5. The Hidden Tragedy of Chernobyl Has Worldwide
Source: THE NATION, Date: 3/15/93, Title: "Chernobyl-The
Hidden Tragedy," Author: Jay M. Gould
SYNOPSIS: A devastating book on the far-reaching dimensions
of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, written by Vladimir Chernousenko, a
Ukrainian nuclear physicist involved in the emergency cleanup, has not
received the media attention it deserves. Chernousenko, fired from his
post at the Ukrainian Academy of Science for telling the truth about
the catastrophic effects of the disaster, is, himself, now dying of
radiation poisoning. His book, Chernobyl: Insight From the Inside, may
never be published in Ukraine or Russia.
explodes many of the Chernobyl myths propagated by the Soviet authorities and
eagerly accepted by the international nuclear establishment.
He points out
that the accident was not the result of operator error but was caused by major
flaws of design present in 15 other Soviet reactors that are still in operation.
contrast to the widely accepted belief that only 31 people died from exposure
to radiation in the effort to contain the emissions, Chernousenko asserts that
between 7,000 and 10,000 volunteers were killed.
But according to author Jay M. Gould, the most serious charge made
by Chernousenko is that the accident released the lethal contents of
80 percent of the reactor core rather than the three percent figure
announced to the world. "Chernousenko estimates that the radioactivity
released was equivalent to more than one curie for every person on earth,
i.e. more than 1 trillion picocuries per capita, to use the unit in
which radioactive concentrations in milk and water are customarily measured.
The radiation released was roughly equivalent to the explosion of 1,000
While the fallout was concentrated mainly in the three Soviet republics
of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, the reluctance of the Soviet authorities
to recognize the true extent of the contamination of farmland resulted
in the shipment of contaminated food and grain to all the former Soviet
republics, thus spreading radiation illness.
Chernousenko reported that public health surveys
in which he participated revealed that there is hardly a child in Belarus, which
was hardest hit, who is not suffering from some immune deficiency disease, either
cardiovascular, lymphoid or oncological. Most of these children are unable to
attend a full day in school.
A 1989 public health survey reported that every
second adult in the three biggest provinces of Ukraine was ill.
and Belarus, the incidence of the immune deficiency diseases has doubled or tripled
since 1985 and is now spreading to all other areas that have been consuming radioactive
food. This disturbing statistic was confirmed by the World Health Organization
in a letter published in Nature magazine. The letter reported the incidence of
thyroid cancer cases among children in Belarus rose from two in 1986 to 55 in
1991; similar extraordinary increases in children's thyroid cancer were reported
in Gdansk, Poland.
A study by Gould, a former member of the EPA's Science
Advisory Board, and Dr. Ernest Sternglass, published by the American Chemical
Society in January 1989, charged that the effects of the Chernobyl accident were
even apparent in the small but statistically significant excess mortality in the
U.S. in May 1986. The disturbing results, which were not widely publicized, have
yet to be challenged.
SSU Censored Researcher: Courteney Lunt
COMMENTS: The author, Jay M. Gould, co-author of Deadly Deceit:
Low-Level Radiation, High-Level Cover-up, says that despite the overwhelming
significance of the issue, it has received no exposure at all. He adds
that this lack of exposure benefits "the international atomic energy
industry and its two trillion dollar investment in this universally
unpopular, expensive and dangerous way of boiling water." In November,
Gould updated the current health conditions with data provided by Dr.
Chernousenko in late October. "As of 1993, some 15,000 of the 30,000
young conscripts who were unnecessarily exposed to incredibly high radiation
levels in order to permit the other three Chernobyl reactors to continue
operations ... have died since 1986. Because 100,000 square kilometers
of prod-uctive land has become permanently uninhabitable, contaminated
food from these areas has been widely shipped to other areas of the
former Soviet Union and consumed by an estimated 65 million persons,
with varying degrees of consequent damage to their immune response."
