Population of Ukraine Continues to Suffer From Chernobyl Nuclear Catastrophe

Ionizing Radiation Increases Risk of Fatal Cancer

Virginia Power Nuclear Utility Withdraws from Plutonium Fuel Deal

*Fourteen years after the world's most lethal nuclear disaster, the people of Ukraine continue to suffer from the consequences of the explosion at the Chernobyl reactor that spread a radioactive cloud over Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and parts of Western Europe.

According to official statistics, the health of some 3.5 million people, including 1.26 million children, has been affected by the disaster. High radiation doses and the consumption of radioactive food have multiplied the rate of thyroid cancer and diseases of the nervous, blood and respiratory systems. The death rate in contaminated areas remains at 18.28 percent per 1,000, compared to 14.8 percent among the rest of the population.

Ukrainian officials have little hope that the health situation will improve in the near future. Health Deputy Minister Olha Bobyleva conceded at a news conference that "the health of people affected by the Chernobyl accident is getting worse and worse every year."

*Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have completed a scientific study of workers at four U.S. Department of Energy nuclear facilities. The researchers found that exposure to ionizing radiation increases the risk of multiple myeloma, an often fatal cancer of blood-forming tissues. The study identified 98 workers who died of multiple myeloma from a combined roster of 115,143 people hired before 1979 at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Hanford, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Savannah River nuclear facility. According to the findings, workers with cumulative radiation doses of five rem or more were almost three-and-a-half times more likely to die from multiple myeloma than workers at the same plants whose cumulative exposures were less than one rem. Blacks were almost five times as likely as whites to have developed the illness.

Professor Steve Wing, one of the principal authors of the report, says: "Workers exposed to ionizing radiation at older ages appeared to be more sensitive than younger workers. However, this does not mean that it is safe for young workers to be exposed to radiation. Exposures during the child-bearing ages might lead to genetic mutations that could affect children and future generations." Because the dangerous exposures to ionizing radiation were in almost all cases below the limits which government regulations currently allow, the findings could bring about a revision of federal occupational exposure standards, the researchers said. The current occupational limit for radiation workers is five rem per year. For over a decade, the International Commission on Radiation Protection has recommended an average exposure of 1 or 2 rems per year for workers.

*Virginia Power, a nuclear utility based in Richmond, has pulled out of an experimental program to use weapons-grade plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads as fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. The plans of the U.S. and Russian governments to use plutonium in commercial reactors had previously encountered widespread opposition from safe energy advocates, nonproliferation proponents, and environmental and consumer organizations. Mary Olson from the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (or NIRS) says: "We are thrilled that Virginia Power has lost its enthusiasm for plutonium fuel. They have effectively joined the NIX MOX campaign [that we] launched in 1998 because of the tremendous danger that comes with using plutonium to fuel a nuclear reactor. It never made sense to us that any nuclear utility would take the risk of using their reactors for a first-time full-scale demonstration of weapons plutonium fuel. This stuff both increases the chances that a nuclear reactor accident will occur, and also makes a major accident much more deadly."

Referring to the unfolding debacle at British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (or BNFL), Michael Mariotte, executive director of NIRS, believes that "Virginia Power is to be congratulated for seeing what a bad deal MOX would be for them. With one of the largest MOX companies in the world, [BNFL] embroiled in scandal over their faulty MOX production, it is good time for every utility to re-think the MOX idea." BNFL management has been under fire for inadequate quality control checks on MOX fuel facilities in England and other safety lapses. Citizens organizations are now beginning to appeal to other nuclear utilities and their shareholders to follow the example set by Virginia Power and pull out of the plutonium fuel program.

Back to News Index