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Long-Term Chernobyl Harm Revised Downwards

You know those towns along the highway where people joke "don't blink, or you'll miss it?"  Well, apparently I blinked and missed this story.  If the ice in a climatologist's bourbon & water melts faster than she expected, it gets a three-day spread in the New York Times, but this environmental good-new story (surely an oxymoron to most editors) seems to have been pushed to the back page last September:

The long-term health and environmental impacts of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, while severe, were far less catastrophic than feared, according to a major new report by eight U.N. agencies.

The governments of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, the three countries most affected by radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, should strive to end the "paralyzing fatalism" of tens of thousands of their citizens who wrongly believe they are still at risk of an early death, according to the study released Monday.

The 600-page report found that as of the middle of this year, the accident had caused fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to radiation, most of them among emergency workers who died in the first months after the accident.

In fact, even the "while severe" added into the first paragraph seems to be the last gasp of an editor unwilling to accept any environmental good news, since nowhere in the article is there any evidence published of any negative long-term effect at all except that caused to the mental well-being of local citizenry by the continual onslaught of media and governmental horror-predictions.

In fact, the article goes on to say:

Over the next four years, a massive cleanup operation involving 240,000 workers ensued, and there were fears that many of these workers, called "liquidators," would suffer in subsequent years. But most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas "received relatively low whole radiation doses, comparable to natural background levels," a report summary noted. "No evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found, nor has there been any evidence of congenital malformations."

In fact, the report said, apart from radiation-induced deaths, the "largest public health problem created by the accident" was its effect on the mental health of residents who were traumatized by their rapid relocation and the fear, still lingering, that they would almost certainly contract terminal cancer. The report said that lifestyle diseases, such as alcoholism, among affected residents posed a much greater threat than radiation exposure.

The other major "fallout" seems to be massively wasted government spending:

Officials said that the continued intense medical monitoring of tens of thousands of people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus is no longer a smart use of limited resources and is, in fact, contributing to mental health problems among many residents nearly 20 years later. In Belarus and Ukraine, 5 percent to 7 percent of government spending is consumed by benefits and programs for Chernobyl victims. And in the three countries, as many as 7 million people are receiving Chernobyl-related social benefits.

Sounds like post-Katrina proposals.  We have already seen more level-headed analysis debunk similar horror stories (remember "toxic soup") in New Orleans.  I wonder what a sober analysis of the real long-term health effects around the PG&E site that Erin Brockovitch made her name on would reveal?  When I lived in St. Louis, we had a local meteorologist we used to joke had "accurately predicted twelve of the last three blizzards".  Environmentalists who perplexedly scratch their heads as to why everyone does not yet fully buy into global warming should move past their "everyone is in the pay of the oil companies" explanation and maybe consider for a minute that their panicked prediction of twelve of the last three environmental disasters may be part of the explanation as well.

By the way, what really killed nuclear power was the costliness of the ridiculous regulatory regime.  In a prior post, I suggested an alternative regulatory regime, copied from airlines (see, we libertarians can sometimes hold our nose and actually make a regulatory reform proposal short of "throw it all out").  Reason's Hit and Run points to an example of those on the left reconsidering nuclear power.

Posted on February 5, 2006 at 10:03 PM | Permalink

Comments

'the "largest public health problem created by the accident" was its effect on the mental health of residents who were traumatized by their rapid relocation and the fear, still lingering, that they would almost certainly contract terminal cancer': which is to say that Rumour and the Media are the main cause of the public health problem. How soon before people pick up on this and start suing CN etc?

Posted by: dearieme | Feb 6, 2006 6:51:03 PM

I beg your pardon, "CNN".

Posted by: dearieme | Feb 6, 2006 6:51:42 PM

Have any of you douchebags seen the various documentaries which show the children who bear horrible physical defects DIRECTLY related to the Chernobyl fallout? It's fine to argue that some claims are overblown, but to maintain that a huge radioactive leak such as Chernobyl has no consequences is just plain false. The fact that a report says long-term effects were revised downward DOES NOT mean that substantial short-term effects exist. Get your heads out of your asses. If you really believe this tripe, put your money where your smug mouths are and invest in land around Chernobyl. I don't see you lining up to do so. Just as I thought, another case of NIMBY - you're fine with industrial accidents, as long as you can afford to insulate yourself from them.

Posted by: Gary | Feb 9, 2006 8:07:10 AM

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