Gould also noted that while Chernousenko received five commend-ations
from Mikhail Gorbachev for heroism, his final report on the true radiation
levels was never published.
- THE HIDDEN TRAGEDY" by Jay M. Gould; The Nation, 3/15/93
report on the hidden dimensions of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, written by the
Ukrainian nuclear physicist chosen to "liquidate the consequences" of
the accident, was published last year in Germany. The book, Chernobyl: Insight
From the Inside (Springer-Verlag, Berlin/New York), may never be published in
Ukraine or Russia, and the author, Vladimir Chernousenko, now dying of radiation
poisoning along with thousands of others involved in the emergency cleanup, was
dismissed from his post at the Ukrainian Academy of Science for telling the truth
about the accident's catastrophic effect on Soviet society.
treatment was reminiscent of that accorded to the Soviet Union's greatest scientist,
Andrei Sakharov, who was also punished for revealing the lethal effects on the
immune system of ingesting food or water containing man-made nuclear fission products.
his 1990 Memoirs Sakharov writes that he came to the conclusion that the nuclear
bomb was primarily a biological weapon. After the success of his 1955 H-bomb test,
he worried more and more about the biological effects of nuclear tests....The
long-term biological consequences (particularly atmospheric testing, in which
radioactive fallout is dispersed throughout the hemisphere) can be predicted and
the total number of casualties calculated with some accuracy.
only such fission products as radioactive carbon, strontium and cesium, he calculated
that genetic damage, plus the immediate and delayed damage to immune systems,
would accelerate the deaths of between 500,000 and I million people worldwide
for every fifty megatons of nuclear explosive power. An important consideration
was what he termed "non-threshold effects," by which he meant that every
radioactive particle released had a statistical probability of doing damage to
either the DNA of a cell or to the immune system, by low-level internal radiation
from ingesting such particles. He also predicted that radiation would accelerate
the mutation of microorganisms, leading to the inference that persons with damaged
immune systems would in time succumb more easily to these new strains of infectious
Chernousenko's revelations about the health effects of the Chernobyl
accident validate Sakharov's ominous predictions. He begins by demolishing many
Chernobyl myths propagated by the Soviet authorities and eagerly accepted by the
international nuclear establishment. The accident, he says, was not the result
of operator error but was caused by major flaws of design present in fifteen other
Soviet reactors that are still in operation. In contrast to the widely accepted
belief that only thirty-one people died from exposure to radiation in the effort
to contain the emissions, Chernousenko asserts that between 7,000 and 10,000 volunteers
But his most serious charge is that the accident released the
lethal contents of 80 percent of the reactor core rather than the 3 percent figure
announced to the world. Chernousenko estimates that the radioactivity released
was equivalent to more than one curie for every person on earth, i.e., more than
I trillion picocuries per capita, to use the unit in which radioactivity concentrations
in milk and water are customarily measured. The radiation released was roughly
equivalent to the explosion of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs.
the first set of figures available on the great wave of morbidity that swept through
the Soviet population after Chernobyl. The fallout was concentrated mainly in
the three Soviet republics of Belarus (formerly Byelorussia), Ukraine and Russia,
where the bulk of the emissions settled on more than 100,000 square kilometers.
But the reluctance of the Soviet authorities to recognize the true extent of the
contamination of farmland resulted in the shipment of contaminated food and grain
to all the former Soviet republics, thus spreading radiation illness.
health surveys in which Chernousenko participated revealed that in Belarus, which
was hardest hit, there is hardly a child who is not suffering from some immune
deficiency disease, either cardiovascular, Iymphoid or oncological; most of these
children are unable to attend a full day in school. A 1989 public health survey
indicated that in the three biggest provinces of Ukraine every second adult was
ill. In Ukraine and Belarus, the incidence of immune deficiency diseases has doubled
or tripled since 1985 and is now spreading to all other areas that have been consuming
radioactive food. Confirmation of this finding came in a letter endorsed by World
Health Organization officials that was published in the September 3, 1992, issue
of Nature. The letter revealed that the incidence of thyroid cancer cases among
children in Belarus rose from two in 1986 to fifty-five in 1991. Similar extraordinary
increases in children's thyroid cancer were reported in Gdansk, Poland, using
the same World Health Organization criteria.
