Population of Ukraine Continues to Suffer
From Chernobyl Nuclear Catastrophe
Ionizing Radiation Increases Risk of
Virginia Power Nuclear Utility Withdraws
from Plutonium Fuel Deal
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.
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.
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.
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
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