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The Scientific Hero of Chernobyl: Alexey V. Yablokov, the Man Who Dared to Speak the Truth

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Alexey Yablokov with the author, Chris Busby. Photo: ECRR.

There will be many obituaries published about Alexey V. Yablokov, the extraordinary Russian scientist, activist and human being, but I would like to briefly record a few words about the man I knew. And to weep a few tears.

He was a strong a friend and fellow fighter for truth, and his recent death on the evening of January 10th means a lot for me – and (though we may nto know it) for us all on this increasingly contaminated planet.

I first met Alexey in Oxford in 1996, shortly after publishing my book Wings of Death: Nuclear Pollution and Human Health, which he had already read. What was clear immediately then, and increasingly through our work together since then, is that he, like me, saw the issue of radiation and health as one which was fundamentally a political one, and only secondarily as scientific.

In 1998 we were among those few independent scientists invited by the Green Group in the European Parliament to Brussels to advise on the transposition of the Euratom 96/29 Basic Safety Standards Directive.

This pan-European law permitted the dilution of radioactive waste into consumer goods, and we advised the Greens to try and block it. Well they could not, as Euratom cannot be blocked by the Parliament; though they did manage to introduce a suicide clause, one which we have recently begun to employ.

Fateful words that led to the ECRR’s foundation

Also at this meeting was Jack Valentin, the Scientific Secretary of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). After we had all soundly attacked the ICRP for ignoring the effects coming out from Chernobyl, Jack Valentin huffily said:

“ICRP is an independent organisation. It has no special status. You can listen to any committee you want!”

At this suggestion, Alexey and I immediately saw the way forward. With Inge Schmitz-Feuerhake, Alice Stewart and (later) Molly Scott Cato we decided to form an alternative ICRP: the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR). [1]

This needed an alternative radiation risk model, and we worked on this over the next five years to create the first ECRR report which was published in 2003 and rose upon the nuclear industry horizon with the brightness of a thousand suns.

Alexey organised the translation into Russian, and it quickly appeared also in French, Japanese and Spanish. Alexey suggested we publish a series of books and ECRR reports, and quickly began to put together the first compilation of evidence on Chernobyl effects which we published together in 2006: Chernobyl 20 Years On: Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident. [2]

A valiant warrior for scientific truth

By then we had persuaded Michael Meacher to set up the doomed Committee Examining Radiation Risk from Internal Emitters (CERRIE) and in 2004 we got Alexey over to Oxford, together with Prof Elena Burlakova from the Russian Academy of Sciences to dish the dirt on Chernobyl, which they did.

All their presentations were omitted by the nuclear industry-biased CERRIE secretariat from the final report, though we put them into the Minority Report. Alexey went on to publish, with the late Wassily Nesterenko (and Alexey Nesterenko) the now famous New York Academy of Sciences Chernobyl book which the nuclear industry stooges now spend their time attacking.

In 2000 I was with him in Kiev at the World Health Organisation conference. He used to get really angry. You can see him in action in the Tchertkoff documentary Atomic Lies, which covered the stitch-ups at that Kiev meeting. [3] This is a powerful record, well worth watching.

In 2009 he came to the Lesvos conference of the ECRR and made a presentation on Chernobyl effects which we published in the Proceedings. [4] Later we were in Geneva together and stood vigil together outside the World Health organisation with our sandwich boards. It was freezing. We took the message all over the place. Even after he became ill and had various operations he would struggle along somehow: we were there in East Berlin, talking about Fukushima. [5]

Campaigning on all fronts

What Alexey, Inge and I had in common was the realisation that to win this battle we had to act in several domains: in the scientific literature, in the political area and in the legal arena also. We had to be brave and accept the attacks and the lies spread about us.

We wrote up the science in books and reports and we began publishing in the peer-reviewed literature; we developed the alternative risk model and entered into court cases as experts and finally in my own case as the legal representative. And it worked: between us we have shaken the foundations of the current bogus structure. And I believe we will ultimately win.

I last saw him in Moscow in 2015 at his 80th birthday celebration to which he invited me (and paid my ticket). A sort of vodka-fuelled scientific congress. The only other English speaker there was Tim Mousseau. The Russian scientists there were so clever. So honest. Such a change from all the time-serving bastards and idiots I meet in the radiation risk community venues like CERRIE or more recently the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. We hugged and cried and tossed back the vodka.

But now … they have all gone. Karl Z Morgan, John Gofman, Ed Radford, Ernest Sternglass, Alice Stewart, Rosalie Bertell and now Alexey. All my old mates. Where are the young scientists to replace them? Nowhere. It is all brush and spin and jobs now.

So: Goodbye Alexey Vladimirovitch. A brave and powerful presence, a big man in every way. Perhaps the last of the warrior scientists.

 

Notes

1 Note the original site www.euradcom.org was hacked and manipulated. It is now controlled by an entity in Canada and is not to be trusted. We had to set up a new site and a mirror site www.euradcom.net The servers are in Latvia.

2 This was reprinted and can be ordered from Amazon UK. The book will be made available as a free download from euradcom.eu.

Nuclear Controversies (Originally entitled ‘Atomic Lies’). I helped with some translations. The little girl at the beginning never fails to make everyone cry.

4 Fukushima – What to Expect. Proceedings of the 2009 International Conference of the ECRR. Ed Chris Busby, Joseph Busby, Cecilia Busby Ditta Rietuma. Aberystwyth: Green Audit 2012. We will put this up on the ECRR website soon as a free download.

Yablokov and Busby in Berlin: Fukushima and Chernobyl; video by Ditta Rietuma.

This essay originally appeared in The Ecologist.

Dr Chris Busby is the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Riskand the author of Uranium and Health – The Health Effects of Exposure to Uranium and Uranium Weapons Fallout (Documents of the ECRR 2010 No 2, Brussels, 2010). For details and current CV see chrisbusbyexposed.org. For accounts of his work see greenaudit.orgllrc.org and nuclearjustice.org.

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