Jim Green protects his nuclear interest
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Jim Green protects his nuclear interest

Dr Jim Green, a long time anti-nuclear activist with Friends of the Earth is going into overdrive with the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.

Most disturbing for old Jimbo is this article in The Guardian by environmentalist, George Monbiot. After a television debate with Dr Helen Caldicott, Monbiot asked her for her references about the death toll from Chernobyl. When he checked the references he concluded:

Over the last fortnight I’ve made a deeply troubling discovery. The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made are ungrounded in science unsupportable when challenged, and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.

Monbiot uses as his reference the most credible report of Chernobyl, and describes it pretty accurately in my opinion as follows:

The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) is the equivalent of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Like the IPCC, it calls on the world’s leading scientists to assess thousands of papers and produce an overview.

Now let’s turn to what Green has to say:

Monbiot sides with the marginal scientists in arguing that low-level radiation is harmless. He cites a report from the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) to claim that the “official death toll” from Chernobyl is 43.

No, Monbiot is right, UNSCEAR is not marginal. Here is what the International Atomic Energy Agency has to say on the subject:

The most comprehensive analysis on human exposures and health consequences of the Chernobyl accident, both for workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, rescue and clean-up workers and for the population of Belarusian, Ukrainian and Russian areas contaminated with radionuclides, was provided by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), in its 2000 Report to the General Assembly.

Instead of actually looking at the number of people who died, which is what the world’s best epidemiologists did in the UNSCEAR report – Green, instead prefers to use theoretical extrapolations based from something in a 1996 IAEA Bulletin. Clearly, Green needs to decide if he thinks the IAEA or the UN is a credible source or not.

Another very basic problem with Green’s analysis is that the study by Cardis he talks about potential deaths, not deaths that have already occurred, and Cardis herself said:

Indeed, our analysis of the trends in cancer incidence and mortality does not demonstrate any increase that can be attributed to the Chernobyl accident.

Green also depends on his everlasting belief in Linear Non-Threshold Theory. I won’t bore readers by discussing this, but the increasingly credible and detailed studies suggest that the idea that even small amounts of radiation may give you cancer are bunk. Simply put, the kind of theoretical extrapolations Green depends upon are not found, for example, in the death rates of people living where there are high levels of natural radiation, or in areas neighbouring Los Alamos.

In particular, in the light of UNSCEAR’s finding, Green’s repeatedly stated opinion that…

The scientific estimates of the Chernobyl death toll range from 9,000 to 93,000

…is misleading.

What’s more, the UNSCEAR report found that fear of radiation turned out to be much more harmful to people than the actual radiation. A number of studies found that radiophobia, rather than radiation may have caused many suicides and abortions in northern Europe. It would do Green a power of good to read these studies, and then find a job that contributes to society.

(Thanks to JF Beck for one of the links.)

Disclosure: I worked in the Media Office of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation when Green opposed the new research reactor being built at Lucas Heights. Great news for Australia – I won, Green lost.