Friday, August 13, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Fires Highlight Growing Threat from Chernobyl Accident Radiation, Moscow Ecologist Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, August 13 – Fires in Bryansk oblast that were heavily contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident could spread radioactive particles to Moscow or even beyond, Russia’s leading ecologist says. But more important, he says, the fires show that the dangers from Chernobyl are increasing rather than declining and that Moscow is doing little to help.
In his Echo Moskvy blog today, Aleksey Yablokov, a candidate member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a leader of the Green Russia fraction, says that as a result of natural processes, “the number of radioactive particles on the surface is not declining but has been growing since the mid-1990s” (
Moreover, he continues, that process will continue and the amount of the radiation on the surface, including from Strontium, will increase “for several more years,” in what he estimates are the 70 percent of the forests in the contaminated area. (His figure is an estimate, based on Belarusian calculations, because Russian officials have not released any.)
And that is a serious danger to anyone who visits the area or, in the event of fires, to those living further afield, perhaps even “hundreds of kilometers” away, even though as Moscow officials have insisted, the total amount of Strontium-137 is declining as a result of leaching and decay.
What that can mean, Yablokov says, was shown in September 1992 in Vilnius, Lithuania, when “after serious forest fires in Belarus, the concentration of Chernobyl radioactive particles increased by a factor of 100,” a development that could not but threaten the health and well-being of people far from the site of the original accident.
Exactly how dangerous the presence of radioactive particles in Bryansk and other Russian oblasts may be, the scholar-activist continues, is difficult to say because the kind of information Russian government agencies release is dated, incomplete, and released in such a way that it may cause exactly the kind of panic the powers that be want to avoid.
“In the interests of the health of the present and future generations,” he continues, “are are needed are not the soothing words of Onishchenko and Shoigu but daily reports about radioactive background levels for all administrative districts in the parts of the Central Federal District which have been covered by smoke and not only them.”
Yablokov calls for the following steps to deal with the threat. First, he says, there would be daily monitoring of radioactive levels in the air, water, and food products “in all regions” where smoke from fires in contaminated areas may have carried the dangerous particles and thus endanger public health.
Second, Yablokov argues, such data should be included in daily weather reports. Third, Moscow must provide assistance to upgrade the fire-fighting capacity and forest protection systems in the areas where radiation contamination is greatest, including Bryansk, Kaluga, Tula, Ryazan, Belgorod, Voronezh, Penza and Leningrad oblasts.
Fourth, the powers that be must protect from radiation those who are involved in putting out fires in these territories and give them the same status and benefits that Moscow earlier extended to those who participated in the Chernobyl clean up and who in many cases have suffered illness as a result.
And fifth, officials should supply “to practically every apartment building,” Geiger counters so that people will be able to determine on their own whether their homes have been contaminated and whether they need to leave or take some other steps in order to protect their health.
Some of these measures could spark panic, but that danger would be minimized, Yablokov says, if the media were provided with regular and accurate data about radiation dangers and about what officials are doing to ensure that it does not have a negative impact on the population.
Unfortunately, the academician continues, the introduction of such measures clearly “goes against official policy” which includes the false notions that “it is time to forget the consequences of Chernobyl” and that “atomic energy stations and other atomic enterprises are perfectly secure.”
And he adds that “today we have encountered one of the consequences of the anti-ecological policy of the power vertical in relation to forests. Tomorrow, we will bitterly experience the impact of this anti-ecological policy in other areas, including water, soil, and useful ministers, city building, energy …”

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