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ACTION ALERT: The 30th Anniversary of Chernobyl: Nearly 1 Million Deaths

April 26, 2016
Harvey Wasserman / EcoWatch & Celine Mergan / Greenpeace International

When Chernobyl blew up 30 years ago, it exposed two basic lies that had been used to promote nuclear power: (1) that a commercial reactor could not explode and (2) that the industry's radiation would kill no one. It has been estimated that 985,000 people have died from Chernobyl's fallout. Here's a short list of 30 ways these two tragic flaws are killing us all.


30 Ways Chernobyl and the Dying
Nuke Industry Threaten Our Survival

Harvey Wasserman / EcoWatch

(April 25, 2016) -- April 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

It comes as Germany, which is phasing out all its reactors, has asked Belgium to shut two of its nukes because of the threat of terrorism.

It also comes as advancing efficiencies and plunging prices in renewable energy remind us that nukes stand in the way of solving our climate crisis.

And it makes us remember the second and third biggest lies told us by the atomic power industry: that no commercial nuke could explode, and that no one would be harmed by reactor fallout.

Prior to the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, there was at least one minor explosion (on March 28, 1979) at Three Mile Island (TMI) in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, TMI Unit 2's containment dome was uniquely solid. The site is in the flight path of the Harrisburg airport. Citizen activists had demanded Unit 2's containment be able to withstand a jet crash. So they forced construction upgrades that may have saved millions of lives when the reactor was stretched to its limits.

TMI's owners long denied there was a melt-down at all. But robot cameras later showed otherwise.

The industry still denies anyone was harmed by TMI's fallout. But the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Baltimore News-American reported that downwind farm and wild animals died in horrifying droves. Parallel reports by researcher Tim Mousseau are now coming from areas downwind from Chernobyl.

Village Voice reporter Anna Mayo (recently deceased and greatly missed), photographer Bob Del Tredici and filmmaker Robbie Leppzer all documented TMI's immense human toll. In 1980, I interviewed dozens of local downwinders enduring radiation-related illnesses including cancer, emphysema, heart disease, stroke, sterility, birth defects and Down's Syndrome.

Recent studies by nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen indicate TMI2's containment may have cracked, releasing far more radiation than generally suspected. Even now, nobody knows exactly how much did escape, what it consisted of, where it went or who was impacted. TMI's owners have quietly paid at least $15 million in damages to downwinder families, including at least some payments for Down's Syndrome.

By 1979 new reactor orders had already stopped due to the industry's horrific inefficiencies, bad economics and lack of answers for decommissioning and radioactive waste storage. The industry's biggest lie -- that atomic power would be "too cheap to meter" -- was already obvious.

But when Chernobyl blew up 30 years ago, it exposed lies number 2 and number 3: that a commercial reactor could not explode and that the industry's radiation would kill no one.

Here's a short list of 30 ways these two tragic flaws are killing us all. They are discussed with experts Joe Mangano and Dr. Janette Sherman on my recent Solartopia show.

1. According to studies by three top European scientists, first published in 2009, more than 985,000 people have died from Chernobyl's fallout.

2. Impactful radioactive contamination is still in evidence in soil throughout Ukraine, Belarus and as far away as Scotland.

3. By some estimates, children born throughout regions downwind of Chernobyl have suffered radiation-related diseases at rates affecting up to 80 percent of those born in critical areas.

4. Reindeer, sheep and other animals across northern Europe are still too heavily contaminated to be safely consumed.

5. Radioactive fallout from Chernobyl hit northern California within 10 days of the explosion, followed by a 60 percent drop in bird births recorded at the Pt. Reyes sanctuary north of San Francisco.

6. Epidemiological studies by Mangano, Sherman and others show that nearby infant death rates rise when commercial reactors open, and drop when they shut.

7. Epidemiological studies show direct links between reactor operations and cancer rates downwind, including a 70 percent excess of thyroid cancer in the four counties surrounding New York's Indian Point reactors as opposed to the nation as a whole.

8. When Chernobyl blew up, industry apologists emphasized that such a disaster at a Soviet reactor had nothing to do with American nukes. But on March 11, 2011, four General Electric reactors exploded at Fukushima (three melted, and their cores have yet to be found).

9. The explosions at Fukushima by estimates of at least one Japanese scientist have spewed at least 30 times as much Cesium 137 as was released by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

10. The Fukushima disaster still dumps at least 300 tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean every day.

11. Thousands of tons of contaminated water are being held in flimsy storage tanks at Fukushima, at least some of which are likely to give way; serious leaks of radioactive water are also on-going at Indian Point, Florida's Turkey Point, numerous other commercial reactor sites and at the Hanford (Washington) military reservation.

