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Challenging New York Academy of Sciences to Repudiate “Chernobyl Consequences”

On the 25th anniversary of the explosion that destroyed unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power station, Ralph Nader published a commentary in which he strongly supported the book titled Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. As part of his opinion piece, he made the following statement:

“Dr. Yablokov, you are a distinguished scientist in your country, as reflected in your membership in the Russian Academy of Sciences, what has been the response to your report by corporate scientists, regulatory agency scientists and academic scientists in the West? Did they openly agree in whole or in part or did they disagree in whole or in part or were they just silent?”

Academician Yablokov replied that the compilation of these many reports has been met with silence. He added that science means critical engagement with the data and implied that silence was not an appropriate response from the scientific community.

Silence, of course, is not without its purpose. For to engage, whether to rebut, doubt or affirm, would give visibility to this compendium of scientific studies that upsets the fantasy modeling by the nuclear industry and its apologists regarding the worse case scenario damage of a level 7 or worse meltdown.

Apparently, Mr. Nader does not frequent Atomic Insights (see, for example Chernobyl Consequences – Myths and Fables Versus Science published in September 2010 or Defusing Misinformation About a “New” Chernobyl Study Before it Has Too Much of a Head Start from November 2010). There is no real surprise there.

However, Nader’s point regarding the silent treatment is an important one; a false report that goes unchallenged can develop a life and a credibility that will be difficult to overcome. It is incumbent on the people who have done the real science and found completely contrary results to directly confront the purveyors of falsehoods. We need to help the public understand that the report is not just an opinion and not just a matter of controversy; it is simply wrong. The New York Academy of Sciences, as a publisher, has a right (and responsibility) to complete its long-delayed review, repudiate the study and distance itself from its continued availability.

Here are some additional thoughts that Ted Rockwell shared with the NYAS as an enclosure in his April 21, 2011 letter to the Board of Governors and The President’s Council.
 
Begin quoted letter.


 

Additional Comments on the NYAS-Greenpeace Report on Chernobyl

 

The type of claims it makes, of extensive radiological damage to people and the environment from the Chernobyl reactor explosion of 1986, have been repeatedly shown to be contradicted by the data. The NYAS report unfortunately carries these claims to new heights, calling the incident “the largest technological catastrophe in history.” claiming “a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power…No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination.” Getting more specific, the report claims “Prior to 1985, more than 80% of children in the Chernobyl territories…were healthy; today fewer than 20% are well. In the heavily contaminated areas, it is difficult to find one healthy child.”

The facts of the case are quite different. For example, in the exclusion zone, where the report claims it is difficult to find one healthy child, the radioactivity is lower than my sister’s front yard in Colorado (where she raised four very healthy children, and the cancer rate is significantly lower than average). And the Ukrainian tourism bureau is sponsoring eco-tours to show how wildlife is flourishing because the human presence has been restricted. Two thousand villages in the evacuated zone are being repopulated. The Chernobyl meltdown has probably been studied more than any other industrial casualty, by the UNSCEAR, WHO, Red Cross, IAEA, et al. The NYAS report implies that these organizations are uncritical tools of the nuclear industry, but offers no supporting evidence for such a claim.

Why are the conclusions of the NYAS report versus the consensus reports so dramatically different? There are several facts that contribute to the difference:

a. Fear of radiation was rampant and deep-seated. Government actions were confusing and contradictory. Several of the medical specialists who investigated the after-effects of Chernobyl noted that fear of radiation could by itself explain the spread of depression, alcoholism, absenteeism, abuse of drugs, sleeplessness, and the symptoms that such ills create and sustain. One example: Prior to 1986, the rate of abortions downwind of Chernobyl was fairly constant. The year following showed an additional 50,000 to 100,000 abortions, and abortion rates for following years returned to nearly the previous level. This is presumably because physicians advising pregnant women were ill-informed about the effects of low-dose radiation, and added to the problem, rather than alleviating it. It was repeatedly reported that fear of radiation was much more destructive than the radiation itself.

b. The Ukrainian government offered extensive incentives to declare oneself a “Chernobyl victim.” The original contract with the Soviet government promised that any person injured by the reactor would be fully taken care of, at the expense of the Russian government. This provision came to include housing, hospitalization and other medical care, and cash. The program became so lavish and extensive that resentment grew up against the “victims” who were judged by many to be parasites. There were fund-raising tours through USA and elsewhere, of malformed “Chernobyl victims” who didn’t even all live in or near Chernobyl.

