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Health effects of Chernobyl: IPPNW report

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The April 1986, Chernobyl catastrophe changed the world. Millions of people were made victims overnight. Huge stretches of land were made uninhabitable. The radioactive cloud spread all over the world. An understanding of the dangers of the use of nuclear energy grew in countless numbers of minds. The April 2011 report 'Health effects of Chernobyl' published by the German affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and the Gesellschaft fur Strahlenschutz (GFS – Society for Radiation Protection) evaluates scientific studies that contain plausible indications of causal relationships between radiation following the Chernobyl catastrophe and greatly differing diseases and fatalities.

The authors of this paper attach importance to methodically accurate and comprehensible analyses. We have tried not to lose sight of the immense uncertainty inherent in every estimation in this field. We have taken published papers into consideration, but believe a general rejection of papers that have not been published in peer-reviewed journals is unjustified – Galileo Galilei and Albert Einstein would have had no chance of having their papers accepted by a peer-reviewed journal.

The loss of the Chernobyl nuclear power station meant first and foremost a huge direct economic loss. Radiation from Chernobyl fallout rendered large areas of land agriculturally unusable. Large and small businesses were given up, towns and villages abandoned, some were flattened by bulldozers. Millions of people were affected by radiation and lost all they had; apartments, houses, homes and social security. Many lost their jobs and were unable to find new ones, families split up because they could not tolerate being irradiated or ostracized because of their proximity to Chernobyl.

The quarrel about the number of victims of Chernobyl is as stupid as it is cynical. It is a well known fact that the frequently quoted death toll of 31 is long past being valid. Even the number of ‘less than 50’ quoted in Vienna in September 2005 cannot possibly be true. It is an unacceptable sophistry only to recognize those who died of acute radiation disease, cancer or leukaemia as Chernobyl deaths. Following Chernobyl there was an obvious if not drastic increase of illness rates, but - typically - experts judging from a distance, without ever having treated any of the victims, do not generally accept these rates as having resulted from Chernobyl.

We refuse to haggle over whether a liquidator (clean-up worker) who received a high radiation dose, who has been an invalid for years, whose wife has left him, whose daughter is unable to find a boyfriend because of her father’s history, who suffers from diverse illnesses, the treatment of which has been given up by doctors, and who commits suicide, counts as a Chernobyl death or not.

In this way, the search for reliable data on the dead of Chernobyl has become an impossible task - in any case there are many, far too many. There is no comprehensive picture of the consequences of Chernobyl, not yet. The following overview aims at reminding you of all you  already knew, aims at getting you to study carefully and critically the simplified and minimized accounts given by the large organizations and to be attentive to their large uncertainties and blank spaces.

None of the governments in Russia, Belarus or Ukraine are interested in a comprehensive survey of the consequences of Chernobyl. They prefer to close the case, gradually re-cultivate and resettle lost territory and pay as little as possible to the victims. They are not interested in discussions about the mistakes that have been made. There is a tendency amongst the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Scientific Committee for the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) to support this position. Independent scientific studies in this area are not being financed and are being obstructed or prevented. Stochastic radiation damage is difficult to prove. Large epidemiological studies are expensive and reference to necessary data requires access that is only possible with state assistance.

The paper evaluates studies that contain plausible indications of health damage caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe. The authors of this paper attach importance to the selection of methodically accurate and comprehensible analyses. Due to the already mentioned methodical difficulties, it is not our aim to present the “right” statistics in contrast to the obviously wrong ones given by the IAEA, since these can never be found. They can only supply us with indications as to the diversity and extent of the health effects we should be dealing with when we talk about the health effects of Chernobyl.

Note on the unreliability of official data published by WHO and IAEA
At the “Chernobyl Forum of the United Nations” organized in September 2005 by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organisation, the presentation of the results of work on the effects of Chernobyl showed serious inconsistencies. For example: the press release of the WHO and IAEA stated that in the future, at most, 4000 surplus fatalities due to cancer and leukaemia amongst the most severely affected groups of people might be expected. In the WHO report on which this was based however, the actual number of deaths is given as 8,930. These deaths were not mentioned in any newspaper articles. When one examines the source quoted in the WHO report, one arrives at a number between 10,000 and 25,000 additional fatalities due to cancer and leukaemia.

Given this it can be rationally concluded that the official statements of the IAEA and the WHO have manipulated their own data. Their representation of the effects of Chernobyl has little to do with reality.

The Chernobyl Forum also does not take into account that even UNSCEAR has estimated that the collective dose (the usual measurement for radiation damage) for Europe outside the region of the former Soviet Union is higher than the corresponding data for the Chernobyl region. The collective dose from the catastrophe was distributed to 53% throughout Europe, 36% throughout the affected regions in the Soviet Union, 8% in Asia, 2 % in Africa and 0.3% in America.

Up until now neither the Chernobyl Forum, IAEA nor the WHO have deemed it necessary to let the public know that, on the basis of their own analysis, a two to five-fold higher number of deaths due to cancer and leukaemia are to be expected as the figures they have published.

Even in 2011 – some 5 years on - no official UN organization has as yet corrected these figures. The latest UNSCEAR publication on the health effects of Chernobyl does not take into account any of the numerous results of research into the effects of Chernobyl from the three countries affected. Only one figure – that of 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer among children and juveniles, and leukaemia and cataracts in liquidators – was included in their recent information to the media. Thus, in 2011 the UNSCEAR committee declared: On the basis of studies carried out during the last 20 years, as well as of previous UNSCEAR reports, UNSCEAR has come to the conclusion that the large majority of the population has no reason to fear that serious health risks will arise from the Chernobyl accident. The only exception applies to those exposed to radio-iodine during childhood or youth and to liquidators who were exposed to a high dose of radiation and therefore had to reckon with a higher radiation induced risk.

Source: The report 'Health effects of Chernobyl' can be downloaded at:
Contact: IPPNW, Körtestraße 10, 10967 Berlin,Germany.
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