[ RadSafe ] Few reassured over Chernobyl's impact

Sandy Perle sandyfl at earthlink.net
Sat Apr 15 16:48:30 CDT 2006


Few reassured over Chernobyl's impact 
Antique Watches Made With Radium Can Emit High Levels of Radiation 
U.S. Weighs How Best to Defend Against Nuclear Threats
As memories fade, nuclear energy makes return  
Budget crunch slows Hanford clean-up
New group collecting cancer facts

Few reassured over Chernobyl's impact 

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - With every cough and sore throat, every ache and 
pain, Valentyna Stanyuk feels Chernobyl stalking her.
"It's only a matter of time," she said as she waited for a thyroid 
test at a mobile Red Cross clinic in her village of Bystrichy, 150 
miles west of Chernobyl.

The tests came back clean, but that's little reassurance to this 54-
year-old or to millions of others who live in parts of Ukraine, 
Belarus and Russia that were heavily irradiated when the nuclear 
reactor exploded 20 years ago, spewing radioactive clouds over 
Ukraine and much of Europe for 10 days.

The April 26, 1986, disaster forced the evacuation of large swaths of 
some of the Soviet Union's best farmland and forests. The radiation 
spread far enough to be detected in reindeer meat in Norway and 
rainfall in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. It shocked most European 
countries into a generation-long freeze on building nuclear plants. 
In so starkly exposing the failings of the communist system, the 
world's worst nuclear accident may even have hastened the collapse of 
the Soviet Union five years later.

And the effect on the health of the people exposed to its invisible 
poisons? That is the most heatedly debated legacy of Chernobyl.

"There is so much that we still don't know," said Dr. Volodymyr Sert, 
head of a team of Red Cross doctors who canvass Ukraine's rural 
Zhytomyr region in search of thyroid abnormalities - one of the few 
health problems that all scientists agree is linked to Chernobyl's 

"The most important thing we can do is reassure people that they 
aren't being forgotten," he said.

After the explosion about 116,000 residents were evacuated from a 20-
mile zone around the plant. Some 5 million others in areas that got 
significant fallout were not evacuated.

Over the years, reports and rumors have spoken of thousands of these 
especially vulnerable people dying from radiation. But a September 
report by a group of United Nations agencies concluded that the 
accident wasn't nearly as deadly as feared.

Fewer than 50 deaths have been directly linked to radiation exposure 
as of mid-2005, the report said. A total of 4,000 of the 600,000 
"liquidators" - workers who were hastily mobilized to clean up the 
accident site - are likely to die from radiation-related cancers and 
leukemia, it predicted. That's far below the tens of thousands many 
claimed were fatally stricken.

The researchers found that thyroid cancer rates have skyrocketed 
among people who were under 18 at the time of the accident, but noted 
more than 99% survive after treatment.

It said there was no convincing evidence of birth defects or reduced 
fertility, and most of the general population suffered such low 
radiation doses that the scientists decided not to make predictions 
about deaths, except to say that some increase - less than 1% or 
about 5,000 - might be expected.

Venyamin Khudolei, director of the Center for Independent Ecological 
Expertise at the government-founded Russian Academy of Science, 
disagrees with the findings.

In the part of Russia most heavily hit by the fallout, mortality 
rates have risen nearly 4% since the explosion, indicating the 
Chernobyl toll in Russia alone could be calculated at 67,000 people, 
he said. His findings are cited by the environmental watchdog group 
Greenpeace, which on Tuesday (April 18) is to issue a report on 
Chernobyl's consequences.

A spokesman for Greenpeace International's main office in Amsterdam, 
Omer ElNaiem, said the report will use data from various sources, 
some hitherto unpublished, which "will indicate a rise" over the U.N. 
report's casualty estimates.

Other experts point to studies which show increases in everything 
from schizophrenia among the traumatized liquidators to breast 

The U.N. report suggested that people in heavily affected areas were 
gripped by "paralyzing fatalism" that induced them to see themselves 
as victims and blame Chernobyl for every ailment, even those caused 
by smoking or drinking.

That outraged Ukrainian officials.

