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Concealing the Consequences

Chernobyl 25 Years Later

by RALPH NADER

The disaster at Chernobyl’s reactor on April 26, 1986 continues to expose humans, flora and fauna to radioactive lethality especially in, but not restricted to, Ukraine and Belarus. Western countries continue to reflect an under-estimation of casualties by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

IAEA’s figures top off at 4000 fatalities since 1986 that is highly questionable given IAEA’s conflict of interest between its role of promoting nuclear power and monitoring its safety. An agreement between the IAEA and the World Health Organization (WHO) provides for WHO’s deference to IAEA’s casualty figures which has compromised WHO’s priority of advancing health in the world. The United Nations naturally adopts the IAEA figures and the West’s nuclear regulatory agencies, similarly committed to promotional functions, ditto these under-estimations.

The position that the level of mortality and morbidity from Chernobyl over the past quarter century is much larger comes from a compendious of 5000 scientific studies, mostly in the Slavic languages edited by Alexey Yablokov, Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko titled Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. Dr. Yablokov, a biologist, is a member of the prestigious Russian Academy of Sciences. The translated edition was published under the auspices of the New York Academy of Sciences.

At a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on March 25, 2011, attended by C-SPAN, CNN and independent media, but not the mainstream media, Dr. Yablokov summarized these studies and estimated the death toll over nearly twenty five years at about one million and mounting.

Because of the mainstream media, including the major newspapers, blackout on the Yablokov report since its translated edition came out in 2009, I asked Dr. Yablokov this question at the news conference:

"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. It would require, for example, more epidemiological studies ranging into Western Europe, such as the current review of 330 hill farms in Wales. It would insistently invite more studies of the current health and casualty data involving the 800,000 liquidators—workers passing through since 1986 who have been exposed in and around the continuing emergency efforts at the very hot disabled Chernobyl reactor. And much more.

Public silence has not excluded a sub silentio oral campaign to delegitimize the Yablokov compendium. A quiet grapevine of general dismissals—unavailable for public comment or rebuttal—has cooled members of the press and other potential disseminators of its contents, including the National Academy of Sciences, the science advisers to the President and any other thinking scientists who decide that there isn’t enough time or invulnerability to justify getting into a contentious interaction over the Yablokov report.

The ability of corporate science and its regulatory apologists to inflict sanctions on dissenters is legion. There is a long history of censorship leading to self-censorship by those who otherwise might have applied Alfred North Whitehead’s characterization of science as "keeping open options for revision" to the ideology of atomic power.

I call for an open rigorous public scientific-medical debate on the findings and casualty estimates of the Yablokov report, to determine its usefulness for necessary programs of compensation, quarantine, accelerated protective entombment of the still dangerous reactor, and expanded studies of the past and continuing ravages issuing from this catastrophe and its recycling of radioactivity through the soil, air, water and food of the exposed regions. Such a public review is what the science adviser to the President and the National Academy of Sciences should have done already and should do now. The continuing expansion of the Fukushima disaster in Japan provides additional urgency for this open scientific review.

RALPH NADER is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.