Friday, January 20, 2006

Deny

Yesterday Professor William Reville of UCC followed up a previous column he had written in The Irish Times before Christmas on the findings of the Chernobyl Forum report 'Chernobyl's Legacy - Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts'. One look at Page two of the linked report shows the groups who've invested in the research and, therefore, just how all encompassing it is and how reliable it should be. The gist of the report is that the long term effects of the accident in Chernobyl are nowhere near as bad as conventional wisdom suggests; (*only* 60 people have died as a direct result of the accident and, ultimately, radiation poisoning from the accident could, eventually, cause 4,000-odd deaths.

That's obviously a huge number and a tragedy, but the feeling of sorrow is tempered by remembering that numbers like 'tens of thousands' and even 'hundreds of thousands' have been bandied about for some 20-years. The report also highlights that people in the region are inclined to blame every problem in their lives on the Chernobyl fallout, a fatalistic attitude that causes people to drift aimlessly through their lives.

Considering the report brings relatively good news for the region, the reaction has been mostly of hostility. This is pretty amazing, as Prof Reville points out: "[Adi] Roche hints that the Chernobyl Report data was presented selectively in order to downplay the gravity of the situation. This would amount to falsification - a mortal sin in science. Why would hundreds of scientists conspire to do this? Indeed, how could they do this, since the true story would certainly leak out? The idea is preposterous and such charges reflect badly on those who make them."

He goes on to say: "I have spoken to people, with varied backgrounds, who read my article on the Chernobyl Report - accountants, civil engineers, bankers, technicians and scientists familiar with radiation. With the exception of the latter group, nobody believed the Chernobyl Report. People assume that radiation from Chernobyl has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and interpret the report as a "whitewash" on behalf of the nuclear industry. It is not unlikely that my personal poll would be replicated in a nationwide survey of public opinion. It is alarming that amateur opinion in the specialised area of health and radiation would take such strong precedence in the public mind over the considered study of hundreds of scientists."

Last year I made a point in relation to Eddie Holt's attack on the proposed incinerators that "while people may have genuine fears, they are often ignorant fears. That’s one thing, but when they have ignorant fears and refuse to be educated on them in case they don’t like what they hear, that’s quite another". That point stands here too. People don't like the nuclear industry, therefore any report - no matter how detailed and vigorously prepared - that appears to defend it is shouted down and personal anecdotes are allowed take precedent because people have no interest in believing it may not be such a monster and may be the best alternative to oil we will have for the considerable future.

Two years ago a number of electricians from our plant helped build an orphanage in Belarus. Afterwards Adi Roche came to our plant and spoke about Belarus - showing us pictures of malformed babies. It was quite distressing stuff. Now, while I don't doubt her sincerity or the need to help that country, I do think that maybe encouraging the people of the Chernobyl region to blame the nuclear bogeyman for all their troubles does nothing to help them recover economically and, given the evidence, appears to have hindered that recovery for 20-years.
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