Have you noticed the recent upsurge in pro-nuclear stories? Chernobyl apparently was a mere blip in the nuclear industry’s otherwise shining safety record.
One commentator went so far as to say that Chernobyl had actually benefited humankind by leading to improved safety standards. The same stance of course is used by the chemical industry vis a vis Bhopal.
Now the spin-doctors of government and multinational business have been instructed to promote nuclear energy as the only possible future. Nuclear critics are now “doomsayers”, “scaremongerers” and “Cassandras”.
Not a coincidence that this new pro-nuclear push began as fears about “Peak Oil” begin to be realised. Previously those worrying about the calamitous consequences of our heavy dependence on oil were also arrogantly dismissed by the same same clique of profit-at-any-cost enthusiasts.
The following article from The Hindu is typical of the politically directed journalism that nowadays lambasts those who based their prediction of the health effects of Chernobyl on data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What other data was there? Future hacks wishing to downplay the Chernobyl incident should first read the stories of the children who are still being born sick and study their pictures.
THE HINDU, JULY 17, 2006
The ‘Doom soon’ generation can heave a big sigh of relief, thanks to the Chernobyl Forum, an international organisation of scientific bodies including UN agencies. It has reportedly found that the world has been living on edge for 20 years after the Chernobyl disaster for nothing, and that fears of Chernobyl’s radiation fallout killing tens of thousands and triggering a wave of slow and painful cancer deaths across Europe have probably been misplaced. In fact, the death toll directly caused by radiation from Chernobyl currently stands at an astonishing 56, which, the researchers point out, “is less than the weekly death toll on Britain’s roads”.
This agrees with available scientific evidence that rules out any cancer risk at radiation doses below 100 milliSieverts a year. On the contrary, at low levels of exposure, the body’s natural repair mechanisms seem to be adequate to repair radiation damage to cells soon after it occurs. Although ionising radiation was considered a scientific miracle until the end of World War II, subsequent development of nuclear weapons and increased use of nuclear power changed this into radiophobia, with even tiny doses of radiation triggering fear. Which probably prompted Cassandras to base their predictions on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (where the levels of radiation exposure were often in the range of thousands of milliSieverts). The unexpected outcome of Chernobyl would suggest the need for some moderation in all of today’s various doomsday scenarios, as well as the need for better methodology in the forecasts — oil depletion, bird flu, asteroid strike or the destruction of biodiversity. Malthusian forecasts of global population outstripping the planet’s food supplies to cause worldwide famine and death from starvation, were, after all, unfounded.
The only way for scientists to avoid scaring a world plagued by terrorism, drugs and taxes is to produce methodologically sound and nuanced reports — even if they do not make for good press.