The study was issued by the German wing of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winner International Physicians For The Prevention Of Nuclear War (IPPNW); and the Gesellschaft für Strahlenschutz (GfS) [Association for radiation protection], an organisation whose activities include a Chernobyl congress for researchers every two years, where they also facilitate the introducion of Russian-language research into the Western scientific consciousness. The study can be read on-line in full in German (pdf!). Note: mine is a abridged summary of only parts, the original 76-page report includes a lot of nuances (though I also cut in a few details from elsewhere).
|Ghost town Pripyat with Chernobyl power plant in the background|
Not just mortality rates in question - even the basics are contested
The study points out problems with the changing numbers for total released radioactive material, but here I will rather reference an article in the 15 April DER SPIEGEL (which was another independent review of the evidence): IAEA calculations assume 3-4% of the reactor fuel 'released', Ukrainian radiologist Victor Poyarkov suspects up to 50%, and scientists at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow who studied the sarcophagus think it must have been almost all of it.
On the Chernobyl Forum report
IPPNW-GfS states that the first serious assessment of the Chernobyl aftermath was released in 1991, which basically dismissed every statistically evidenced major health problem, while not even studying the worst affected populations (liquidators, evacuees). Then a 2000 report at least acknowledged the one issue the 1991 version received most flak for: thyroid cancer in children. Then the Chernobyl Forum umbrella group presented a new meta-study [e.g. review of studies] 6-7 September 2005 at a conference.
This meta-study is criticised by IPPNW-GfS for various omissions and the loose, improper or non-sourced handling of data, with the aggravating problem that press releases on the report (which of course are more read and quoted in public debate) downplay even what's in the study. An example they bring up for illustration is the WHO-authored meta-study on liquidators (clean-up workers) that
- only considers a third to a fourth of all liquidators: those with data; no extrapolation for the rest;
- doesn't quantify the effect of large uncertainties in the final numbers;
- doesn't consider sampling error;
- doesn't even mention the government orders to keep secret or falsify data on sick people with sub-500-mSv radiation exposure.
The last point, the old Soviet adage that if we don't look for something then it doesn't exist, is practised to this day. For example, in Belarus:
One group of Belarussian scientists who did try to accurately measure the effects of long-term radiation exposure in the population was broken up four years ago by the authorities and its leaders imprisoned. According to a report issued by Yakovenko's group, the group - experts with the nongovernmental Institute of Radiation Security in Minsk - had angered the government by publishing radiation figures for many Belarussian areas that were far above official estimates.
An example of spinning numbers: expected deaths from cancer and leukemia based on average doses:
- The IAEA press release speaks of 4,000 - which,
- looking at the table in the actual report, proves to be the number for only the most affected populations; the grand total is near 9,000.
- This table also suffers from the above-mentioned constraints (fraction of liquidators considered, no error bars).
- The actual study referenced for this table includes a footnote, which points out that the estimated cumulative radiation exposure for the less affected populations is not a lifetime projection, but only until 1996 (they say a lifetime assessment would imply a c. 50% upward correction).
An important general point they raise is that no attempt is made at establishing global numbers for victims of the various health problems -- but later spin will then tout partial numbers as if they were totals (see above examples).
They criticise that often, alternative explanations for statistical increases of health problems are just assumed (say, post-Soviet-collapse poverty), ignoring studies that used control groups to look at this -- but more detail on this later. Both this study and the SPIEGEL article also mentions the dismissal of health effects either not observed or not widely known from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
It doesn't help that contributors included some controversial persons. The IPPNW-GfS study mentions L.A. Ilyn, a top Russian/Soviet biophysicist who used to work on the secret data of Soviet cases of irradiation, who is blamed for prohibiting the immediate issuing of iodine to the population, a few years later he was central to the initial playdown of thyroid cancer numbers; and also name a lesser-ranked colleague. The SPIEGEL article mentions Fred A. Mettler, a radiologist who was shown to have knowingly ignored data on thyroid cancer in children for the 1991 study (this story is also recounted by IPPNW-GfS), or Sergei Parashin, who could become the top Ukrainian bureaucrat for Chernobyl evacuees today despite having been the no-action local party secretary during the disaster.