"I am speechless that we can allow this blasphemy in front of the 
graves of those who died," said lawmaker Borys Oliynyk.

Researchers trying to determine death tolls - and predict deaths 
still to come - don't have an easy task. Soviet-era attempts to cover 
up the chaotic and often inhumane response made it difficult to track 
down victims. Lists were incomplete, and Soviet authorities later 
forbade doctors to cite "radiation" on death certificates.

The rural regions affected are impoverished and unemployment is high. 
Alcohol abuse is rampant, diets poor. It's hard to distinguish 
Chernobyl-related health problems from a more general post-Soviet 
malaise, scientists said.

"I'm sure we'll see claims of thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds 
of thousands, millions of deaths, but again we checked, we checked 
all the research, all the files," Didier Louvat, a radiation waste 
expert with the International Atomic Energy Agency, said by telephone 
from Vienna.

"The explosion was very concentrated around the facility and the 
fallout was spread in great plumes that went high into the atmosphere 
and crossed Europe, diffusing the concentration ... It could have 
been much worse."

About 1,000 people - plant personnel, military conscripts, 
firefighters from the Kiev region, emergency workers - bore the brunt 
of the inferno, and 134 were officially confirmed as suffering from 
acute radiation syndrome.

One person died during the explosion and his body has never been 
recovered. The U.N. report says that another 28 died from radiation 
sickness in 1986, and 19 of those suffering from radiation syndrome 
died between 1987-2004 but not all the deaths were necessarily caused 
by radiation. The rest remain alive.

Wearing no masks or protective suits, dozens of firefighters were 
deployed. While the bosses sheltered underground, plant workers 
recall, people stood around awaiting instructions, breathing poisoned 
air as they watched smoke burst from the reactor's exposed core.

The disregard for human life persisted. Natalya Lopatyuk, the widow 
of a plant worker, said that as she was being evacuated, she saw 
groups of young conscripts sunbathing while waiting for orders.

Radiation burns "tear at the skin and look something like a volcano 
erupting on the body," said Oleksandr Zelentsov, head of the Kiev-
based International Organization for People with Radiation Disease. 
The victims' bodies were considered so radioactive that family 
members were told not to touch them and they were buried in double-
layered lead coffins.

Such high radiation doses, however, were short-lived. The last people 
diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome - three firefighters 
extinguishing a cable fire - fell ill at the end May 1986, Zelentsov 
said. One is dead, one suffered a heart attack and is in serious 
condition and the third is healthy, Zelentsov said.

The Chernobyl plant now is a cracked hulk in the eerie "dead zone." 
The last of its four reactors was taken out of service in 2000 and 
the main activity is to shore up the concrete-and-steel "sarcophagus" 
that covers the destroyed reactor.

But radiation infects a vast stretch of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia - 
in the soil, in the berries and mushrooms, in the firewood needed to 
heat homes.

Oleksandr Nabok, 21, has never been near the nuclear station, some 60 
miles from his village, but he was recently diagnosed with thyroid 
cancer. "I never thought about Chernobyl until I got this news," he 
said in a Kiev hospital as he awaited surgery.

He is one of more than 5 million people who live in areas deemed 
contaminated but habitable, far removed from the villages circling 
the plant that were considered so irradiated that they were bulldozed 
under grave-like mounds of dirt. There, isotopes with half-lives of 
24,390 years came to rest.

In Nabok's village, experts say, the biggest concern was radioactive 

People suffer from a lack of iodine in this region, so when the 
radioactive iodine was released, their thyroids gobbled it up; 
children's thyroid glands work most actively, putting them at 
greatest risk. Many ingested the iodine in milk from cows that had 
grazed on radiated fields.

Accounts vary, but experts agree that between 4,000 and 5,000 people, 
children when the explosion happened, have been diagnosed with 
thyroid cancer in Ukraine and Belarus - making it the single biggest 
Chernobyl-related medical problem. At least nine have died. Before 
the accident, the illness was so rare that in most years only about 
10 children were diagnosed with it.

The numbers keep growing. The main spurt was expected to come around 
this time, but no one knows whether this is the beginning of the peak 
or its end.