Chernousenko suggests that
Chernobyl's massive secondary insult to human immune systems literally sickened
Soviet society. Effects of the Chernobyl accident were even apparent in the small
but statistically significant excess mortality in the United States in May 1986
that was noted by myself and Dr. Ernest Sternglass and published by the American
Chemical Society in January 1989. Our findings have never been challenged. Similar
observations on excess infant mortality immediately after the arrival of Chernobyl
radiation in southern Germany were made by Professor Jens Scheer of the University
of Bremen and published in the November 4,1989, Lancet.
received other confirmations in a report by a Canadian pediatrician, Dr. R.K.
Whyte, published in the February 8, 1992, British Medical Journal, attributing
some 320,000 excess neonatal deaths (babies dying within the first month) since
1950 in the United States and Britain to fallout from nuclear bomb testing. Low
birthweight is the largest single cause of neonatal mortality, and a review of
data on the percentage of live births in New York State of babies weighing less
than 5.5 pounds reveals a rise from about 6 percent in 1945 to a peak of 8 percent
in 1966, when the buildup of strontium-90 in the bones of New York adults reached
an all-time high. When the United States first transferred bomb testing from the
Pacific to the Nevada Test Site in 1951, the percentage of low birthweight infants
in Nevada that year rose by 70 percent!
It now seems clear that the atmospheric
bomb tests caused sufficient harm to developing hormonal and immune systems to
justify Sakharov's fear of future immune deficiency epidemics. Radiation physicists
Sternglass and Scheer point out that the AIDS epidemic first emerged during the
early 1980s in the high rainfall areas of Africa that twenty years earlier registered
the highest levels in the world of strontium-90 in human bone after receiving
heavy fallout from the atmospheric bomb tests. They conclude that fallout is a
factor in the impairment of immune response that can show up when young adults
encounter the newly mutated strains of sexually transmitted viruses.
the 1980s, concomitant with the continued routine and accidental emissions from
military and civilian reactors, mortality rates were on the rise in some major
nuclear nations, reversing the declines registered in the 1970s. Data on civilian
reactor emissions of radioactive iodine and strontium, published each year by
the Brookhaven National Laboratory, indicate that from 1970 to 1987 some 370 trillion
picocuries of these deadly fission products were released into the atmosphere,
enough to expose Americans to a cumulated total of 1.6 million picocuries per
capita. While the nuclear establishment will claim that not enough of these dangerous
fission products would be ingested by any one individual to produce adverse health
effects, Sternglass and I calculated that there is a significant degree of correlation
between the varying degrees of geographic exposure to such fission products and
mortality from cancer and other immune deficiency diseases.
relates to the anomalous recent increases in the mortality rates of young people.
According to the United Nations Annual Demographic Yearbooks, in the United States,
Britain and France mortality rates for the most productive component of the labor
force-those between the ages of 25 and 44-have been increasing since 1983 for
the first time since World War 11. This surprising trend for American males was
acknowledged by the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control in an article by J.W.
Buehler et al. in the September 1990 American Journal of Public Health. The increase
was attributed to AIDS, although the article admitted that in states with high
AIDS mortality rates there are "associated" abnormal increases in septicemia
(blood poisoning), pneumonia, tuberculosis, diseases of the central nervous system,
heart and blood disorders, and "other immune defects."
in this age group were born between 1945 and 1965, and were therefore most heavily
exposed in utero to the low-level bomb-test radiation. In an aging population,
in which deaths of old people make up an increasing share of total deaths, the
proportion of deaths among younger age groups should decline over time. In the
United States this percentage had declined fairly steadily, from 11.3 in 1940
to 5.4 in 1983, but it then abruptly rose to 6.6 in 1989, according to data from
the National Center for Health Statistics.