Percentage of the originally 200,000, mostly young Ukrainian liquidators who were recognised to be sick: 1987-21.8%, 1991-64.2%, 1996-85%, 2002-92.7%, 2005-94%. Number of those counted as disabled: 1991-2,000, 1996-26,000, 2000-73,000, 2005-106,000. In a November 2005 study, 95% of tested liquidators had chronic eye diseases.
In a 2004 Belorussian study, rates of various types of cancer rose significantly above that of a control group in the last decade. A November 2005 study showed a nine times higher rate of cardiovascular diseases than that of a control group - potential cause discussed: radiation damage to blood vessels.
Of the 10,000 registered Usbek liquidators, in 5 years 8.3%, in 10 years 73.8% turned disabled, plus 5% dead. A 2001 study by Russian scientists with a control group showed significantly higher rates for a lot of diseases (not only cancer), again contradicting the common assumption (also in the Chernobyl Forum report) that post-1991 poverty is to blame.
Continued research by Ukrainian and Swiss scientists shows that liquidators' widespread mental problems are connected to brain damage, not a supposed psychosis, while older Soviet data of people close to nuclear tests, and even earlier in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, showed similar mental problems. Also, in a 2004 Ukrainian study, a standardised test showed rates of mental problems to be twice of that in the general population, and even worse for those who received more than 250 mSv over five years.
A most interesting study (because looking at a subpopulation for whom the poverty argument doesn't work) came 2001 from Israel, showing seven times as many mutations in post-Chernobyl children of former liquidator immigrants relative to pre-Chernobyl siblings.
The much ignored second-worst-hit group is that of evacuees from the danger zone. Even the IPPNW-GfS report doesn't say much about them - though we get the rates of sick, rising from 41.3% in 1987 to 82.1% by 1996. The parallel SPIEGEL article writes more about them, mentioning the systematic falsification of their causes of death or serious diseases.
"90% of us here die fit as a fiddle." Evacuee inhabitants of quarter Darniza in Kiew
Something rarely talked about is that most birth defects were probably aborted. A 1987 estimate for just Western Europe was 100-200,000 surplus aborts. In Poland, birth statistics show a significant reduction. For the worst hit areas, no official statistics exist, but there is correspondence of "systematic" abortions after the disaster.
A number of studies by German researchers found statistically significant rises in the rate of stillbirths and early child deaths, in various regions and with various control groups (time or geographic). A 2003 study for countries from Iceland to Hungary found 3,200 extra early child deaths with a two-sigma of 1,300. For one worst-hit region in Belarus, a study calculated 1,300 early child deaths caused by two different isotopes. A 1998 Ukrainian study for one region found a sharp rise (1986: 4, 1992: 33), followed by a deep (well beyond the birthrate's) decline (1996: 11).
In East Germany, the autopsy of aborted or stillborn children was obligatory, and an 1996 analysis found a four times above normal peak of serious developmental defects, with the frequency matching the geographical pattern of the fallout. 2001 and 2004 studies for Bavaria got similar results. A 1996 Belorussian study found a doubling of the rate of embryos with developmental defects (there was no post-Soviet collapse in Lukashenka-land).
A 2001 study found that a January 1987 spike in the birth of Down-syndrome children can't be explained with sampling effects like increased screening. A similar spike (two-five times above normal) was observed in multiple German cities, and reinforced in a number of studies checking other statistical effects - the frequency even matched the geographical pattern of the fallout.
Several more, similar studies from Scotland to Finland and Turkey are quoted, albeit with less detail.
This is today the adverse health affect of Chernobyl most accepted by the pro-nuclear side. A sea change - the study quotes a number of pre-1991 documents blaming the usual suspects: deteriorating eating habits, psychosomatic effects, increased screening. The first whistleblower was a Belorussian radiologist in fall 1990 in Berlin, but Fred Mettler found it convenient to ignore Belorussian evidence on his desk for the UN report a year later, a fate shared by a report mailed by the Belarus health ministry.
