The Truth about Chernobyl

Senior Russian scientists document deaths and illnesses from Chernobyl 100 times those reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

There are many reasons for rejecting the nuclear option in the ‘low carbon economy’ as thoroughly reviewed in Green Energies - 100% Renewable by 2050 (ISIS report). One of the biggest question marks hanging over the industry is the potential of another catastrophe on the scale of Chernobyl, or worse.

The industry and its friends insist that we have nothing to worry about; both the design and the operation of nuclear power plants are far better now than they were in 1986, and there is really no chance at all that anything like Chernobyl could happen today.

For those who do not believe that any industry can operate for a long time without a serious accident – and given the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico there must be even fewer who do – they have a second line of defence. Considering that Chernobyl was by far the worst nuclear accident that has ever occurred, it caused remarkably little harm: at most a few thousand deaths and about four thousand cases of thyroid cancer. The number of deaths per unit of energy produced has been much less than in coal mining. Far from being
especially hazardous, nuclear is one of the safest ways of producing energy.

Reality check

Unfortunately, the figures the industry quotes bear little relation to reality. Chernobyl did far more harm than they admit. Evidence for this has been available both in the former Soviet Union and in the West for some time. A long and detailed review has recently appeared in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, co-authored by scientists uniquely qualified to write on the issue.

Alexei Yablokov is a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a leading Russian environmental scientist who has been a vice-president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Vassily Nesterenko, now deceased, was a member of the Belarus Academy of Sciences. In 1986, he was director of the Institute for Nuclear Physics in Minsk. He began his work on Chernobyl the day after the explosion by flying in a helicopter over the reactor to help assess the damage; the radiation he received eventually led to his death in 2008, shortly before the review paper appeared. In 1990, with the help of the
famous physicist Andrei Sakharov, he founded the Independent Institute for Radioprotection (BELRAD). After his death, the directorship passed to his son, Alexei Nesterenko, the third author.

How many deaths?

The usual figure given for the number of deaths due to Chernobyl is 4 000. Of these, 56 were killed in the explosion or received high doses of radiation and died soon after, and the rest are an estimate of the additional deaths (i.e. more than would otherwise have been expected) from cancer that would eventually
occur in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia in people who were exposed to lower doses of radiation.  Little or no mention is ever made of deaths in other countries, or illnesses other than thyroid cancer. That is the assessment of the Chernobyl  Forum, a group set up by the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) though with
representation from other bodies. Commentators generally ascribe these figures to the IAEA and the World Health Organisation (WHO), thereby giving them greater credence. As the IAEA was set up specifically to promote nuclear technologies, there is almost certainly a conflict of interest when it is also acting as regulator or investigator. But WHO has not carried out its own studies and reached the same conclusions as the IAEA. In 1959, the two organisations formally agreed that where they are both interested in some issue, they
should consult each other “with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.”  In practice, it is the industry-oriented IAEA that is solely responsible.

Read the rest of Prof. Peter Saunders'  report at the ISIS website