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    Dr. Rosalie Bertell replies to Repacholi’s spin on Chernobyl

    From Milt Bowling:

    Dr. Rosalie Bertell was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1986 for her work on radiation. She points out how unqualified Repacholi is to comment on Chernobyl, which will be no surprise to this list.



    Rosalie Bertell responds to the 2005 WHO/IAEA/UNDP Press Release on Chernobyl
    by Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH

    Comments on the Press Release:

    «Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident»

    Joint News Release WHO/IAEA/UNDP

    This press release of 5 September 2005, which purports to be a consensus of more than a hundred scientists represents some very poor scientific conclusions. For example, under: “Major study findings”, one finds the following quote:

    «Approximately 1000 on-site reactor staff and emergency workers were heavily exposed to high-level radiation on the first day of the accident; among the more than 200,000 emergency and recovery operation workers exposed during the period from 1986-1987, an estimated 2200 radiation-caused deaths can be expected during their lifetime».

    Radiation-caused deaths is a loaded statement. It assumes that only death is considered to be a detriment, and eliminates consideration of all severe and debilitating morbidity. Moreover, these scientists, trained by the documents released by ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection) over the last fifty years, have accepted without question that the only health effects “of concern” attributable to radiation are deaths from cancer. Non-fatal cancers are basically of no concern. These are administrative decisions and not science. Radiation causes random damage to cellular DNA, yet only damage manifested as cancer death is considered to be a detriment. There is no mention of the mitochondrial DNA (mDNA), which is sixteen times more vulnerable to radiation than is the cellular DNA, and the damage of which is expressed as different but equally devastating illnesses as cancer.

    «An estimated five million people currently live in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine that are contaminated with radionuclides due to the accident; about 100 000 of them live in areas classified in the past by government authorities as areas of “strict control”. The existing “zoning” definitions need to be revisited and relaxed in light of the new findings».

    This second “major” and “important finding” proposes relaxing the existing zoning regulations in the light the clearly unscientific findings. There appears to be a conscious vested interest behind this press release and report. Such an economic goal is unbecoming of the purportedly scientific assessment of human health damage. I would expect that a political response to a serious scientific study would be made by government officials who would assume political responsibility for reliance on the science. Scientists do not normally make political decisions, nor should government officials blindly rely on decisions claiming to be scientific.

    «About 4000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adolescents at the time of the accident, have resulted from the accident's contamination and at least nine children died of thyroid cancer; however the survival rate among such cancer victims, judging from experience in Belarus, has been almost 99%».

    AAgain we find the strong and unreasonable reliance on the ICRP decision to ignore all health effects of radiation which are not fatal cancers. Clearly those who have had surgery or are on thyroid hormone for the rest of their life would have serious arguments with this callousness.

    «Most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas received relatively low whole body radiation doses, comparable to natural background levels. As a consequence, no evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found, nor has there been any evidence of increases in congenital malformations that can be attributed to radiation exposure».

    Nuclear debris from an operating reactor is not natural background radiation. Its physical and biochemical properties are different, as is the proportion of internal vs. external exposure it causes. A uranium fire, such as occurred at Chernobyl, burns at 3000 to 6000 degrees Centigrade, heat sufficient to aerosolize all metals exposed to it – including all radioactive heavy metals, iron, steel, nickel, copper, etc. In an internal aerosolized ceramic form, the maximum possible dose from the radioactive chemicals is delivered to the victim, and the maximum toxic metal effect can be caused. This is because in a pulverized ceramic form, of nanometer size, the surface area is maximized, the self-shielding is minimized, and the solubility in body fluid is minimized, resulting in a maximum contact dose. Nano particles can pass through the cell wall, the blood-lung and blood-brain barriers, and can penetrate to the seminal fluid or cross the placenta. They are too small to be removed by the kidney filters. This ar tificial debris is not life compatible. Moreover, although natural radiation is more life compatible, it also takes a toll on the cellular communication system of the body causing what we consider to be the natural aging process and natural cancers of old age.

    The medical profession recognizes many more radiation-related genetic and teratogentic effects of radiation than does the ICRP, and the nuclear establishment. For this reason, there is no permissible X-irradiation of pregnant women. ICRP limits its concern to serious genetic disease in live borne offspring and severe “mental retardation” (their terminology) due to exposure during a small window during the pregnancy. Most normal people are concerned for spontaneous abortions, still births, and all manner of congenital malformations and diseases.

    «Poverty, “lifestyle” diseases now rampant in the former Soviet Union and mental health problems pose a far greater threat to local communities than does radiation exposure».

    Poverty is frequently the result of debilitating chronic diseases. How many people lose their jobs because of non-fatal cancer, chronic fatigue, and other illnesses?

