Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment

Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment
Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment  
Author(s) Alexey V. Yablokov
Vassily B. Nesterenko
Alexey V. Nesterenko
Series Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, v. 1181.
Subject(s) Chernobyl disaster
Publisher Blackwell Publishing
Publication date 2007
Published in
ISBN ISBN 9781573317573
OCLC Number 456185565

Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment is a translation of a 2007 Russian publication by Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko. It was published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 in their Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences series.[1]

The book presents an analysis of scientific literature and concludes that medical records between 1986, the year of the Chernobyl disaster, and 2004 reflect 985,000 premature deaths as a result of the radioactivity released. The authors suggest that most of the deaths were in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, though others occurred worldwide throughout the many countries that were struck by radioactive fallout from Chernobyl.[1] The literature analysis draws on over 1,000 published titles and over 5,000 internet and printed publications discussing the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. The authors contend that those publications and papers were written by leading Eastern European authorities and have largely been downplayed or ignored by the IAEA and UNSCEAR.[2]

There is significant disagreement on the degree of long-term adverse impacts of the Chernobyl disaster, despite decades of environmental and heath effects research.[3][4] The environmentalist Amory Lovins has written

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation's 2005 estimate of about 4,000 Chernobyl deaths contrasts with this review of 5,000 mainly Slavic-language scientific papers the UNSCEAR overlooked. It found deaths approaching a million through 2004, nearly 170,000 of them in North America.[5]

The book was not peer reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences,[6][7] and two later reviews by the Oxford Journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry[8] in 2010 both considered the publication relevant, though they differed regarding its overall merit, while a review by M. I. Balonov published by the New York Academy of Sciences concludes that the book the book does not appropriately analyze the content of the Russian-language publications cited.



Two expert reviews of the book were commissioned by the Oxford journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry. The first, by Dr. Ian Fairlie,[9] greets the book as a "welcome addition to the literature in English. The New York Academy of Sciences [is] to be congratulated for publishing this volume. [...] In the opinion of the reviewer, this volume makes it clear that international nuclear agencies and some national authorities remain in denial about the scale of the health disasters in their countries due to Chernobyl's fallout. This is shown by their reluctance to acknowledge contamination and health outcomes data, their ascribing observed morbidity/mortality increases to non-radiation causes, and their refusal to devote resources to rehabilitation and disaster management." Fairlie notes two shortcomings of the book: that it does not sufficiently investigate the large decrease in average male life spans throughout Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, in both contaminated and uncontaminated areas; and that it does not make enough effort to reconstruct estimated doses of contamination and discuss their implications for eastern and western Europe (though Fairlie agrees with the authors that studies should not be rejected for failing to contain dose estimates—a criterion commonly applied by western nuclear agencies such as the IAEA). Fairlie specifically concurs with Yablakov et al. on three points:

  • The IAEA's exclusion of data where estimated dose is below a certain threshold (following ICRP recommendations) is contrary to normal practice, even the ICRP's own practice, and contradicts the linear no-threshold model (LNT). The ICRP's recommendation in this regard is inconsistent with LNT and its own practices.
  • The IAEA/WHO have often sought to justify their dismissal of eastern European epidemiological studies by citing questionable scientific practices: but epidemiology is not an exact science, and the same shortcomings exist in western studies uncriticised by the IAEA. The IAEA also point to shortcomings with pre-Chernobyl Soviet cancer registries, but cancer registries in western countries had similar issues at that time.
  • In observational epidemiological studies where certain data is already known and certain effects are expected, statistical tests for significance of the results are not normally required. Yet the IAEA has challenged such papers that do not include statistical tests and confidence intervals, and questioned whether the observed effects are due to chance. Eastern scientists are faced with a catch-22 situation whereby they either leave out statistical tests, and are dismissed, or else apply the tests, leading western scientists to conclude that there is no real effect.

The second review (in the same volume), by Dr. Monty Charles,[10] is largely critical, noting several problems:

  • The authors expressly discount socioeconomic or screening factors when considering increased occurrence of diseases, but this methodology does not seem to account for variations between territories prior to the accident.
  • Their discussion of 'hot particle' poisoning is cursory, and is unclear regarding dosage figures.
  • The chapter on health effects, 60% of the book, contains inadequate explanation or critical evaluation of many cited facts and figures, and in many instances related tables, figures and statements appear to contradict each other.
  • A section abstract predicted numbers of casualties due to cancer, however the section did not contain any discussion to support these numbers.

While Charles agrees with the importance of making eastern research more available in the west, he states that he cannot tell which of the publications referred to by the book would sustain critical peer-review in western scientific literature, and that verifying these sources would require considerable effort. Charles sees the book as representing one end of a spectrum of views, and believes that works from the entire spectrum must be critically evaluated in order to develop an informed opinion.