"We cannot tell a patient that after a certain time, cancer will not 
appear," said Halyna Terehova, an endocrinologist with the Kiev 
Institute of Endocrinology.

The U.N. report found that the high anxiety levels persist and even 
appear to be growing among people such as Stanyuk who live in zones 
affected by contamination. "It is scary, you try not to worry about 
it," said Valentyna Yanduk, whose face brightened into a smile after 
the Red Cross doctors gave her 12-year-old son Ihor's thyroid the all-
clear. Technically he's not considered part of the risk group - he 
wasn't even born at the time of the explosion - but his mother 

"For 20 years, these people have been living as victims instead of 
survivors," Louvat, the IAEA radiation expert, said. "We need to be 
telling them: 'Look, you survived this.'"

Antique Watches Made With Radium Can Emit High Levels of Radiation 

Apr 12 (NY Times) Up until about 1970, millions of glow-in-the-dark 
watches sold in the United States were made with radium, a 
radioactive substance that was painted on watch dials to give them 
their characteristic luminosity. 

Radium was eventually banned after scores of dial painters died from 
cancer and various ghastly ailments. But many of the so-called radium 
watches are still around today, considered antiques and even prized 
as collectibles. The watches are likely to emit as much radiation 
today as they did when they were first manufactured, but experts say 
that in reality, the risk to wearers is probably low. 

One study by the Public Health Service many years ago found that a 
person who wears a radium watch for 24 hours a day over the course of 
a year could conceivably be exposed to 65 to 130 millirems of 

By way of comparison, the average person is exposed to about 300 
millirems of background radiation in a typical year, and a single 
chest X-ray exposes a patient to about 5 to 10 millirems of 

That means a person who owns a radium watch (and presumably isn't 
wearing it 24 hours a day), has little to worry about, said Dr. M. 
Donald Blaufox, the chairman of the department of nuclear medicine at 
the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. A radium watch 
becomes hazardous only when someone opens one and tinkers with the 
dials, inhaling radioactive dust particles.

U.S. Weighs How Best to Defend Against Nuclear Threats
Proven Technology Vs. New Advances

Beset by delays, cost overruns and technical problems, the U.S. 
government's quest to defend the nation against a smuggled nuclear 
weapon or radiological "dirty" bomb is approaching a crossroads.

In coming weeks, the Bush administration will award or initiate 
contracts worth $3 billion to develop a new generation of rugged and 
precise radiation monitors and imaging scanners designed to sniff out 
radioactive material at the nation's borders.
Authorities must choose in part between older, reliable technology of 
limited effectiveness and new, more costly, less proven devices that 
promise greater accuracy.

The stakes could hardly be higher: securing U.S. cities from a 
catastrophic attack with a weapon of mass destruction -- "the biggest 
threat we face today," as Vice President Cheney said often during the 
2004 campaign.

The government has stumbled repeatedly with similar choices, costing 
taxpayers billions. In the nearly five years since the Sept. 11, 
2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration and Congress have 
poured more than $5 billion into homeland security detection systems, 
radiological and otherwise, only to find that the best available 
equipment at the time was often of limited use. It has spent $300 
million on an early class of radiation monitors that couldn't tell 
uranium from cat litter and invested $1.2 billion in airport baggage 
screening systems that initially were no more effective than the 
equipment screeners used before.

"A lot of the money we threw out there was wasted because the 
technology was not so good," said James Jay Carafano, senior fellow 
for national and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.

Last month congressional investigators reported that the United 
States is "unlikely" to meet its goal of installing 3,000 next-
generation detectors by September 2009 and projected it will be about 
$342 million above its anticipated $1.2 billion cost. At the same 
time, initial testing of new technology produced "mixed" results, 
while costing more.

The struggle to complete what Homeland Security Secretary Michael 
Chertoff calls a "mini-Manhattan Project" provides a case study of 
America's challenges in dealing with the 21st-century perils of 
terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

To skeptics, even some close to the administration, the focus on 
stopping a nuclear bomb hidden in a container at the border is a 
costly fixation on a scenario that -- while nightmarish -- is not 
supported by intelligence and is overshadowed by other threats.