    Lifestyle is a judgment, not a scientific finding, that it would be possible for a person to avoid an environmental hazard. For example, smoking is listed as a life style choice to avoid the carcinogens in tobacco, avoiding fatty foods is a life style choice to avoid those carcinogens which are fat soluble, or using a sun screen is a lifestyle choice to protect oneself from the harmful rays of the sun. Again designating diseases as lifestyle rather than radiation-related is a judgment, made to avoid the questions of polluted environment, cf. tobacco leaves, animal fat or the sun, or for nuclear debris, mushrooms, root vegetables, and milk.

    Mental illness may itself be radiation-related, especially when the radioactive particles are small enough to penetrate the blood brain barrier. There have been studies of suicides and violent behavior after exposure to radiation which makes this hypothesis worthy of further investigation.

    «Relocation proved a 'deeply traumatic experience' for some 350,000 people moved out of the affected areas. Although 116 000 were moved from the most heavily impacted area immediately after the accident, later relocations did little to reduce radiation exposure».

    This is a very interesting observation. It could be interpreted that most of the contamination was caused immediately after the explosion, or that because of distribution of food practices the whole population was exposed. I would note that evacuation might not have been timely because of the secrecy surrounding the disaster. How one decides that trauma is due to evacuation (which may well be a relief) rather than radiation is not clear.

    «Persistent myths and misperceptions about the threat of radiation have resulted in 'paralyzing fatalism' among residents of affected areas».

    The truth may well lie between the fatalistic predictions and the over-optimistic ideas of the physicists, who have little sympathy with chronic illness! Many people knew nothing about radiation except the public relations promotional advertising surrounding the nuclear plants prior to the accident. In fact so many were uninformed that they stood and watched the Chernobyl fire without protecting themselves. These people feel rightly that they were deceived. Press releases such as this work against a sensible admission and response to the experienced problems of the people.

    «Ambitious rehabilitation and social benefit programs started by the former Soviet Union, and continued by Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, need reformulation due to changes in radiation conditions, poor targeting and funding shortages».

    This is too vague to be of informational value. The emphasis on “funding shortages” again introduces an economic priority that does not belong in a scientific article pretending to be on the public health results of the disaster.

    «Structural elements of the sarcophagus built to contain the damaged reactor have degraded, posing a risk of collapse and the release of radioactive dust».

    While this appears to be a preventive health recommendation, it seems obvious that the sarcophagus has never been completely sealed because of the on-going fissioning of the fuel. The damaged Chernobyl reactor has been leaking radioactive gases, liquids and particulates for the last 20 years.

    «A comprehensive plan to dispose of tons of high-level radioactive waste at and around the Chernobyl NPP site, in accordance with current safety standards, has yet to be defined».

    This Chernobyl reactor sits near to the bank of the Dneiper River, which provides the drinking water supply of the city of Kiev, and irrigates farm and orchard land in what was, before the disaster, the bread basket of the former Soviet Union. These tons of high-level radioactive waste have been leaking into the biosphere for some 20 years. It is about time a waste management plan (not a disposal) was designed. Imaging that a “disposal” plan could ever be designed is to be ignorant of the natural recycling of materials in our planet! The earth has an efficient way to clean the soil and air, washing all chemical compounds out to the ocean sink for recycling into the food web of future generations.

    The spokesperson for this report is Dr. Michael Repacholi, introduced as “Manager of WHO's Radiation Program”. According to Dr. Repacholi's speech on the WHO's International EMF Project, he deals with heath and environmental effects of “exposure to static and time-varying electric and magnetic fields in the frequency range 0 – 300 GHz”. This includes radio frequencies between extra-low radio frequency and high frequency microwaves. It excludes soft X-Ray, hard X-ray and gamma rays, which are the ionizing radiation portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. This range also excludes nuclear particulates released in a nuclear disaster.

    Dr. Rapacholi has a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Western Australia, a Master of Science in Radiation biology from London University, and a Ph.D. in biology from Ottawa University in Canada. He is a Fellow and past Chair of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. He is perhaps not the best spokesperson for a nuclear disaster, ionizing radiation exposure assessment.

    One of recommendations made in the report is the following:

    «In the environmental realm, the Report calls for long term monitoring of caesium and strontium radionuclides to assess human exposure and food contamination and to analyze the impacts of remedial actions and radiation-reduction countermeasures. Better information needs to be provided to the public about the persistence of radioactive contamination in certain food products and about food preparation methods that reduce radionuclide intake. Restrictions on harvesting of some wild food products are still needed in some areas».

    Failure to avoid wild products, utilize proper preparation methods and follow cooking suggestions could, of course, be designated “lifestyle choices” and therefore any illness would be the fault of the victim, not the disaster!

    This unscientific press release purports to give the most important findings of the full report, yet it gives little comfort to the suffering people exposed to this disaster. More blame of the victims and higher levels of exposure to chronic doses of radiation are proposed, and there are no adequate responses to address the real health problems of the survivors!

    Dr. Rosalie Bertell

    10 September 2005

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