A third review by Mona Dreicer was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.[11] It was highly critical of the book's methodology:

... by discounting the widely accepted scientific method for associating cause and effect (while taking into account the uncertainties of dose assessment and measurement of impacts), the authors leave us with only with their assertion that the data in this volume "document the true scale of the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe."

In George Monbiot's recent exchanges with anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott and John Vidal on the matter of the total death toll of Chernobyl, Caldicott and Vidal made reference to Yablokov's book. Monbiot responded by saying:

A devastating review in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry points out that the book achieves this figure by the remarkable method of assuming that all increased deaths from a wide range of diseases – including many which have no known association with radiation – were caused by the Chernobyl accident. There is no basis for this assumption, not least because screening in many countries improved dramatically after the disaster and, since 1986, there have been massive changes in the former eastern bloc. The study makes no attempt to correlate exposure to radiation with the incidence of disease.

The passage Monbiot is referring to comes from Charles' review, and actually relates to the 2006 Greenpeace report on Chernobyl, not the book by Yablokov et al.[10]

The New York Academy of Sciences has published a review by M. I. Balonov of Institute of Radiation Hygiene, St. Petersburg, Russia.[12]In the opinion of this reviewer, the book does not appropriately analyze the content of the Russian-language publications, for example, to separate them into those that contain scientific evidence and those based on hasty impressions and ignorant conclusions. Therefore, the main conclusions of Yablokov, Nesterenko, and Nesterenko are the odd mixture of facts (e.g., increased thyroid cancer in children in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine) and uncorroborated statements of mass mortality in emergency and recovery workers caused by radiation, abnormalities in newborns, etc. The list of cited references indicates that the book did not consider the most respectable papers of Russian-language authors, which received serious international peer review and were published in respected journals. The book uses extensive references to the media, commercial publications, websites of public organizations, or even unidentified ones, to justify its ideas. These are also the source for statistical data on demography, morbidity, etc., which is not considered seriously by the scientific community. Radiation is a relatively weak carcinogen, and its health effects in the population are identified with great difficulties and only with internationally recognized analytical techniques with individual account not only for the dose but also for other influencing factors.[12]

Balonov concludes that biased selection of articles and the book's conclusions are predetermined by a belief in a totally negative effect of any dose of radiation, and the book is not embarrassed with brutal contradiction of the selected works and its own conclusions to the century-long experience in radiobiology and radiation medicine. Each section ends with conclusions about the catastrophic impact of Chernobyl radiation on human health, including increasing death rates. The value of this book is negative, as its bias is obvious only to specialists, while inexperienced readers may well be lead into deep error. Quite accurate data of the Russian national registry suggest that mortality rates of the Chernobyl workers standardized by age and sex are no higher but lower than the one for the population of Russia. The book's assessment for the mortality from Chernobyl fallout of about one million puts this book in a range of rather science fiction than science. It is obvious that if such a mass death of people occurred, it would not have remained unnoticed. Intervention of incompetent people, although having academic titles, in this delicate process prevents adequate public information and decision making by authorities responsible for protecting the population.[12]

See also

External links


  1. ^ a b "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 15 March 2011. 
  2. ^ "Details". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 15 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Mona Dreicer (2010). "Book Review: Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment". Environ Health Perspect 118:a500-a500. 
  4. ^ Monty Charles (2010 141(1)). "Chernobyl: consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment (2010)". Radiat Prot Dosimetry. pp. 101–104. 
  5. ^ Amory Lovins (March 18, 2011). "With Nuclear Power, "No Acts of God Can Be Permitted"". Huffington Post. 
  6. ^ According to a statement made by the NYAS to George Monbiot
  7. ^ New York Academy of Sciences (4/28/2010). "Statement on Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences volume entitled “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”". Retrieved 15/09/2011. 
  8. ^ "Radiation Protection Dosimetry". 
  9. ^ Fairlie, Ian (2010) "Chernobyl: Consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment" in Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2010) Vol. 141 No. 1. Oxford Journals. pp. 97–101.
  10. ^ a b Charles, Monty (2010) "Chernobyl: Consequences of the catastrophe for people and the environment" in Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2010) Vol. 141 No. 1. Oxford Journals. pp. 101–4.
  11. ^ Dreicer, Mona (2010). "Book Review: Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment". Environmental Health Perspectives 118: a500. doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a500. 
  12. ^ a b c M. I. Balonov (4/28/2010). "Review of Volume 1181". New York Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 15.09.2011. 

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