12. The Japanese government and Fukushima's owner (Tepco) are hinting strongly they would like to dump still more thousands of tons of radioactive water directly into the Pacific.

13. At least 7,000 clean-up workers are still being exposed to radiation at Fukushima every day.

14. It remains unclear exactly where the cores from Units 1, 2 and 3 might be, what can be done to contain them and exactly what kinds of long-term dangers they pose.

15. Thyroid abnormalities among children in the Fukushima area are far beyond normal.

16. Physicians for Social Responsibility predicts at least 68,000 downwinders will die from Fukushima's fallout. Dr. Chris Busby estimates additional cancers alone at more than 400,000. Arnie Gundersen estimates the ultimate toll on par with Chernobyl, of up to 1,000,000.

17. Radioactive hot spots clearly linked to Fukushima are being found throughout Japan, some as far away as Tokyo.

18. Japanese activists have kept all but three of Japan's 54 reactors shut since Fukushima, but the pro-nuke Abe regime wants to stage some 2020 Olympic events near the stricken reactor site.

19. Some 11,000 highly radioactive fuel rods are still strewn around the Fukushima site with no prospects for safe long-term storage. Nowhere on earth has safe long-term storage of atomic wastes been proven.

20. Though the explosions at Fukushima have been linked to the tsunami that wiped out back-up generations, primary damage (especially at Unit 1) was caused by an earthquake whose epicenter was 120 kilometers distant, far further than many fault-lines near scores of other reactors around the world.

21. Two U.S. reactor sites (Perry in Ohio and North Anna in Virginia) have already suffered significant damage from earthquakes.

22. Among many others, reactors at Diablo Canyon, California and Indian Point, New York, are very near major fault lines, with the potential death tolls in downwind Los Angeles and New York City stretching into the millions.

23. Dr. Michael Peck, resident Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) safety inspector at California's Diablo Canyon has warned that the two huge reactors there cannot withstand a likely earthquake delivered by any of the dozen seismic faultiness surround the site. Peck filed his report within the NRC but it was made public a year later by Friends of the Earth and other community groups. The NRC has dismissed Peck's warnings and he has been moved to the Commission's Chattanooga office.

24. As terrorists slaughtered innocent civilians in Brussels, the New York Times reported that Belgian authorities evacuated two reactors which they felt were vulnerable to attack. As mentioned above, Germany has now asked Belgium to shut these nukes down.

25. A wide range of reports dating back at least to the 1970s have confirmed that throughout the entire global nuclear industry, commercial reactors simply cannot be guaranteed to be safe from a concerted terrorist attack, making them all what Karl Grossman has called "pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction."

26. The technological basis for the 99 U.S. reactors now operating dates far back in the previous century, as the average age of an operating U.S. nuke American reactor is now roughly 35 years old, with Davis-Besse (near Toledo, Ohio) distinguished primarily by four major cuts into its containment dome, and a shield building that is literally crumbling.

27. Since Fukushima on March 11, 2011 significant safety advances advocated by the staff of the NRC and others have not been installed at U.S. nukes despite widespread warning of defects.

28. Seven top NRC engineers took the rare and daring step of filing a public 2.206 petition warning that 98 of 99 current US reactors have serious basic flaws in the electrical sector of their emergency core cooling systems, which are designed to protect the public from a major catastrophe.

29. Former NRC expert David Lochbaum, now with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has warned that the inspectors' findings on the faulty cooling system wiring are quite serious, and could have been solved easily and cheaply several years ago, when they were first discovered.

30. The corrupt regulatory culture of the NRC is now in the process of re-licensing every American reactor, with projected lifetimes stretching to 60 years, two decades beyond original design capacity, guaranteeing that America's 99 remaining reactors will continue to dangerously decay, putting us all in harm's way. All the relicensing has proceeded without a requirement that the industry get private insurance, which is still unavailable after more than a half-century of operations.

There is much much more. The on-going radiation releases from these jalopy reactors impact our health and undermine our eco-systems every day, threatening our future on this planet, and standing in the way of the Solartopian Revolution in renewables and efficiency that must ultimately save our planet from ecological and economic ruin.

Harvey Wasserman's Organic Spiral of US History will be published soon on www.solartopia.org. He edits www.nukefree.org and wrote Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth.

15 Things You Didn't Know About Chernobyl
Celine Mergan / Greenpeace International

(April 15, 2016) -- In the early morning of April 26, 1986, reactor four of the Chernobyl nuclear station exploded. It caused what the United Nations has called "the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of humanity."

Chernobyl was the accident that the nuclear industry said would never happen. Twenty-five years later, the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan reminded us that the risk of another Chernobyl remains wherever nuclear power is used.

