The worst industrial accident the world has ever known – that is one description of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. And it was with the looming 30th anniversary of the nuclear reactor explosion in the former Soviet Union in mind that a conference was called in Prague this week to examine the ongoing health risks from the incident.
The Nuclear Energy Conference was organized in Prague by Green and anti-nuclear groups to highlight the health legacy of the Chernobyl accident 30 years on and what organisers say are the often played down dangers in Western Europe of keeping aged nuclear reactors operating and building new ones.
As well as the upcoming April 26 anniversary of Chernobyl, the conference was given extra relevance by last week’s decision of the Czech nuclear safety watchdog to give an unlimited permit for the Czech Dukovany reactor to continue operation. The 1986 reactor is the oldest in the country and the decision sparked condemnation in next door Austria.
One of the main speakers at the conference was British radiologist Ian Fairlie who has just completed Torch 2016, an update of a 2006 study mapping the affects and likely health impact of the Chernobyl disaster. One of the innovations has been charting levels of Iodine 131, a significant cause of thyroid cancers, levels in Europe after the disaster. This is what Dr. Fairlie had to say:
“This is a world first for you people, nobody else knows this. These maps are new, hardly anyone else knows about them. Caesium maps, they’re old, iodine maps, they’re new.”
And he says the new maps provide startling findings for around a third of the Austrian population living in the Vienna region but also significant proportions of the Czech population.
“This is Austria, where we have a detailed map and just here, on the north part, is the Czech Republic of course. For your interest, the Vienna region really got it badly. But so did the Czech Republic too, here you can see here the Prague area and here Brno and there were high depositions of Iodine. We estimate that 40,000 in Europe will die or have fatal cancers as a result of Chernobyl.”
The report points out that thyroid cancers in Austria have more than doubled since 1986, women traditionally have many more cases than men. And other studies in the Czech Republic suggest thyroid cases are rising by around 2.6 percent a year. The study says between 8 and 41 percent of the extra thyroid cancer cases in the Vienna region are probably caused by the Chernobyl cloud.
The study says other health impacts from Chernobyl are higher instances of leukemia, most cancers, heart disease, birth defects, and mental disease. The report complains that the impact of Chernobyl continue to be underestimated by the World Health Organisation and International Atomic Energy Authority and that funding of detailed studies of the detailed health impacts across Europe is still lacking.