The corresponding percentage
in France, according to the United Nations Demographic Yearbook, rose from 4.26
in 1983 to 4.71 in 1987, and in Britain from 2.42 in 1983 to 2.61 in 1988. No
comparable data were available from the former Soviet Union.
In the United
States, we can assume that in addition to the surviving number of baby boomers
born with low birthweight, there may be an equivalent number whose radiation-induced
damage took other forms, so that a significant number of baby boomers, perhaps
one-third, now make up a disproportionate segment of the swelling ranks of those
who are mentally ill, permanently unemployed, homeless, in prison, on drugs or
ill with AIDS and other immune deficiency diseases, such as chronic fatigue, toxic
shock, tuberculosis, etc. The removal from the U.S. Iabor force of such a large
part of the most productive age group may be one of the most neglected factors
in explaining why our productivity is lagging so far behind that of the Japanese
and Germans, whose baby-boom generations display no mortality deterioration since
Immune deficiency problems of the kind anticipated by Sakharov can
also be seen in the epidemic rise, since 1950, of cancer and septicemia mortality
among the aged. Mortality from septicemia, the quintessential immune deficiency
disease of old people, was extremely rare in 1950. Since then it has risen fifteen-fold.
biochemical link between low-level internal radiation and immune deficiency anticipated
by Sakharov was discovered in 1971 by Abram Petkau, a biophysicist working for
the Canadian Atomic Energy Commission. That year he performed an unplanned experiment
on an animal membrane that completely overturned conventional ideas on the biological
damage produced by extremely low levels of radiation. In the March 1972 issue
of Health Physics, under the innocuous title "Effect of Na-22 on a Phospholipid
Membrane," he described how he found that cells that had withstood radiation
doses as large as tens of thousands of rads without breaking ruptured at less
than one rad when subjected to low-intensity, protracted radiation from mildly
radioactive sodium salts.
Petkau and his followers have theorized that ingested
radionuclides promote the formation of oxygen free-radicals, which, in a chain
reaction, can quickly destroy the membranes of cells, such as those of the immune
system. At higher intensities of radiation, the free-radical concentrations increase
and quench each other. As a result, per unit of radiation absorbed in tissue,
the process is perversely more efficient at lower rather than higher doses or
intensities. The has been confirmed by recent findings of Dr. Alice Stewart, the
world-renowned British epidemiologist, that low-level radiation raised the cancer
risk for workers at the Hanford, Washington, nuclear weapons plant more rapidly
than high doses.
Thus the so-called Petkau Effect explains why man-made
fission products introduced into a pristine biosphere in the earliest years of
the nuclear age did so much damage that remained unrecognized at the time. The
Petkau Effect also explains what happened to the many millions of people in the
former Soviet Union forced to ingest food and water contaminated by Chernobyl
fallout; most of the damage is done by the initial exposure, when the dose response
rises most rapidly.
Chernousenko suggests that in the case of Chernobyl,
for every death there were a large number of premature illnesses. Such widespread
illness could not be concealed despite all efforts by Soviet authorities to do
so, and it contributed to the consequent despair that helped unravel the social
fabric of Soviet society after the accident. It may help explain the mystery of
why the Soviet Union collapsed so quickly after 1986, with a suddenness that completely
upset the geopolitical balance. Chernousenko's book should prepare us for the
nuclear horrors that will come with another such catastrophe, but if we really
wish to heed the warnings of both Sakharov and Chernousenko, we must put an end
to all forms of nuclear emissions released into the environment.
M. Gould, a member of the E.P.A.'s Science Advisory Board during the Carter Administration,
is co-author of Deadly Deceit: Low-Level Radiation, High-Level Cover-Up (Four
Walls Eight Windows).