The government of India is promoting nuclear energy as a solution to the country’s future energy needs and is embarking on a massive nuclear energy expansion




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4. Is Nuclear Energy Safe?


The fission reaction produces such a deadly concoction of radioactive elements that long-lived radiation contained within the reactor of a 1000 MW nuclear power plant is equivalent to that of a 1000 Hiroshima bombs! What if an accident in the nuclear reactor releases a significant part of these deadly radioactive elements into the environment in one go? It has happened before. Not once, but quite a few times. We discuss below the two biggest such accidents in recent times, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the Fukushima accident of March 2011.

Part I: Chernobyl Accident, 1986


On April 26, 1986, Unit Four of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, spewing almost a quarter of the deadly radioactive fission products in its reactor core into the environment. This catastrophe will continue to plague much of Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine and Europe for the rest of time.

To this day, international institutions dealing with nuclear energy and the World Health Organisation (WHO), the public health arm of the United Nations, maintain a conspiracy of silence over the true effects of Chernobyl on human life. The WHO does not independently research the health consequences emanating from nuclear accidents. In 1959, it signed an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) whereby the WHO is precluded from publishing any research on radiation effects without consultation with the IAEA. Now, one of the explicit objectives of the IAEA is to promote nuclear power worldwide. Obviously then, the IAEA would seek to obfuscate the true magnitude of the Chernobyl disaster. Its pact with the IAEA has therefore muzzled the WHO, enabling the global nuclear industry to hide from the public any 'unwanted' information.

In September 2005, the IAEA and the WHO released the draft of a study by the UN Chernobyl Forum. The most important figures of this study were:

  • just under 50 dead;

  • 4,000 curable cases of thyroid cancer;

  • no proof for an increase in miscarriages and sterility or leukaemia and other forms of cancer in relation to the reactor accident;

  • total number of future deaths as a result of the disaster could possibly reach a maximum of 4000 people.

The IAEA declared: the Chernobyl case is closed.36

Let us compare these ‘official’ figures with some of the medical and ecological consequences of Chernobyl known today from several excellent studies. One of the most exhaustive of these studies was recently published by the New York Academy of Sciences, in 2009, and is titled Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. The book is authored by Dr. Alexey Yablokov of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow and a former environmental advisor to the Russian president, late Prof. Vassily B. Nesterenko, who was the director of the Institute of Nuclear Energy of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus at the time of the Chernobyl accident, and Dr. Alexey Nesterenko, a biologist and ecologist with the Institute of Radiation Safety, Belarus. The authors examined over 1,000 published scientific articles, which reflect more than 5,000 Internet and printed publications, mainly in Slavic languages, and never before available in English. According to this and other reputed studies:37

  1. Radioactive emissions from Chernobyl accident may have been as great as 10 billion curies, or 200 times greater than the initial estimate, and hundreds of times larger than the fallout from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  2. The most extensive fall-out from Chernobyl occurred in regions closest to the plant—in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. According to one estimate, an area of 100,000 square miles—roughly the area of the state of Maharashtra—was heavily contaminated. It will remain so for thousands of years.

  3. The accident caused noticeable radioactive contamination over practically the entire Northern Hemisphere. 40% of Europe was contaminated with dangerous radioactivity. Chernobyl fallout also significantly contaminated about 8% of Asia, 6% of Africa, and 0.6% of North America.

  4. About 550 million Europeans (including European Russia) were affected by the contamination, of which an estimated 205 million live in significantly contaminated areas.

  5. While 400,000 people living in a perimeter of 30 kms around the plant were evacuated and resettled elsewhere, more than 5 million people, including some 1 million children, continue to live in dangerously contaminated areas of Belarus, Ukraine and European Russia..

  6. In all the territories contaminated by Chernobyl that have been studied, there is a significant increase in general morbidity, with diseases affecting practically all the body systems, apart from a high incidence of congenital malformations and cancers.

  7. Children have been the worst affected, as they are the most vulnerable to radiation. In the Chernobyl territories of Belarus, Ukraine, and European Russia, less than than 20% children are well. In the heavily contaminated areas, it is difficult to find one healthy child.

  8. Yablokov et al., in their detailed study (cited above), estimate the total death toll worldwide from the Chernobyl catastrophe for the period 1986‒2004 to be a mind-boggling 985,000 additional deaths. This estimate of the number of additional deaths is similar to those made by Prof. Gofman in 1994 and Rosalie Bertell in 2006, both world-renowned experts. These numbers will continue to increase for many future generations because of continued radiation from radionuclides like Pu-241, Am-241, Cl-36 and Tc-99 which have half-lives of between 20,000 and 300,000 years.

  9. As a result of the Chernobyl catastrophe, millions of hectares of agricultural lands are dangerously contaminated with high concentrations of Cs-137 and Sr-90. Because these isotopes have such long half-lives, food in contaminated parts of Europe will be radioactive for hundreds of years. Thus, in Britain, 1,500 miles from the crippled reactor, 382 farms containing 226,500 sheep are severely restricted because the levels of cesium-137 in the meat are too high; while in south Germany, hunters are compensated for catching contaminated animals, and many mushrooms and wild berries are still too radioactive to eat.

  10. The radioactive fallout from Chernobyl impacted fauna and flora over the entire Northern Hemisphere. It has resulted in morphologic, physiologic and genetic disorders in all living organisms: plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and bacteria, as well as viruses. Dr. Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger, a toxicologist expert in the health impacts of radioactivity and the editor of the book by Yablokov et al., writes: “Every single system that was studied—whether human or wolves or livestock or fish or trees or mushrooms or bacteria—all were changed, some of them irreversibly. The scope of the damage is stunning.”

These are absolutely numbing statistics. Just one reactor accident is enough to contaminate half the globe, for tens of thousands of years! And yet the world wants to build new reactors!!
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