Chernobyl Scientist Warns Of Nuclear Folly'

MINSK, Belarus -- One of the most experienced researchers into the Chernobyl disaster has broken his silence to warn European leaders that flirting with nuclear power "is folly of the first order".

Belarussian scientist Yuri Bandazhevsky, a specialist in nuclear medicine, at his home in Minsk

The views of Yuri Bandazhevsky have cost him his reputation as one of the former Soviet Union's most respected scientists and earned him a five-year stint as a prisoner of conscience in Belarus, where contradicting the government line is always a risk.

Reactor No 4 at the Chernobyl power station, in Ukraine, exploded 20 years ago on Wednesday, spreading a nuclear cloud that stretched from Truro to Tokyo.

Ever since, Mr Bandazhevsky has dedicated his life to studying the effects of low-level radiation around Belarus's second city of Gomel in the heart of the area contaminated by the world's worst nuclear accident.

After years of studying corpses in the mortuaries of Gomel and collecting what available statistics there were on still-births in the affected zones, he concluded that exposure to the radioactive element caesium-137 was causing far more deaths than was generally realised.

Six months after being freed, Mr Bandazhevsky is speaking out again now that he sees that nuclear power is once again becoming acceptable in western Europe.

"Not just because of Chernobyl but also because of nuclear testing around the world, the stratosphere holds huge amounts of caesium," he said.

"To start re-engaging in full-scale nuclear power as Europe seems determined to do is folly of the first order."

An investigation by 100 scientists acting under the auspices of nine United Nations bodies and published last year said that fewer than 50 people died as an immediate result of the accident. It said that the eventual number of deaths attributable to longer-term radiation was unlikely to exceed 9,000.

But Greenpeace issued a report by 52 scientists that put the number of terminal cancer cases at 93,000 and said that a further 200,000 might already have died of radiation related illnesses in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus alone.

Mr Bandazhevsky, too, rejected the UN study. "The authors want to draw a line under Chernobyl," he said. "The report humiliates the people who suffered from this catastrophe."

Mr Bandazhevsky said that vital information had been suppressed first by the Soviet authorities then by the Belarussian government.

The figures did not include non-cancerous diseases, such as heart disorders and birth defects, caused by exposure to low doses of caesium-137. He also challenged the methods used in the study.

Mr Bandazhevsky used to be a member of five academies of science. Now he is shunned by colleagues who are now too frightened to be seen consorting with him and he is reduced to conducting experiments in his study.

He believes that trying to calculate the number of fatalities caused by Chernobyl is futile.

"It is impossible to conclude with certainty that someone died from a cancer caused by smoking or by radiation," he said. "Just as you can't tell if heart disease was caused by radiation or alcohol."

However, that did not mean that there was no evidence, he said. Cardiovascular diseases in Belarus were the highest in Europe, nearly three times as high as in Britain.

Dr Anders Møller, a research director at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris, and Dr Timothy Mousseau, a biology professor at the University of South Carolina, agree that current estimates play down the death toll.

They say that Chernobyl studies have attracted only about $10 million for research worldwide - a small sum for a disaster of such magnitude - and are calling for more money.

Source: Telegraph