Kiev, April 27, 2006
We are writing to you from Kiev where spring is breaking out, golden cupolas shine in the sun, and well-dressed people hurry alone wide sidewalks. We are here for a conference timed for the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and find that the media and many Ukrainian people are thinking and talking about Chernobyl and the medical, economic and psychological impacts that are still felt and will be for generations.
Top specialists from Ukraine, Europe and US threw information at us for two and one half intense days at the conference. While we have been at previous anniversary events in Kiev and have read about Chernobyl impacts for many years, we were still surprised and shocked by many things we heard and saw. "There are lessons from Chernobyl that concern everyone however far they may live from a nuclear reactor." We want to share some of these with you.
1. Over half the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl power plant fell on European countries beyond the borders of the USSR. Some 40% of Western Europe is still contaminated. The health effects are "still emerging".
2. An estimated 22,000 West European have died prematurely because of Chernobyl, according to a report by respected independent British scientists.
3. The UN investigation of Chernobyl consequences in 2004-5 did not study impacts outside the old Soviet borders. Western governments "are in denial" to protect their own nuclear industries.
4. The "catastrophe continues" in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, the latter having received 70% of the fallout that fell on Soviet territory. (94% of Belarus lands are still contaminated with radioactivity.) In these countries the excess cancers, beyond normal rates, are projected to affect 30-60,000 people in the foreseeable future and 18-28,000 of these are expected to emerge in Belarus. The cases of thyroid cancers continue to rise rapidly above pre-Chernobyl rates, especially in children who were 1-5 years old at the time of the accident.
5. The non-cancer health effects are growing as people are exposed for many years to relatively low doses of radioactivity. General health levels are markedly lower in contaminated areas compared to those not receiving fallout. "Radiation causes instability in the nucleus of cells and they lose their ability to receive information from neighboring cells."
6. The scope of the fallout was so large because the extraordinary force of the explosion in reactor four blasted radioactive materials as high as two kilometers where the winds are stronger than at the surface. Nevertheless, those living closest to the power station have been at greatest health risk for twenty years and will be for untold years.
7. While the government of Germany has negotiated a phase out of nuclear power by 2020, the governments of UK, US, Russia and even Ukraine are supporting both the extension of operations of existing reactors whose thirty-year licenses are expiring and the construction of new ones. Twenty-four reactors are under construction in 13 countries but only the first since 1991 is being built with an untested design in West Europe (Finland) and none in UK and US. (Polls of West Europeans show 55% against further reliance on nuclear and 37% for.) Asia is the main area of growth. Yet the nuclear industry is the slowest growing source of electricity generation in the world and the proportion of total electricity from nuclear fuel is dropping annually.
8. It is a false myth that Western reactors are safer by design than old Soviet reactors. Despite claims to the contrary, many of the former do not have stronger containment structures. Most Western reactors date from the 1980s before the Chernobyl accident and no new reactor has been started in the US since the Three Mile Island partial meltdown in 1979. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission published a report after the Chernobyl disaster saying that US reactors could release to the biosphere as much or more radioactivity as Chernobyl. In fact, most of the radioactivity of reactor four in the Chernobyl station is still in the ruined reactor. Speakers at the conference agreed that "Chernobyl is not the worst case disaster" because accidents at Western reactors could release even more harmful radioactivity. The father of the Russian nuclear technology, Dr. Kurchatov, once said, "Every reactor is a time bomb".
9. Reliance on nuclear energy to counter global warming and replace fossil fuel is based on the false assumption of unlimited uranium fuel. In fact, uranium reserves are estimated to last no longer than fifty years.
10. The nuclear industry would go bankrupt in any true market economy because it cannot operate without massive government subsidies.
We hope you might want to pass these powerful facts on to friends since the Bush administration and the Congress are raising to $12 billion the annual subsidy for expanding the nuclear industry in the United States.
With our strongest personal wishes for a sane world,
Fran and Enid
Visit the CSE website