While professor Ilyn claimed in 1989 that a mere 90 extra cases of thyroid cancer in small children are to be expected in 30 years, just in Belarus, all extra cases add up to 10,000. In the highly contaminated Gomel region of Belarus, for 1986-1998, a 58-fold increase was recorded for children - receding only since 2000. But in the last decade, the rate for older people (8-10x normal) is still rising. By extrapolation a total of more than 100,000 is to be expected. Studies in the Ukraine showed both a geographical and temporal correlation of cases with the fallout.
Update [2006-5-7 11:24:47 by DoDo]: I have to add another point: a rather cynical argument from some on the pro-nuclear side is that thyroid cancer is never non-lethal if properly treated. First, that is a big if, second, for the affected it is still very bad, third, if thyroid cancer metastases before discovery, then the metastases can very well be lethal.
Two independent studies from Belarus, one from 2004 the other from February 2006, show a significant increase of breast cancer, and also a 15-year decrease of typical patient age at detection, for the worst-hit region. Not only is the increase more significant than for another, less badly hit region, but the strong frequency differences and fallout patterns match even within the region. The second study explores the effect of increased screening and finds it inadequate to explain the patterns.
Of various nervous system cancer statistics, one of the strongest effects is for Ukrainian children under 3 with brain tumor, in a 2002 study. Looking at the cases of 20 years in 5-year bins, 1986-1990 and 1996-2000 again show about five-fold increases, with a peak of 7.7 in-between (don't forget both economic and birth-rate collapse came after 1990). The signal is even stronger but with much smaller samples for breastfed children.
Earlier Ukrainian (1994) and Belorussian (1996, 1998) studies showed significant increases of various types of leukemia in the region, with some geographical pattern. A 2001 Ukrainian study that followed children born in 1986 in very contaminated and barely contaminated regions found increased leukemia rates in all categories, worst for acute lymphatic leukemia in boys (3.4x). A year later, the same authors conducted case studies of people aged 0-20 in 1986, in which they calculated radiation exposures. For 1993-1997 and men, they found statistically significant correlation between acute leukemia and above-10-mSv exposure. German, Greek and Romanian studies showed a signifikant peak (more than two-fold increase) of leukemia for children born in the 1-1.5 years after the disaster, though total numbers are small (in the dozens).
|Pine tree in the Red Forest, turned bush and disfigured by excessive branching - from Wormwood Forest|
A rather ignorant argument from some nuclear proponents is that animal life is 'thriving' in the closed zone around Chernobyl. This doesn't wash because with radiation, we are talking of diseases with a probability: if every third boar dies of cancer (or is eaten by wolves before the cancer does it), you'll still see the other two "thriving". If less deaths come from radiation disease than hunting and being hit by cars, animals will multiply. Also, what seems healthy may not prove so upon close inspection. Finally, mices live shorter than men.
The report itself has some numbers on rise in livestock birth defects paralleling those in humans (for example, a more than 50% jump in the less contaminated areas of Germany), and mentions the case of radiation-contaminated sheep in Britain which was discussed on ET earlier. As for the closed zone, it mentions 1996 information that mice experienced a mutation rate 100,000 times that of the normal, but for more, read this BBC article.
Update [2006-5-7 11:24:47 by DoDo]: An epilogy: the Numbers War goes on
As I said, neither the IAEA/WHO, nor the IPPNW-GfS meta-study attempted a comprehensive estimate of all deaths due to Chernobyl. But, since the IPPNW-GfS study was released, three other groups released their estimate for the 20th anniversary. Quoting from a Guardian article by John Vidal (quoted at length in DeAnander's post):
The charge is led by the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, which last week declared that 212,000 people have now died as a direct consequence of Chernobyl. Meanwhile, a major report commissioned by Greenpeace considers the evidence of 52 scientists and estimates the deaths and illnesses to be 93,000 terminal cancers already and perhaps 100,000 deaths in time. A further report for European parliamentarians suggested 60,000 deaths.