The long-lived radionuclides released by Chernobyl means the disaster continues 30 years later. It still affects the lives of millions of people. Here are 15 facts you may not know about the disaster:

1. Exactly 30 years ago, Chernobyl's nuclear reactors, located in Ukraine, exploded. Nearly five million people still live in the areas considered contaminated.

2. The amount of radiation released is approximately 200 times higher than the combined radiation releases of the atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

3. People in the nearest town, Pripyat, were evacuated only two days after the disaster. By that time many people were already exposed to high levels of radiation.

4. Radioactive rain fell as far away as Ireland. The Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were the most affected countries. They received 63% of the contamination from Chernobyl.

5. Since Pripyat was abandoned by people due to high radiation levels, wolves, wild horses, beavers, boars and other animals have populated the town.

6. Animals living within the 30km exclusion zone around Chernobyl have higher mortality rates, increased genetic mutations and decreased birth rate.

7. You'd think the other Chernobyl reactors would have been shut down right away, but the three other reactors at the site were restarted and operated for another 13 years!

8. Radioactive material still remains in a crumbling cement sarcophagus built over the reactor following the accident. A new massive shell is being built over the current sarcophagus, but will only last for 100 years.

9. The nearby forest close to the disaster is called the 'red forest', as high levels of radiation killed the trees, leaving vast areas the bright ginger-red color of dead pine.

10. The nuclear industry and supporting governments in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus want to spend billions on other nuclear projects while ignoring their responsibility to support Chernobyl's survivors. They minimize the impacts of the disaster and hide the day-to-day reality of Chernobyl.

11. Now you can even book a trip to the Chernobyl exclusion zone! Tourist agencies organise day tours in the abandoned town of Pripyat.

12. Pripyat is highly contaminated and will remain abandoned as plutonium needs more than 24,000 years to reduce just half of its intensity.

13. Radiation was so strong that the eyes of firefighter Vladimir Pravik changed from brown to blue.

14. Sweden was the first country to inform the world about the disaster as the Soviet government decided to keep Chernobyl's explosion a secret at first.

15. In the contaminated areas, Chernobyl touches every aspect of people's lives. Chernobyl's radiation is in the food they eat, the milk and water they drink, in the schools, parks and playgrounds their children play in, and in the wood they burn to keep warm.

ACTION ALERT: Stand in solidarity with Chernobyl survivors!
Greenpeace International

(April 25, 2016) -- Today five million people in the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus live in areas contaminated by Chernobyl's radioactive fallout. Every day these survivors must make decisions on how to reduce or limit their exposure to radiation. Shopping, cooking, eating, working outside or heating their homes are daily choices that can put their families at risk.

They are being abandoned by their governments who are not taking adequate care of their citizens. Their governments scramble to cut protection programs that ensure needed monitoring, health treatments and uncontaminated food. This is so they can save money.

Worse still, these same governments want to spend billions on extremely risky nuclear energy while ignoring their responsibility to support those who still live in the shadow of Chernobyl's radioactive legacy.

It is unjust to cut programs to protect Chernobyl survivors. And it's madness to spend more money on nuclear power when safe and clean renewable energy is affordable and ready to empower communities.

Please stand in solidarity with Chernobyl survivors. Tell the leaders of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia to reinstate programs to protect Chernobyl survivors from radiation exposure and ensure another Chernobyl never happens again by investing in modern and affordable renewable energy.

Dear Presidents Lukashenko, Poroshenko and Putin,

As we approach the thirtieth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, I would like to draw your attention to the plight of Chernobyl survivors.

Your countries are burdened with the long-term legacy of Chernobyl.

This is an enormous responsibility for your governments because so many of your citizens are still affected by the disaster. More than five million people live in areas that are still contaminated.

Chernobyl's contamination will continue to put your citizens at risk for generations to come.

I am deeply concerned that your governments have chosen to cut measures intended to protect Chernobyl survivors from radiation exposure.

To make matters worse, while cutting support for Chernobyl survivors, your governments are determined to go ahead with plans to spend money on new nuclear reactors. Five years ago, the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan reminded us that the risk of another Chernobyl remains wherever nuclear power is used. This is why resources would be better spent on cleaner energy sources.

Since the Chernobyl disaster, renewable energy has blossomed and is now ready to safely and affordably power your countries.

I urge you to demand your governments respect the rights of Chernobyl survivors and reinstate programs to protect them from radiation exposure.

And please ensure that another Chernobyl disasters never can happen again by empowering your countries' communities with modern and affordable renewable energy sources.

ACTION: Please speak out in solidarity with Chernobyl survivors and join us for a twitter thunderclap.

Celine Mergan is a social media intern with Greenpeace Belgium.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.




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