Lessons from Chernobyl

Washington, DC (April 21, 2011) - On Thursday, April 21, 2011 Global Green USA and the Embassy of Ukraine, in cooperation with Physicians for Social Responsibility, held a half-day event titled “Lessons from Chernobyl: 25 Years Later.” For complete coverage of the event please visit the C-SPAN website at: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/299154-1

The event began with an introduction given by Ambassador Olexander Motsyk of the Embassy of Ukraine and Dr. Paul Walker, Director of the Security and Sustainability Program at Global Green USA.  Both emphasized the importance of remembering Chernobyl.

Panel I of the seminar examined the history, facts and the resulting short- and long-term environmental and public health impacts of the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.  Dr. Arjun Makihijani from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) opened the first panel with an overview of the technical aspects of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Reactor meltdown.  Dr. Jeffrey Patterson spoke on behalf of Physicians for Social Responsibility about the medical implications of the radiation emitted from the Chernobyl reactor.  He emphasized that there is no safe dose of radiation and that one single dose of radiation is “sufficient to increase incidence of cancer later.”  Dr. Janette Sherman, an internist and toxicologist, showed data from Dr. Alexei Yablokov’s new book – Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. The book estimates that cancer deaths resulting from the fallout at Chernobyl total far more than 900,000. 

To give a social and political perspective, Dr. Natalia Mironova, president of the Movement for Nuclear Safety in Russia, argued that society did not have a chance to define and study the lessons of Chernobyl. According to her, this happened because of the system of secrecy and major social and economic changes that took place in the Soviet Union in late 1980s. Both Dr. Sherman and Dr. Mironova condemned historic agreements between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), International Labor Organization (ILO), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and other international organizations which may unduly restrict public statements critical of nuclear power.

In Panel II, experts discussed the challenges and risks of nuclear power as well as the future of nuclear energy.  The experts included: Dr. Edwin Lyman, Union of Concerned Scientists; Dr. Thomas Cochran, Natural Resources Defense Council; and Sharon Squassoni, Center for Strategic and International Studies. Dr. Edwin Lyman reminded the audience of the possibility of both ground and air terrorist attempts on nuclear power plants and that nuclear power disasters can occur in the United States.  Dr. Thomas Cochran stated that historically, taking the entire array of reactors worldwide (582), the rates of severe core melt accidents occur on average every 2.5 years. 

The presentations ended with Sharon Squassoni discussing the drivers of “nuclear enthusiasm” including climate change, energy security, and growing electricity demand as well as the dampening effects: cost, safety, waste, proliferation, and terrorism. 

In 2006, our partners at Green Cross Russia and Green Cross Switzerland published a book titled Unknown Chernobyl: History, Events, Facts, Lessons that provides additional information on Chernobyl.  The nuclear industry calls nuclear energy “clean,” but the possibility of a meltdown and the resulting long-term human health and environmental impacts refute this claim.  Global Green USA’sseminar series, “Energy Futures: Nuclear Power, Global Warming, and Nonproliferation,” explores the consequences of the nuclear fuel cycle from uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel production to finally spent fuel storage and the reprocessing of fuel rods. In addition, Global Green USA will explore the economics and terrorist risks of nuclear power.  Throughout these topics, we will consider the implications for global warming and for nuclear proliferation.  For more information on these events visit: http://www.globalgreen.org/events/166.