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Chernobyl Blog

Day Three - April 24, 2006

This morning the day started with a presentation by Dr. Ian Fairlie, from the United Kingdom who worked on The Other Report on Chernobyl (TORCH), an independent report funded by the Greens in the European Parliament. This report was commissioned after the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report which completely downplayed the impact of the accident and puts the death toll estimate at 4,000 people.

One of the reasons why this report is biased is that a 1959 agreement between WHO and IAEA stipulates: “Whenever either organization proposes to initiate a program or activity on a subject in which the other organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.” Given the fact that the IAEA’s role is to ‘Promote safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies’, a report describing the full impact of Chernobyl could very well have gotten in the way of the IAEA’s ability to promote nuclear power.

During his presentation, Dr. Fairlie raised some very significant points and criticisms of the WHO report.

First of all, the WHO report only looked at Chernobyl’s impact in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Given the fact that two thirds of Chernobyl’s fallout was in areas outside of these three countries, the death toll in the rest of Europe is expected to be higher. Belarus, Russia and Ukraine received the most concentrated doses of radiation which is why the impacts are so severe there.

The TORCH report estimates that the death toll for Chernobyl will reach between 30,000 and 60,000 people world wide and states that 40% of Europe was contaminated. Caesium-137 contamination was documented in all European countries except those that forbade planes from flying over them to survey contamination levels. These countries include Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania and most states in the Balkans.

Austria received very heavy doses of radiation. Ironically, it is one of the few countries to have stipulated in their constitution that they would not have nuclear power. The government, unlike other western governments with vested interests in nuclear power, adequately warned its populace and continues to warn against eating wild mushrooms and game.

Later in the day I met with Andre Lariviere, a French Canadian who has been living in Europe for the past twenty years and who coordinates the “Sortir du Nucleaire” coalition in France. "Sortir du Nucleaire" is a very large network representing over 700 organisations. I was particularly interested to meet with him as I am coordinating the Canadian equivalent of “Sortir du Nucleaire”: Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout. I also imagine it must be difficult to work on these types of issues in a country where 80% of the electricity is produced by nuclear power.

Despite such a strong nuclear industry, and despite years of pro-nuclear propaganda disseminated in schools, the French continue to support phasing out nuclear power. According to the electric utility, between 50 and 60% support phasing out nuclear power, although a recent poll taken by the European Union put support for Nuclear phaseout in Europe at 88%, and 92% in France.

On thing is for sure, the Europeans are much more aware of the repercussions of nuclear power than Canadians, and Americans, and are much more active in protesting it. And perhaps increasingly so as the full impacts of Chernobyl are revealed.

For the time being, very few governments in Europe could get away with ordering a nuclear reactor. They would be confronted by very serious protests. Canada is further away from Chernobyl, but just as vulnerable to a nuclear accident.

Emilie Moorhouse is Sierra Club of Canada's Atmosphere and Energy Campaigner.


Nuclear Power Links

SCC nuclear page

Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout

Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

Greenpeace Chernobyl page

Sierra Club of Canada National Office