Lessons From Chernobyl Hampered By Fears Of Litigation

March 27, 1998

(Chernobyl and public health - The nuclear industry should fund an international foundation to learn from Chernobyl)

In an editorial in this week's BMJ, Baverstock suggests that those who benefit from the production of nuclear electricity should finance an independent international foundation to co-ordinate research and provide humanitarian aid to victims such as those affected by the Chernobyl accident.

The author reveals that despite initial scepticism within the scientific community that the effects of Chernobyl have caused a prevalence of thyroid cancers in children, the link is now very clear. He suggests that reluctance to believe that environmental sources of radiation could be strongly associated with serious disease is no coincidence, coming from countries where populations are more litigious (weapons testing in the atmosphere over Nevada in the early sixties appears to have left few parts of America unaffected by releases of Iodine-131, three or four times greater than those from Chernobyl).

Baverstock fears that if we continue in such a vein, the prospects of learning from the Chernobyl accident over the necessary time scale (the next 40 years for so) are bleak. Firstly, the former Soviet Union does not have the economic ability to conduct any epidemiological research within the affected region. Secondly, the initial scepticism and acrimonious debate in the international scientific community did little to encourage collaboration between agencies providing aid or conducting research. Finally, there is competition between scientists to find a 'marker' to clinically prove a link between radiation an certain caners, which, says the author, is wholly unproductive.

The author concludes by saying that for research results to be meaningful, independence from vested interests needs to be guaranteed. But he fears that the compensation issue in America and within the nuclear industry is potentially so large, significant sums could be spent to frustrate legitimate research in the hope of avoiding much larger sums in compensation.


Keith Baverstock, WHO European Centre for Environment and Health, Rome, Italy keith.baverstock@stuk.fi


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