights, which I am reproducing below:

1. The authors say: "For the past 23 years, it has been clear that there is a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

2. "No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe," they said. "Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere."

3. "On this 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, we now realize that the consequences were far worse than many researchers had believed," says Janette Sherman, MD, the physician and toxicologist who edited the book.

4. Drawing upon extensive data, the authors estimate the number of deaths worldwide due to Chernobyl fallout from 1986 through 2004 was 985,000, a number that has since increased. By contrast, WHO and the IAEA estimated 9,000 deaths and some 200,000 people sickened in 2005.

5. Yablokov and his co-authors find that radioactive emissions from the stricken reactor, once believed to be 50 million curies, may have been as great as 10 billion curies, or 200 times greater than the initial estimate, and hundreds of times larger than the fallout from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

6. Nations outside the former Soviet Union received high doses of radioactive fallout, most notably Norway, Sweden, Finland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Greece, and parts of the United Kingdom and Germany.

7. About 550 million Europeans, and 150 to 230 million others in the Northern Hemisphere received notable contamination. Fallout reached the United States and Canada nine days after the disaster.

8. The proportion of children considered healthy born to irradiated parents in Belarus, the Ukraine, and European Russia considered healthy fell from about 80 percent to less than 20 percent since 1986.

9. Numerous reports reviewed for this book document elevated disease rates in the Chernobyl area. These include increased fetal and infant deaths, birth defects, and diseases of the respiratory, digestive, musculoskeletal, nervous, endocrine, reproductive, hematological, urological, cardiovascular, genetic, immune, and other systems, as well as cancers and non-cancerous tumors.

10. In addition to adverse effects in humans, numerous other species have been contaminated, based upon studies of livestock, voles, birds, fish, plants, trees, bacteria, viruses, and other species.

11. Foods produced in highly contaminated areas in the former Soviet Union were shipped, and consumed worldwide, affecting persons in many other nations. Some, but not all, contamination was detected and contaminated foods not shipped.

12. The authors warn that the soil, foliage, and water in highly contaminated areas still contain substantial levels of radioactive chemicals, and will continue to harm humans for decades to come.

13. The book explores effects of Chernobyl fallout that arrived above the United States nine days after the disaster. Fallout entered the U.S. environment and food chain through rainfall. Levels of iodine-131 in milk, for example, were seven to 28 times above normal in May and June 1986. The authors found that the highest US radiation levels were recorded in the Pacific Northwest.

14. Americans also consumed contaminated food imported from nations affected by the disaster. Four years later, 25 percent of imported food was found to be still contaminated.

15. Little research on Chernobyl health effects in the United States has been conducted, the authors found, but one study by the Radiation and Public Health Project found that in the early 1990s, a few years after the meltdown, thyroid cancer in Connecticut children had nearly doubled.

This occurred at the same time that childhood thyroid cancer rates in the former Soviet Union were surging, as the thyroid gland is highly sensitive to radioactive iodine exposures.

Equally important, the New York Academy of Sciences says not enough attention has been paid to Eastern European research studies on the effects of Chernobyl at a time when corporations in several nations, including the United States, are attempting to build more nuclear reactors and to extend the years of operation of aging reactors.

The academy said in a statement, "Official discussions from the International Atomic Energy Agency and associated United Nations' agencies (e.g. the Chernobyl Forum reports) have largely downplayed or ignored many of the findings reported in the Eastern European scientific literature and consequently have erred by not including these assessments."

The highlights above comes as a stern warning. Unfortunately in India, while the political masters are busy selling the country's silver, policy makers and planners are busy promoting dreadful technologies in the name of development. I fail to understand how can any sensible human turn a blind eye to the dastardly implications of the fallout from a nuclear disaster. But then, world over the political leadership only works for the corporate interests. They are all operating under the directions of the invisible Economic Hit Man. Indian leadership is no exception.


pv said...

Nuclear power from fission will always remain our favorite punching bag.
Chernobyl was a ghastly accident. Even with stringent safeguards in place any event of the sort will cause untold misery.
And then, the byproducts of nuclear fission have their own sad litany of waste disposal!
So, lets hope nuclear fusion comes of age soon.

Ramesh Dubey said...

आदरणीय देवेंद्र जी आपने भारत द्वारा परमाणु रिएक्‍टर के खतरों की उपेक्षा और विकसित देशों की कुटिल नीतियों का सटीक विश्‍लेषण किया । दरअसल भारत को न तो ईरान व तुर्कमेनिस्‍तान से गैस और न ही अमेरिका से परमाणु रिएक्‍टर खरीदने की आवश्‍यकता है । यदि भारत में पशुधन की समृद्ध परंपराओं को एक बार फिर अपना लिया जाए तो गोबर गैस भारत की गैस व बिजली की समस्‍या का समाधान कर सकता है । इससे ग्रामीणों की न केवल आय बढ़ेगी अपितु उनमें व्‍याप्‍त कुपोषण भी दूर होगा और मिट्टी की उर्वरता, भुरभुरापन, नमीपन में भी बढ़ोत्‍तरी होगी । लेकिन पश्‍चिमी विकास मॉडल के मोहपाश में बंधे नीति-निर्माता और राजनीतिज्ञ भला अपनी समृद्ध परंपराओं की ओर क्‍यों देखें ? भावी प्रधानमंत्री राहुल गांधी ने अपने विदर्भ दौरे के समय विधवा कलावती को सात्‍वंना देते हुए कहा कि कलावती जी चिंता मत करिए अमेरिका से परमाणु करार हो रहा है जल्‍दी ही बिजलीघर बनेगा और विदर्भ में बिजली पहुंचाई जाएगी । आज जब पूरी दुनिया एटमी बिजली से किनारा कर रही है उस समय भारत द्वारा एटमी बिजली को महत्‍व दिया जाना समझ से परे है ।
सबसे महत्‍वपूर्ण सवाल यह है कि आज तक भारत अपने एटमी बिजली के लक्ष्‍य का एक-तिहाई ही हासिल कर पाया है । ऐसे में इस बात की क्‍या गारंटी कि विकसित देशों की आउटडेटेड तकनीक के सहारे हम हर घर में उजाला पहुंचाने में सफल हो ही जाएंगे ?

रमेश दुबे