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Nearly one million people around the world died from exposure to radiation released by the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl reactor, finds a new book from the New York Academy of Sciences published today on the 24th anniversary of the meltdown at the Soviet facility..."No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe," they said. "Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere."
Last September, the IAEA and the WHO released a report which claimed to reveal "the true scale of the accident". Its headline conclusion that radiation from the accident would kill a total of 4000 people was widely reported (New Scientist, 10 September 2005, p 14), but that figure is now being challenged. In a report this week for the Green group in the European Parliament, Ian Fairlie and David Sumner, two independent radiation scientists from the UK, say that the death toll from cancers caused by Chernobyl will in fact lie somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000.
Founded in 1817, the New York Academy of Sciences (originally called the Lyceum of Natural History) has evolved from a notable institution in the greater New York area to one of the most significant organizations in the international scientific community. Since its beginnings, Academy membership has included prominent leaders in the sciences, business, academia and government, including Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Louis Pasteur, Charles Darwin, Margaret Mead, and Albert Einstein. In 2007, members included an unprecedented number of Nobel Laureates (23) on its advisory President’s Council alone) and other luminaries from all walks of life.
Academy accomplishments include many historic “firsts,” such as publication of the first studies on environmental pollution (1876); the first conference on antibiotics (1946); a groundbreaking gathering on the cardiovascular effects of smoking (1960); and the world’s first major conferences on AIDS (1983) and SARS (2003). The Academy also held landmark conferences on the special challenges facing women in science (1998); music and neuroscience (2000); and a conference in China on the Frontiers of Biomedical Science (2005). NYAS members also played prominent roles in the establishment of New York University (1831) and the American Museum of Natural History (1858).
In 2006, the Academy moved into a new home on the 40th floor of 7 World Trade Center, one of the world’s most technologically advanced “green” buildings in New York. With state-of-the-art meeting facilities, the 40,000-square-foot (3,700 m2) space better meets the needs of the Academy’s growing membership and expanding programs.
Nations outside the former Soviet Union received high doses of radioactive fallout, most notably Norway, Sweden, Finland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Greece, and parts of the United Kingdom and Germany.
About 550 million Europeans, and 150 to 230 million others in the Northern Hemisphere received notable contamination. Fallout reached the United States and Canada nine days after the disaster.
Foods produced in highly contaminated areas in the former Soviet Union were shipped, and consumed worldwide, affecting persons in many other nations. Some, but not all, contamination was detected and contaminated foods not shipped.
The book explores effects of Chernobyl fallout that arrived above the United States nine days after the disaster. Fallout entered the U.S. environment and food chain through rainfall. Levels of iodine-131 in milk, for example, were seven to 28 times above normal in May and June 1986. The authors found that the highest U.S. radiation levels were recorded in the Pacific Northwest.
Americans also consumed contaminated food imported from nations affected by the disaster. Four years later, 25 percent of imported food was found to be still contaminated.
Little research on Chernobyl health effects in the United States has been conducted, the authors found, but one study by the Radiation and Public Health Project found that in the early 1990s, a few years after the meltdown, thyroid cancer in Connecticut children had nearly doubled.
This occurred at the same time that childhood thyroid cancer rates in the former Soviet Union were surging, as the thyroid gland is highly sensitive to radioactive iodine exposures.
Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment
Written by Alexey V. Yablokov (Center for Russian Environmental Policy, Moscow, Russia), Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko (Institute of Radiation Safety, Minsk, Belarus). Consulting Editor Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger (Environmental Institute, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan).
Volume 1181, December 2009
This is a collection of papers translated from the Russian with some revised and updated contributions. Written by leading authorities from Eastern Europe, the volume outlines the history of the health and environmental consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. Although there has been discussion of the impact of nuclear accidents and Chernobyl in particular, never before has there been a comprehensive presentation of all the available information concerning the health and environmental effects of the low dose radioactive contaminants, especially those emitted from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Official discussions from the International Atomic Energy Agency and associated United Nations' agencies (e.g. the Chernobyl Forum reports) have largely downplayed or ignored many of the findings reported in the Eastern European scientific literature and consequently have erred by not including these assessments.