News of the Day ... In Perspective10/4/2005
Chernobyl cancer deaths fail to materialize
The number of cancer deaths predicted as a consequence of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident has been revised downward, from tens or hundreds of thousands to 4,000. The actual mortality for the accident has now reached 56, according to a United Nations report.
The 4,000 future cancer cases are just a theoretical construction, based on the linear no-threshold (LNT) theory for estimating radiation damage, states Prof. Zbigniew Jaworowski of Poland. In fact, it is quite likely that the Russian population will actually experience a cancer deficit as a result of Chernobyl. The liquidators—firemen and emergency workers—around Chernobyl have so far the same cancer incidence as the average Russian population (the rate is somewhat lower, but the difference is not statistically significant).
In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, researcher Sohei Kondo found that some people have a higher life expectancy after the bomb and a lower risk of cancer. In any event, in the group of Habakushas (bomb survivors) who received 50 to 100 times background (which is normally about 2.5 mSv/yr in Japan) there were not enough cancer deaths to generate decent statistics. So instead of stopping the curve at this point for lack of data, researchers just extrapolated the curve from higher doses on the assumption that any amount of radiation is dangerous.
The evacuation and the disruption of the lives of 350,000 people, solely because of this belief, undoubtedly caused much psychological harm, and the loss of many billions of dollars. Belarus and Ukraine together claim a loss of $400 billion.
“The LNT-hypothesis still has no scientific basic, but it is nevertheless the rule and the major cause of the disaster that Chernobyl ultimately became,” writes Theo Richel (TechCentralStation 9/28/05).
Additional information: Ivanov V, et al. Radiation and Epidemiological Analysis for Solid Cancer Incidence among Nuclear Workers Who Participated in Recovery Operations Following the Accident at the Chernobyl NPP. J Rad Res 2004:45:41-44.
Chen WL, et al. Is Chronic Radiation an Effective Prophylaxis Against Cancer? J Am Phys Surg 2004;9:6-10.
Cohen BL. Risks in Perspective. J Am Phys Surg 2003;8:50-53.
The popular internet photographic tour of Chernobyl—instructive though the tour itself proved to be a hoax. Civil Defense Perspectives, May 2004.
Radiation Protection: Too Little and Too Much. Civil Defense Perspectives, July 2005.