Saturday, March 25, 2006

Nuclear Nightmares: Twenty Years Since Chernobyl

Nuclear Nightmares
As we are one month from the
20th anniversary of the Chernobyl (Chornobyl) disaster, we can expect more newspapers, television, and radio programs to discuss the consequences of that accident. This is the first of two postings I have planned this weekend to discuss aspects of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.

The April 25, 1986 explosion of the reactor at Chernobyl-4 released all of its reactor core xenon gas (considered biologically inert), about half of its iodine and cesium, and at least 5% of the remaining radioactive material into the atmosphere. These released materials primarily fell out of the atmosphere in relatively close proximity, but lighter airborne materials were carried by wind over Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and some parts of Europe.

Initial evacuations included 45,000 people living within a 10-km radius of the plant, with subsequent evacuation of some 116,000 people living within a 30-km radius by May 4. In the years after, another 210,000 people were evacuated from an area of approximately 4,300 square kilometers which became the "exclusion zone".

However, the International Atomic Energy Agency studies have estimated that over 1,000,000 people were possibly adversely affected by radiation from the accident. Rapid increase in thyroid cancers, increased risk of leukemia, birth defects, decrease fertility, and "adverse pregnancy outcomes" are evidence of the lingering impact on the Slavic population.

As Nuclear Nightmare's website (photography by Robert Knoth, reporting by Antoinette De Jong) shows in a graphic photo presentation, the former CCCP has other lingering radiation effects due to its nuclear weapons programs and other aspects of its nuclear industry. This legacy extends from Kazakhstan where the former Soviet Union tested their first nuclear weapon in 1949 to Tomsk-7 which was shut down following an accidental explosion in 1993. As the website shows, these citizens close ties to the land and love of nature - from berry and mushroom picking, to fishing and hunting, to home gardens - makes them particularly acute accumulators of radiation at the top of the food chain.

The photos presented here are screen captures from the large collection at the Nuclear Nightmares website. There are dozens more at the website ... many much more graphic in depicting the human health consequences of long-
term exposure to low-level radiation.
March 31 - Adding to this story the following article also by Antoinette De Jong in the Illinois Times.

Just ahead of the holiday season, the hospital’s corridors and consulting rooms are full. Surgeon Igor Komisarenko, head of the Komisarenko Institute for Endocrinology and Metabolism in Kiev, has been operating all morning. “Four years after the explosion we were confronted with a surge of cases of children with thyroid cancer,” says Komisarenko. The cancers were caused by radioactive iodine that was released during the disaster. Now, most of his patients are women. Nineteen-year-old Elena Gurok blames herself for her illness. Thyroid cancer was first diagnosed in 2002, and she has just had her second operation: “It is my own fault. I should have taken the medication regularly,” she says.

Nila Bandarenko is another of Komisarenko’s patients. She just had her third operation and cannot yet speak, says the surgeon: “After the second one, microscopic particles got into her vessels and started growing there.” Bandarenko is also suffering from kidney cancer, and her prospects are unclear. Like many of the women here, she is from an area close to the nuclear plant. “The closer to Chernobyl, the bigger the chances are of getting thyroid cancer,” says Komisarenko.

The United Nations even expects another 50,000 cases of thyroid cancer as a result of Chernobyl, says Carel de Rooy, UNICEF representative to the Russian Federation and Belarus: “The greatest danger from radioiodine is to the tiny thyroid glands of children. Researchers have found that in certain parts of Belarus, for example, 36.4 percent of children who were under the age of 4 at the time of the accident can expect to develop thyroid cancer.” In Belarus the trend is similar. Dr. Vachslav Izhakovsky is director of the children’s hospital in Gomel. He says that only one in every four children is born healthy. The intensive-care unit has children with different congenital malformations: cleft palate, no ears, no nose, serious hydrocephaly. “In 1985 we had 200 children with congenital malformations; now we have 800,” says Izhakovsky. The total number of births registered by the hospital went down from 30,000 to 15,000. “The birth rate goes down, like everywhere in Europe,” says Izhakovsky, “but an important factor is that people realize the dangers of having children here.”

According to Izhakovsky, poverty is also affecting the birthrate: “The average salary is $150 [U.S.]. Especially in the villages, life is hard. People are forced to eat whatever they grow, and radioactive contamination is high.”

1 comment:

Dustin said...

so unfortunate