UKRAINE (OBSERVATORY) – What happens to the health of people who have survived the Chernobyl accident? This was clarified by the authors of the new IAEA study, which was presented on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of this tragedy.
About his main findings Elena Vapnichnoy told Mikhail Balonov – chief research officer of the Russian Institute of Radiation and Hygiene and consultant to the UN International Committee, which deals with the consequences of atomic radiation.
Mikhail Balonov: Ten years have passed. Mainly, those who were children during the Chernobyl accident are observed. And there, of course, the number of thyroid cancers continues to grow. Moreover, it includes both a spontaneous increase in the incidence that is typical of a person. Say, children – a very low level of background, or spontaneous, incidence, and in adults it grows quite quickly. And now those who were children in 1986, they are now 30-year-olds, and they have spontaneously grown this incidence. At the same time, they are followed, very carefully, by modern diagnostic methods, this also helps to identify all these cases of cancer. Finally, what interests us the most is how many of these cases of cancer are caused by irradiation.
It turned out that over the past 10 years, compared with the previous 20 years after the Chernobyl accident, the incidence of thyroid cancer in this group has greatly increased, in total about three times. We have specifically been working on finding out how much of them are caused by radiation. According to the results of a thorough epidemiological analysis, it turned out to be – about a quarter. That is, roughly speaking, out of 20,000 cases, approximately 5,000 are still caused by radiation.
What interests us further is how this will continue, and whether they will leave at all. In principle, the proportion of radiogenic crayfish is gradually decreasing, but there is little data yet. This is the subject of observation, and, of course, these studies will continue as long as possible. I think that a few more decades.
Elena Varenichnaya: I wanted to clarify. You said that a quarter is cancer associated with radiation. But if you investigated children – you said 5,000 of those who were children at that time – how can you then determine whether he is connected with Chernobyl?
– No no. Now I will remember the size of the cohort. In my opinion, it was 18 million people. These are all children of Ukraine, all children of Belarus for 1986 and four regions of Russia. Of the 18 million people now formed about 20 thousand – that is, every one thousand still developed thyroid cancer. And from these 20 thousand – one quarter, or about 5 thousand, are supposedly associated with radiation. These are the ones who were really irradiated themselves. Some of them were irradiated in utero: that is, mothers were pregnant during the Chernobyl accident in May 1986. If a woman was pregnant, then her fetus was also subjected to some irradiation, and they also developed some of these cancers. But, of course, there were not so many pregnant women.
– I remember when the first report came out, it shocked many people, because the conclusion was that physical consequences are not so much after Chernobyl, but the people suffer from a kind of psychological dependence on help, live in fear all the time, often unjustified . Have somehow changed the conclusions or not?
“Not really.” I gave you these numbers – about 1 in 1000 children of that time developed thyroid cancer. I will not repeat myself. And actually this is all – other scientists do not observe other medical consequences.
– That is, there are no other types of cancer?
– No, not found. You understand, radiation epidemiologists are sensation hunters. They would be happy to find it. But they do not.
Now about the psychological consequences. Of course, what was said then was more acute, hotter and more correct. Now these passions have subsided, and already far fewer people attach importance to this in our three countries, and even in Western Europe. But this, I would say, is of material interest.
For example, people living in Russia in these contaminated areas and considered to be affected by Chernobyl receive some payments. They are very happy about this and, of course, attach great importance to this. Russia pays, Russia has this money.
Belarus has long ceased to pay individual payments, I think, 15 years ago. They transferred this money to another form. The money allocated for Chernobyl, they invest in improving the infrastructure, building hospitals, schools and so on. In Ukraine everything is more complicated, because there the economic situation is more complicated. Theoretically, their payments should continue, but they have purely economic problems with this.
– If we talk about fear, or rather, about its weakening, I know that tourism is already developing in Chernobyl, and many foreigners are eager to go there. Is it dangerous or not dangerous?
“They do not come to the dirtiest places.” Secondly, they come for a day or two. Usually it’s a day trip: in the morning they left Kiev, in the evening they returned to Kiev. Even when I worked at the IAEA ten years ago, we made such recommendations that in this period it is impossible to undergo serious irradiation, and the risks associated with it are absolutely insignificant. It’s more dangerous to be eaten by wolves, because there’s a lot of live creatures out there. There is also a paradise on earth for living nature: there are no people there, but there are beautiful forests, rivers, lakes. This is absolutely wonderful nature of the Ukrainian and Belarusian woodland, and there the livestock developed in an absolutely amazing way. There they moved the horses of Przhevalsky. In my opinion, in 1995 the Ukrainians transported there a cohort of these animals, they were released, and they develop there as in paradise. Predators are: I’m not joking about wolves.
“But do not they get infected there?”
– Yes, they, of course, are exposed to slightly increased irradiation, but the level is already such that does not lead to any real consequences. Effects on animals, of course, were, and very serious. But they were, in the main, in 1986. There were high levels of [radiation background], there some animals were exposed to large doses. And now it can be identified with great difficulty. That is, they are biologically there, but they do not influence health and reproduction of animals.