Effects of Chernobyl, 20 years on


Madam, - With increasing fuel prices the debate has reopened on the safety of nuclear power, relevant in light of the approaching 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster. Misinformation and deliberate distortion of the facts have caused much confusion to the debate. While the September 2005 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Chernobyl says few have died, it has done nothing to enhance our learning and knowledge about the scale of the tragedy as it adds further confusion by trying to find logical and finite answers while missing the whole human and environmental trauma.

This report has further added unwitting support for the governments of the affected region's policy declaring the Chernobyl disaster officially over. The IAEA report adds legitimacy to the governments' policies of repopulation of previously evacuated areas and re-cultivation of lands within radioactive zones. The IAEA reinvention report on the consequences of the disaster will be used to support the building of a nuclear power station 25 miles from the exploded reactor on the territory of Belarus.

The IAEA report should also be greeted with some suspicion when you consider an agreement, signed in 1959, between the WHO and the IAEA, which hinders the WHO in its freedom to produce material regarding the consequences of Chernobyl without the agreement of the IAEA. The primary objective of the IAEA is the promotion of nuclear power plants in the world. Article III of the agreement states: "The IAEA and the WHO recognise that they may find it necessary to apply certain limitations for the safeguarding of confidential information furnished to them."

Personally having spent much of October and November 2005 in Ukraine and Belarus there is conclusive observable evidence within communities, old and young, of increases in cancer and genetic related illnesses since the Chernobyl disaster.

Listening and observing filmmakers and journalists ask the same questions time after time I am convinced that they are asking the wrong questions. They ask: "How many people died? How many will die? Is this or that cancer or illness definitely caused by radiation? What is Chernobyl? How much radiation were you exposed to? Why do you all look so healthy? Show me the evidence." These are questions with often non-specific answers or answers that do not satisfy the required neat logic.

We seek absolutes in a situation where there can be no absolutes, no definitive answers, for we ask the wrong questions. People expect to see something grotesque and distorted and are almost disappointed when people and things appear normal - the media are perplexed. But such expectations distract from the true effects, with no realisation that any dose of radiation is an overdose.

If we continue to seek only logical, rational answers we will constantly be diverted from the true picture - a picture of human and ecological fragility, a picture showing us how delicately balanced the relationship between man and nature is. I now believe that as long as we try and place Chernobyl within our existing understanding of catastrophes, understanding it will continue to allude us. Our experiences from other disasters are clearly inadequate because we are facing a realm of the unknown not previously experienced, requiring a new understanding, a new bravery, and a new kind of courage. - Yours, etc,

ADI ROCHE, Executive Director, Chernobyl Children's Project, Cork.