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This blog is aimed at tracing the world news related to nuclear power development internationally and in particular countries. Being an independent resource, we accept all kinds of opinions, positions and comments, and welcome you to discuss the posts and tell us what you think.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Concequences of pollution

In previous post, I presented a brief analysis of the situation in nuclear industry in Russia. Before going on with other modern analytical articles, I would like to turn back to the old days of 20-something years ago and give a description of one of the most severe accidents in nuclear history of the humankind - Chernobyl. For there are facts and figures that raise when we speak about Chernobyl - and they are not just history but also the precent and future.

One remark before we go over to facts. Chernobyl case as no other in history showed that certain policies and lack of information can be as well as harmful for the country and nation as the pollution itself. Will explain more later, just wanted to draw your attention to this.

(this post is partially based on my MA thesis Chernobyl Reporting in Belarusian Printed Media, (Örebro University 2006)

On April 26, 1986, a major accident, determined to have been a reactivity (power increase) accident, occurred at Unit 4 of the nuclear power station at Chernobyl, Ukraine. The accident destroyed the reactor and released massive amounts of radioactivity into the environment. After the accident, access to the area in a 30 km radius around the plant was closed, except for persons requiring official access to the plant and to the immediate area for evaluating and dealing with the consequences of the accident and operation of the undamaged units. Approximately 135,000 people were evacuated. Pripyat, the town near Chernobyl where most of the plant workers lived before the 1986 accident, was evacuated several days after the accident because of radiological contamination. It was included in the 30 km exclusion zone around the plant and is closed to all but those with authorized access. Up to 4,000 people eventually died of radiation exposure, many of them the on-site staff and emergency workers called to deal with the 1986 catastrophe at the nuclear power plant in the Ukraine.

The main problem for the population so far was a constant lack of information about the true state of things around the situation with radioactivity in the country and real health impacts for the people. Several groups of experts, including delegations from UN and the WHO had studied the case carefully to evaluate the impact of the nuclear explosion. Here is a list of major outlines on Chernobyl impacts found by medical commissions from one of the recent reports called “Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts” published on Sept. 5, 2005:
· Some 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adolescents, can be attributed to the Chernobyl tragedy. Although at least nine children have died, the survival rate stands at almost 99 percent. This cancer is slow-growing, however, the children need to be followed and checked.
· There may be a slight increase in the incidence of leukemia and of solid cancers and circulatory system diseases. [...]
· There is no evidence of decreased fertility among people who were exposed to the radiation, nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformation in their offspring.
· Mental health is a critical issue faced by survivor of the disaster. "People don't have timely and accurate information, and this has caused serious troubles," Mettler said (Dr. Fred Mettler, Jr., chairman of one of the three expert groups involved in putting the report together, a radiologist at Albuquerque Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New Mexico - A.K.). "Kids who were exposed who are now 20 years old have been called Chernobyl invalids. They have an annual medical exam by 20 doctors so they think for sure something's wrong."
· Experts noted an increased incidence of cataracts that may or may not interfere with vision. The problems occurred at doses lower than generally though to be a problem. [...]
· Except for the 30-kilometer perimeter immediately surrounding the reactor and isolated other areas, radiation levels have returned to acceptable levels. Strontium and cesium will remain a concern for decades to come.
· Some structural elements of the sarcophagus built to hold the damaged reactor have degraded and pose risks. [1]Gardner, Amanda (2005) Chernobyl Legacy Not as Dark as Feared http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=53259 (January 25, 2006)

I would like to pay special attention to the position mentioning the mental health issue. The biggest problem left by Chernobyl still is the lack of correct and trustworthy information about the situation with nuclear pollution and its consequences to the country. The lack of information and general distrust to what is told by officials and mass media cause even more serious problems for the society then the radiation itself, and it can be clearly seen from the independent medical report extracts from which is given above.

Unfortunately, looks like "nuclear disinformation" or simply hidden information is not only the case in Belarus. Neighbouring Russia and Ukraine were in pretty much similar cituation because they were part of the same system. But when it comes to information about nuclear industry in the world scale - what does an international reader have access to? In the interconnected world of today, problems and accidents in one country cannot remain without impact on other countries, even those located far away. SO what do we know?

In the coming post I will give a list of several resources available on the topic with brief comments.

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