Synthesis/Regeneration 10   (Spring 1996)

Chernobyl: The True Story

by Dr. Vladimir Chernousenko

The following is selected from a speech by Dr. Vladimir Chernousenko, former head of the Ukrainian Academy of Science, and the lead investigator of the Chernobyl clean up, at a briefing of Texas officials organized by the Foundation for a Compassionate Society and co-sponsored by WEDO (Women's Environment and Development Organization) in February 1994 in Austin.

In my brief statement I (will) attempt to answer from the point of view of modern science several questions. First, "Have the discoveries (in radioactivity) over the (last 50) years made our lives happy and safe? And I would also like to (ask) the question, "Can the women of.. the United States feel safe even though these accidents may occur quite a distance away?" And last,... "Does the atomic industry, which is such a hazardous industry, have a right to exist?"

I would like to inform you about the scientific data that have been gathered about exposure to radiation. We have conducted studies of the regions around 20 different nuclear plants in my country. In all of these territories we noticed an increase in the breast cancer rate—sometimes an increase of 15% over the normal level. We noticed a growth of anemia amongst children who lived in those areas, cardiovascular diseases, and cataracts. So from this you can conclude that even without the explosion of nuclear weapons there is quite a bit of danger to human lives.

For many years we (believed) that this is the most safe and ecological industry. But as a result of an accident of only one reactor..., an amount of radionuclides was emitted which is comparable to that... emitted from all the detonations of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests. So ... the statement that it is the most environmentally safe industry is not true. As a result of an accident at only one reactor, over 65 million people in my country were affected. And for at least the next 15 years, there will be radioactive fallout all over the globe.

We also hear that this is the most economical way of attaining energy. The analysis which we conducted shows that one kilowatt of energy ... from such a facility is the most expensive, because the problem of burying radioactive waste is not included in this ... analysis. Also excluded from this kind of analysis is the disassembling of these facilities ... So if we're to analyze ... all these (excluded) topics, we will see that it is absolutely not advantageous to continue this industry.

I would like to address the question of whether it's possible to feel safe in America when there are catastrophes occurring in Germany and Russia. Unfortunately the answer is "no."

Now I would like to address the question of whether it's possible to feel safe in America when there are catastrophes occurring in Germany and Russia. Unfortunately the answer is "no." Because an accident which happens tens of thousands of kilometers away will necessarily fall out on people in other parts of the world. So (our) conclusion (is) that every day that these hazardous industries are in existence brings closer the end of our civilization. 'Mat means that we must stop this nuclear madness if we want to continue to exist...

Question: I wonder if you would share with us the effect of your being in Chernobyl on your own personal condition.

... our participation in the clean up of such a catastrophe that is without boundaries completely altered our way of thinking and understanding. Because you have to see the scorched earth which occurs as a result of this accident. You must know about the radioactive zones in which people had to work ... zones (which) were often between 10,000 millirems per hour to 15,000 ... we know that of those persons who receive a dose of 500 rems, half are expected to die immediately... (T)raveling around the various contaminated zones in my country demonstrated that it is now practically impossible to live in the vast territories of Belarus, Ukraine, and two thirds of Russia. And our analysis has demonstrated that as a result of this, there will be over a million casualties.

You see, American doctors in Germany said that I have three years left to live.

Question: You mentioned that 65 million people (were affected). Could you explain?

When I spoke of the 65 million, I took into account that various parts of the population received varying doses of radiation. First, there is the dose between 20 and 35 rems. This was the exposure level of the residents of almost one-third of Belarus, one-third of the Ukraine and nine regions of Russia. The next category is those who received between 5 and 1O rems. And the most terrifying thing about this story is that they received this exposure after the accident. Because they were forced to continue to live in the contaminated territories for the duration of eight years. What are the levels of contamination in these territories? The average level in Belarus is 20 curies per square kilometer. There are a number of territories where the level reached 200 and even 400 curies per square kilometer. This leads to women and children inhaling the radioactivity and also consuming it in their food. We're talking about the increase in cancer and anemia. But we've even noticed throat cancer among animals who live in the region.

Question: The question that's always asked of me when I say that nuclear power is dangerous is "where will we get our electricity?" Today on the radio I heard an ad saying that to phase out nuclear power we're going to have to burn down all the forests.

When we speak of energy, and the desire to extract it, we certainly understand that we must destroy something in order to get it. Up until now we've been destroying what's taken the sun millions of years—5 million years—to create one liter of oil. Certainly we're coming to the end of this supply. But you mustn't think that nuclear energy is the panacea for all of these problems ... (Not) because the supply of uranium is almost gone. The problem is that by the time we run out of the supply completely, which will take another 50 years, we will already have destroyed the entire population on the earth. That's why we speak about this. There is only one ecologically sound way of obtaining energy, and that is the utilization of solar energy ... And since our civilization only exists since the sun does shine, we will be able to exist as long as the sun continues to shine. And no nuclear energy can take the place of this...

Question: We hear a lot these days in the United States about what are called inherently safe nuclear reactors. Did you ever .. [?]

I have to disappoint you. To construct a safe reactor is practically impossible either here or in Russia ... we simply cannot get energy from such enterprises. Because we are dealing with nuclear processes, with uncontrolled reactions, which occur within millionths of a second, and no matter what kind of protection mechanism you design, sooner or later the object must explode and they will. Why were they created at all? When they were created, constructed, it was understood that they were extremely dangerous, but at that point the physicists were told that they must save the world from Hitler at any cost and as soon as possible. And unfortunately the physicists accomplished this, which they regret to this day. And I have to tell you that not a single self-respecting scientist, not a single nuclear physicist, not a single theoretical physicist who studied these problems will ever tell you that these enterprises can or should ever be used for energy.

Question: I wonder ifyou could share with us a little bit the reaction of the Soviet government..[?] to the magnitude of the danger ... [?]

The thing is that at the beginning of the electoral campaign, our representatives and President Kravchuk said that if they were elected they intended to close the Chernobyl power plant immediately. As soon as the people believed them and elected them, they immediately forgot about their promises. That was the reaction of the Ukrainian government. I must tell you that it has always been the case that the energy produced by the Chernobyl power plant has always been sold to the West. (Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and so on.)

Question: What was the number - in the area directly downwind - what was the percentage of children who remained healthy?

That's zero.

Question: Right after Chernobyl, we had a large public relations campaign by the nuclear industry, and what they were saying was that a similar accident could not happen in this country because commercial nuclear reactors are surrounded by concrete protection.

We've discussed this in Germany, in England, and in America. It is true that the nuclear blocks in those places are surrounded by concrete containment. This was done, for example, to keep an airplane from failing on the heads of people who work at the facility. The force of the explosion at Chernobyl exceeded the protective capabilities of this containment by at least ten-fold. And Dr. Rosalie Bertell, who participated in the investigation of the accident at Three Mile Island, can tell you, if a miracle hadn't occurred, and the hydrogen bubble within that containment hadn't dissipated, the accident within the United States would be comparable to the accident at Chernobyl. And the containment wouldn't have been able to protect from these dangers.

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