From Chain Reaction #126, April 2016, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction
Global 2000 / Friends of the Earth Austria has released an updated dated version of an important report on the health impacts of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Written by radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie, the report incorporates the findings of many relevant studies produced in the 10 years since the original report was published.
The subject matter is inordinately complex but Fairlie explains a host of technicalities in language that anyone can understand. Thus the report is not only an up-to-date, expert report on the health effects of the Chernobyl disaster, but it also doubles as a primer on the radiation/health debates.
Fairlie summarises the main impacts:
- 5 million people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia still live in highly contaminated areas, and 400 million people in less contaminated areas.
- 37% of Chernobyl’s fallout deposited on western Europe; 42% of western Europe contaminated.
- Initially, about 116,000 people were evacuated, and later an additional 230,000 people were resettled.
- 40,000 fatal cancers predicted across Europe (based on an estimated collective dose of 400,000 person-Sieverts and a linear no-threshold derived risk estimate of 0.1 fatal cancers per person-Sievert).
- 6,000 thyroid cancer cases to date, 16,000 more expected.
- Increased radiogenic thyroid cancers now seen in Austria: 8–41% of increased thyroid cancer cases after 1990 in Austria may be due to Chernobyl.
- Increased incidences of leukemia well established among the clean-up workers in Ukraine and Russia with very high risk factors. Slightly lower leukemia risks were observed among residents of seriously contaminated areas in Ukraine and Belarus.
- Increases in solid cancers were observed among clean-up workers in Belarus and Ukraine but their relative risks (20% to 50%) were considerably lower than the 700% increases observed for thyroid cancer, and the 200% to 500% increases observed for leukemia.
- Several new studies have confirmed increased risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke after Chernobyl. It is recommended that further studies be funded and carried out on radiogenic cardiovascular diseases. As current radiation dose limits around the world are based on cancer risks alone, it is recommended that they should be tightened to take into account cardiovascular disease and stroke risks as well.
- A recent very large study observed statistically significant increases in nervous system birth defects in highly contaminated areas in Russia, similar to the elevated rates of such birth defects observed in highly contaminated areas in Ukraine. The International Agency for Research on Cancer should be funded to carry out a comprehensive study of birth defects, particularly nervous system defects and Down Syndrome after Chernobyl.
Ian Fairlie, March 2016, ‘TORCH-2016: An independent scientific evaluation of the health-related effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster’,