"This is the equivalent of a comet hitting the planet. Of all the 
things that are in the world, why are we fixated on this one thing?" 
Carafano asked. "Scanning containers full of sneakers for a 'nuke in 
a box' is not a really thoughtful thing."

Former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III, who led a 
congressional commission on weapons of mass destruction, said the 
Dubai port controversy showed how the Bush administration has 
profited politically from fears of terrorism at ports yet given 
Americans a false sense of security about conventional attacks, which 
are more likely.

"They have hyped the threat, and that has been a political 
advantage," said Gilmore, a former Republican National Committee 
chairman. "You can't rule out the possibility of something like this 
happening, but there isn't any evidence that I'm aware of that al-
Qaeda or other terrorists have their hands on these weapons."

As memories fade, nuclear energy makes return  

CHALON-SUR-SAÔNE, France Apr 15 (Int. Herald Tribune) Factory nestled 
among Burgundy vineyards, workers shape, bore, polish and test pieces 
needed to put together a nuclear reactor. At each work station, 
technical charts are pasted next to a map of the country buying the 
A reactor core marked for the Salem plant in New Jersey is propped on 
its side, five meters, or 16.5 feet, wide and resembling a chunk of 
an enormous railroad tunnel. Nearby, workers prepare to broach holes 
into a plate for 15,000 cooling tubes for a reactor in Ling'ao, 
Twenty years after the Chernobyl nuclear plant coughed a cloud of 
radiation over much of Europe and scared consumers and governments 
away from atomic power for a generation, a new crop of leaders, from 
North America to Europe to Asia, is thinking nuclear.
One country has done perhaps the most to push back the pendulum: 
As the only European country that continued making nuclear plants 
after Chernobyl, France has up-to-date expertise that it is keen to 
export. And the market is ballooning as fossil fuels become more 
In addition, gas pipelines run through zones of political uncertainty 
and coal-fired power plants clog lungs and may overheat the earth.
China and India are embracing nuclear energy to support breakneck 
growth, and the United States and Russia are reviving long-dormant 
nuclear plans, overriding concerns about proliferation of the 
potentially deadly technology.
Finland is building the first new reactor in Western Europe since 
1991, made by Siemens of Germany and Areva, the world's biggest 
reactor manufacturer, which operates the factory in Burgundy.
Not everyone is softening on nuclear power. Sweden and Germany are 
shutting down, not starting up, reactors. But even Britain, Italy and 
the Netherlands are talking about the option. So far it is only talk -
 but groundbreaking talk, given these countries' two-decade taboo on 
the topic.
"We're positioned rather well for a nuclear renaissance," said 
Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier, an Areva vice president.
France's key partner in promoting that renaissance is an unexpected 
one: the United States. After two decades on the defensive, the 
nations' industries are cooperating closely in hopes of a new boom in 
nuclear power.
France is the most nuclear-dependent country in the world, with 59 
reactors churning out nearly 80 percent of its electricity. The 
French state owns the world's biggest electricity utility, 
Électricité de France, and nuclear group Areva, the key to France's 
international nuclear influence.
About 25 reactors are under construction around the world, adding to 
the network of 440 commercial nuclear power plants in 31 countries 
that supply 16 percent of the world's total electricity. Areva is 
directly involved in at least five of the new projects.
To Hélène Gassin of Greenpeace, who has fought France's powerful 
nuclear industry for years, the thriving, expanding reactor factory 
in this modest industrial town is an alarming sight.
"Whenever we see an offer on nuclear energy, anywhere in the world, 
it comes from France," said Gassin. "Nuclear is the French identity."
Greenpeace insists that despite the industry's claims, safe nuclear 
power is a myth. The group wants reduced energy consumption.
Unlike other European countries, France has never had intense debate 
over nuclear energy. Gassin and the few nuclear opponents in France's 
legislature say that is because the industry is in effect state-
France has also never suffered an accident the likes of Chernobyl or 
the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.
David Bryant, an energy analyst based in London, said the French 
government has made safety paramount because it's key to keeping the 
industry afloat. Now, as more governments join research into the next 
generation of reactors, the industry says Generation IV will be the 
most efficient yet, producing less waste and simplified to operate 
more easily and prevent accidents.
France, without oil, gas or much coal, chose the nuclear path in the 
1970s and hasn't turned back. But only in the last few years has its 
nuclear industry gone so aggressively global, as Areva's bulging bank 
accounts attest.
The company had revenue of $12 billion last year and net profit is up 
54 percent since 2002, excluding one- time gains. When President 
Jacques Chirac of France makes major trips abroad, Anne Lauvergeon, 
the Areva chief executive, accompanies him.
A welding technician, Tajeddine Taoufik, has watched the Chalon-Sur- 
Saône plant's fortunes rise, fall and rise again since he started 
here in 1976. "At this moment, I'm glad I'm still here," he said.
While France has been working as the world's atomic advocate, any 
global nuclear rebound hinges on the United States, because it has 
more nuclear plants than any other country and is the world's biggest 
energy consumer.
The Bush administration has enraged environmental groups with its new 
"alternative energy" plan which, while promising money for wind and 
solar energy, makes the government's first big pitch for nuclear 
energy in 27 years.
Washington and Paris are aligning closely on the subject in a way few 
would have pictured during their clashes over Iraq. This month 
Spencer Abraham, the former U.S. energy secretary, was appointed 
chairman of the board of Areva's U.S. operation.
Bush and Chirac recently visited India and snared major new nuclear 
energy deals, and consulted with each other to ensure their stances 
were in sync.
The high-profile battle for control of U.S. nuclear company 
Westinghouse - which Toshiba recently bought from British Nuclear 
Fuels for $5.4 billion, twice the expected price - underscores the 
business world's view that the industry is poised for a takeoff.
The most surprising new nuclear debate, however, is happening within 
Europe. While European public opinion remains strongly anti-nuclear, 
some of the member governments are hoping that a European Union plan 
to increase nuclear energy will help them overcome the naysayers.