c. A collection of anecdotes is not data. Correlation does not prove cause. The data cited in this report were accumulated by stumbling across correlations of various illnesses or symptoms, regardless of whether such symptoms have ever been known to result from irradiation. Most have not. Recognizing that such post-hoc pattern-building is generally disparaged by scientists, the authors argue that in the Chernobyl situation, it is required. There is no attempt to replicate or peer-review the data. The need for statistical significance is specifically denied.

d. “Exposed to radiation” does not mean “injured,” though the report implies otherwise. All life-forms have been exposed to radiation, since the dawn of time. Table 1.9 of the report’s Chapter 2 shows the number of people “Suffering from Chernobyl Radioactive Contamination.” Heavily contaminated areas is 270,000; Outside Europe is 4,000,000,000. These four billion people are said to be suffering from a Chernobyl radiation dose of 0.025mSv. This is about 1% of the global average radiation background from all sources, and many people will casually take actions that increase their radiation dose a hundred times the Chernobyl dose, just from the everyday activities of living.

Marshall Brucer, “the father of nuclear medicine,” in his canonical “Chronology of Nuclear Medicine,” indicates how extensive this variation can be. On page 323, he lists various radiation background levels (with cosmic ray contribution removed) from New York City at 0.62mSv/year to SW France up to 87.6; to the potash fertilizer area in Florida up to 1,750. He notes, “If you live in one place on earth, your background may vary from day to day by a factor of ten, or even 100…The inside exposure rate can change by a factor of 10 within hours, just by opening windows.” He notes that building with brick, rather than wood, can nearly double your daily radiation dose, but that the radioactivity of bricks and concrete is also highly variable: from 0.05 to 4.93 mSv/hr for bricks, and from 0.29 to 2.54 for concretes. “A factor of 10 daily variation [in radioactivity] marks the diets of most people.” As to the specific isotopes unique to nuclear fission: despite statements to the contrary in the report, over 99% of those were put into the air by nuclear weapons tests, not the reactor.

The authors’ theory of radiation damage is bizarre. “One physical analogy can illustrate the importance of even the smallest load of radioactivity: only a few drops of water added to a glass filled to the brim are needed to initiate a flow. The same few drops can initiate the same overflow when it is a barrel.” [TR note: No, it doesn’t. Just try it. The water will not run up and over the sides of a glass or a barrel.]
“…we simply do not know when only a small amount of additional Chernobyl radiation will cause an overflow of damage and irreversible change in the health of humans and in nature” No evidence is offered to support this unorthodox theory of radiation damage.

One other factor makes the tiny Chernobyl dose appear to be so significant–the statistical magic of small numbers. Cluster analysis has been made notorious by Sternglass, Wing, et al. They look at the cancer rate in counties surrounding, say, a nuclear facility. They are shocked to find that about half the counties are above average. (This is not Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average.) Asked about the other half, they say these are not of interest; those people are just lucky. If the average annual rate of cancer deaths in the counties of this study is, for example, 10, then suppose one of that 10 moves to an adjacent county. That raises the death rate for the new county to 11, and lowers the old county to 9 – a 20% difference! If, instead of 10, the average is hundreds, or thousands; do they then lose the magic of small numbers? Not at all. They can then break the data down into particular types of cancers, and/or age groups or other categories of individuals. The possibilities are endless. And it’s all bad science.

Being the publisher of this book dishonors the Academy. If we continue to publish it, we are saying that it is a work that the Academy believes worthy of attention by busy scientists. Why else would we publish it?
There is no shame in reversing course when the facts advise it. This is best done quickly and decisively, with minimum publicity. Unfortunately, the latest move by Greenpeace has foreclosed on that option.


End quoted letter.

 

Now it is time to add more voices to the chorus. Nader has issued his challenge and suggested that the scientific community should not be silent if they disagree with the methods and conclusions of the Yablokov / Nesterenko / Greenpeace work of art. You can add commentary here. Better yet, if you happen to be a member of NYAS or another technical society with an interest in the topic, would be to formally challenge the work and the decision processes that allows it to be cited as a seemingly credible source of information.

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