OpEd

Story published: 04-30-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Chernobyl, other atomic-power accident effects

By Frances Lamberts

As member of a National Institute of Health scientific panel, Dr. Tim Mousseau (University of South Carolina) came to Erwin two years ago.

The scientists were seeking input on health-related and other possible dangers of concern to citizens, where communities house major nuclear facilities.

For more than a decade, Mousseau and other researchers have documented evidence of extensive biological harm to wildlife in radiologically contaminated regions, first around Chernobyl and, now, in Japan.

He presented findings from these studies in New York recently at an Academy of Sciences symposium on medical and ecological consequences of the Fukushima accident.

The Chernobyl reactor explosion, 27 years ago on April 26, was preceded seven years earlier by a serious partial-meltdown accident in Pennsylvania, at the Three Mile Island plant.

Both plants, operating only a short time when they failed, had been thought exceptional, “state-of-the-art” in engineering quality, their multiple back-up systems making meltdown accidents “impossible.”

The Japanese plant, destroyed in March 2011 when a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami knocked out external electric power to its cooling system, had operated for 40 years.

Mousseau and his collaborators uncovered disturbing changes in many wildlife organisms in the areas contaminated through the last two accidents.

They note abundance of birds to be depressed by two thirds and biodiversity, the rich array of plant and animal life in a given area, by more than 50 percent.

In “hotspots” where the Geiger counters go off fast, butterflies, bumblebees and spiders are totally absent and few dragonflies, grasshoppers, voles and other small mammals are found.

Trees either stop growing or their growth is greatly stymied, as seen in tree-ring examination. The pine and other trees felled through the explosion’s blast in Chernobyl remain undecayed, as microbial, fungal and insect life that normally brings about decomposition is lacking.

Many of the animals left suffer tumors, various deformities and developmental abnormalities which impede normal behaviors and shorten their life spans.

Most organisms studied, the researchers state, “show significantly increased rates of genetic damage [and the] mutations are passed on from one generation to the next.”

Radiation exposure in major nuclear accidents is equally devastating to people.

Of the army of “liquidators” the Soviet government conscripted to cover the exploded Chernobyl reactor with concrete, more than 200,000 have since died from cancers and a host of other, serious illnesses. Many of their children tragically suffer ill health, delayed and poor development, and physical abnormalities.

In Japan, as its Daily Press reported in early April, the affected people “may be facing a cancer time bomb.”

Over 40 percent of 130,000 children tested, who lived around Fukushima at the time of its reactor meltdown, now are showing early signs of thyroid cancer.

Gregory Jaszko, chairman until last year of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has called for phaseout of our own, currently operating nuclear power plants, their safety being such, he asserts, that “an accident causing widespread land contamination” can’t be guaranteed against. We should act on his insight and move on to safe, renewable energy quickly.