An Anti-histrionic, Pro-human view Anatoly Belilovsky, USA
Before someone reads the first paragraph of this letter and calls me a paid stooge of 'Nuclear Mafia', I should introduce myself as a pediatrician, practicing in a real world with real children, many of whom were actually exposed to the Chernobyl fallout, and if I do have an ideological agenda, I would say it is anti-death, anti-disease and anti-suffering. If you ever see me marching with a banner mouthing slogans, it won't be "NO NUKES" or "ANIMALS ARE PEOPLE TOO", but "DEATH IS BAD FOR YOU" -- but since time spent spouting slogans is time not spent doing something useful, you probably will not find me at any parade.
Without further ado: Chernobyl is the best advertisement for the safety of nuclear power. Say what? I repeat: Chernobyl is the best advertisement for the safety of nuclear power. Consider this: Chernobyl is the worst-designed reactor in operation. It was subjected to the worst operating errors possible and responded with the worst possible accident, blowing a significant percentage of its core (80%, according to one estimate) (ref.1) directly into a fairly densely populated area in the form of aerosol fallout, additionally contaminating the watershed of a major source of drinking water. The damage control was a disaster in itself, with delayed evacuation (May 1 parade marched down the Kreschatik in Kiev five days after the accident, oblivious to the events an hour's drive away), delayed iodide tablet distribution, inadequate agricultural product removal, and damage control by inadequately protected workers.
Twelve years later, there are, by the most extravagant estimates, fewer than two thousand people made seriously ill by the Chernobyl radiation. Of special interest to me are the one thousand children with cancer of the thyroid -- the only disease attributable with certainty to the exposure. In the city of Gomel, radiation-induced illness is one of top 10 health threats to children -- beaten out of first place by violence, malnutrition, undervaccination, poor prenatal care and general breakdown of the medical infrastructure even in this most seriously exposed Belarus city. Elsewhere in Belarus and Ukraine, it probably ranks with bathtub drownings and bee-sting anaphylaxis in number of fatalities. An abstract by Professor Bebeshko notes gastrointestinal, immunological, metabolic, respiratory and neurodevelopmental abnormalities in the Chernobyl cohort, but finds no causal relationship to the radiation exposure. The Baltic republics, Scandivavia and Eastern Europe find no cases of disease attributable to Cher nobyl exposure.
During the same time, approximately 1000 children died in the US of chickenpox -- roughly 80 to 100 per year. The introduction of Hemophilus influenza type B vaccine prevented tens of thousands of cases of meningitis which carries 10% mortality and 20-40% rate of permanent neurological damage. A lapse in immunization practices in the former USSR caused over 2000 deaths of diphtheria and measles. Hemolytic disease of the newborn (Rh incompatibility), preventable simply and safely with the anti-Rh gamma-globulin, remains a major cause of infant mortality and brain damage in the former USSR. These are only the preventable diseases, prevented in much of the developed world but not in the former Soviet republics. Of birth defects, preventable fetal alcohol syndrome and preventable spina bifida (extremely rare in mothers who are adequately vitamin-supplemented) are far more common than any radiation-related mutations.
The cost, in human lives, of nuclear power can never be ignored. We have not banned bathtubs because giving up personal hygiene will probably kill more people (plague, typhus and such) than would be saved from falls and drownings. It is with deep gratification that I note here an absence of a vocal anti-bathtub organization -- perhaps on the assumption that an accidental death is somehow less poignant than a radiation related one.
Speaking, again, as a physician, I beg to disagree.
What of the costs of giving up nuclear power? Asthma mortality is rising in smog-bound cities, coal miners are dying by the thousands of black lung all over the world; 500 Americans and 100,000 Iraquis died in the Gulf War -- a war over oil -- would some of these deaths have been prevented by a greater reliance on nuclear power and, consequently, a lower demand for, and consumption of, fossil fuels? It is historically inevitable that, while the rest of the world is having hysterics over nuclear power, Japan is having a considered discussion. Sixty years ago Japan went to war to break its dependence on imported oil. Today Japan works toward this independence by having most of its energy demand met by nuclear plants. The cost of the military solution was counted in the millions of Japanese lives. The nuclear solution may not be cheap, but it is certainly not unreasonable.