Budget crunch slows Hanford clean-up
Apr 15 (Hood River News) Vast amounts of radioactive waste have been 
cleaned up at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation - but lowered funding 
levels and rising costs could make it harder to get the job done.

Nicholas Ceto, Hanford project manager from the U.S. Environmental 
Protection Agency, delivered that warning to Hood River County 
officials last week.

He said the U.S. Department of Energy, which owns the Hanford site, 
is expected to request $1.8 billion in its 2008 budget. That is par 
with the amount of funding approved by Congress for 2006, and only 
slightly below the $1.9 billion earmarked for 2007 - but well below 
the all-time high of $2.1 billion dedicated to the removal of 
radioactive waste in 2005 and the $2 billion in 2004.

Ceto said money is getting tighter at the same time that labor and 
material costs at the work site near Richland, Wash., are climbing. 
He said that is making it more of a challenge for agencies to do a 
thorough job and still meet the earlier 2025 cleanup deadline, or 
even the original 2035 completion date.

He said Hanford is competing this year for federal funding with the 
war in Iraq and the rebuilding of New Orleans and other hurricane-
devastated areas of the Gulf Coast.

"This is one of the most important projects you´ll ever see. I really 
consider cleanup of Hanford as a non-partisan issue," said Ceto.

"That´s why we´d like a lot of people engaged, a lot of people giving 
us advice. We certainly have some expensive decisions to make."

Hanford was built during World War II as part of the Manhattan 
Project. The site produced 74 tons of plutonium - 10 pounds required 
for a bomb - for nuclear weapons through the late 1980s.

In 1989 the focus at Hanford turned to cleanup on heavily 
contaminated sectors of the 586 square mile property. The hazardous 
waste slated for removal included plutonium, strontium, uranium, 
other metals and organic compounds.

"Frankly, they started building before they knew what they were 
building," said Ceto. "The point is that cleanup, regardless of what 
you think of nuclear power and the arms race, should matter to 

A workforce of 7,000 people is tasked with meeting legal timelines 
for the cleanup set out in a tri-party agreement between the USDOE, 
Washington State Department of Ecology and EPA.

