[ RadSafe ] Few reassured over Chernobyl's impact
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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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