USDOE maintains two federal offices at Hanford. The Richland 
Operations office manages waste retrieval from, and closure of, the 
177 underground storage tanks. In addition, that office is 
supervising construction of a plant - about 30 percent completed - 
that will turn radioactive and chemical wastes into a stable glass 
form for disposal.

The Office of River Protection is responsible for cleaning up spent 
nuclear fuel, remaining plutonium, all buried and solid wastes and 
both large and small Hanford site facilities.

During the world´s largest environmental cleanup, more than 2,300 
tons of spent nuclear fuel have been packaged and moved away from the 
Columbia River. Twenty tons of plutonium-bearing materials have been 
stabilized and packaged for eventual disposal offsite. Five of the 
nine plutonium reactors have been partially demolished and placed in 
interim safe storage.

In addition, more than 6.3 million tons of contaminated dirt have 
been dug up along the Columbia and hauled to a disposal facility in 
the middle of the Hanford site.

"We´re out there every day in the field making sure the work´s done 
right; we think it´s that important," said Ceto.

He said the cleanup effort still has a long way to go. More than 50 
million gallons of liquid radioactive waste remain in 174 aging, 
underground storage tanks. And 25 million cubic feet of solid waste 
are buried or stored at the site.

Two hundred and seventy billion gallons of groundwater spread out 
over about 80 square miles are tainted above drinking-water 

And more than 1,700 waste sites and about 500 polluted facilities 
still need to be dealt with, according to Ceto.

He said another challenge waiting in the wings is to assess the deep 
subsurface defilement and its potential impacts. In addition, he said 
the involved agencies need to block further migration of chemical 
"plumes" snaking toward the river through subsurface channels.

"We need more money right now to do further investigations," he said. 
"It´s complicated but it´s important. Your kids are going to have to 
live with it down the road so it´s important to get it right."

New group collecting cancer facts

CUSTER TOWNSHIP Apr 15 (Suburan Chicago News) - Shirley Cavanaugh has 
a map of a highway near the local pipeline that once carried water 
laced with the radioactive isotope tritium.

The map reveals cancer cases in most households she sampled along the 
highway - Illinois 113 - and also West River Road.

"My daughter, myself and a couple of neighbors have spoken to more 
neighbors, and probably 70 percent or more of the people in the area 
have had one cancer or more in each household," Cavanaugh said.

This Monday in Custer Park, Cavanaugh and a newly formed group are 
inviting the public to a meeting, so people can contribute 
information on the matter.

Cavanaugh said she has found instances of brain cancer, prostrate 
cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer and 
more - within a stretch of a few miles.

The pipeline once carried tritiated water from Exelon's Braidwood 
nuclear power plant to the Kankakee River.    
Tritium is a naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen that emits a low 
level of radiation and is a natural part of water. It is found in 
more concentrated levels in water used in nuclear reactors.

High exposure to tritium increases the risk of developing cancer.

However, no cancer cases in the area surrounding the Braidwood 
facility have been officially linked to the plant.

Numerous tritium leaks reported by Exelon Corp. have prompted fears 
in the rural areas surrounding the power plant.

Those leaks were first reported in November. Shortly afterward, 
Exelon stopped using the pipeline to carry the tritiated water to the 
Kankakee River.

Residents in Godley and rural Reed Township remain concerned about 
their water supply. Most rely on shallow, sand point wells.

Water customers from Braidwood get their water from municipal wells. 
Wilmington processes water taken from the Kankakee River. Both towns 
said their water testing shows no problems.

Recently, Will County and Exelon conducted well tests, sampling at 
homes surrounding the power plant. The testing has revealed no 
tritium levels greater than 20,000 picocuries per liter of drinking 
water - the level deemed safe by the Illinois Environmental 
Protection Agency. 

Recently, Cavanaugh and her neighbor, Irene Clark, got together with 
their neighbors and found out there were numerous cases of people in 
the area who have either conquered, died from or are living with 

Cavanaugh and the others decided to host an informal meeting in an 
attempt to put together a list of cancer cases present and past.

The group has taken the name Citizens for Safety Awareness.

The informal meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday at the Custer Park Town 
Hall on Grant Street off Illinois 113.

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