Radiation and Environmental Biophysics

, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 743–745

Overestimation of Chernobyl consequences: poorly substantiated information published


    • People’s Friendship University of Russia (Moscow)
Letter to the Editor

DOI: 10.1007/s00411-010-0313-1

Cite this article as:
Jargin, S.V. Radiat Environ Biophys (2010) 49: 743. doi:10.1007/s00411-010-0313-1

Previously, we commented on some publications overestimating medical consequences of the Chernobyl accident (Jargin 2007; 2009a, b). In this context, it is interesting to note that the New York Academy of Sciences published recently a volume dedicated to the Chernobyl accident (New York Academy of Sciences 2009). Most of the articles in this volume are authored by Alexei Vladimirovich Yablokov, whose work was previously criticized (Jargin 2010). In New York Academy of Sciences 2009, Prof. Yablokov cites mass media, commercial editions, websites of unclear affiliation and other non-professional publications, to substantiate his opinion. At the same time, international literature on the medical consequences of the Chernobyl accident is scarcely quoted and almost not discussed. Articles by other authors in (New York Academy of Sciences 2009) also include poorly substantiated information.

To give an example, Chap. 13 in New York Academy of Sciences 2009 on “Decorporation of Chernobyl radionuclides” (Nesterenko and Nesterenko 2009) is largely based on two previous publications (Bandazhevskaya et al. 2004; Nesterenko et al. 2004). A collective of 94 children from radiation-contaminated areas living in a sanatorium was subdivided into 3 groups according to the 137Cs activity concentration measured in their bodies. The following figures are presented (Bandazhevskaya et al. 2004): in the first cohort (33 children), activity concentration was below 5 Bq/kg body weight; in the second cohort (31 children), it was 38.4 ± 2.4 Bq/kg, and in the third cohort (30 children), it was 122 ± 18.5 Bq/kg. The difference between the second and the third cohort is extremely significant (P < 0.001), whereas the difference between the first and the second cohort is virtually absolute (P-value approaching zero). In general, the P-value indicates whether the populations really have the same mean, and whether there is a chance that random sampling would result in means as far apart as observed (GraphPad 1999). The extremely low P-value demonstrates that the given figures cannot come from a single group of children, all of them “originating from the same rural area of the Gomel oblast” (Nesterenko et al. 2004). Statistically significant differences between the groups were found also in regard to cardio-vascular symptoms unusual in children, such as arterial hypertension and alterations of the electrocardiogram (ECG). Furthermore, it is reported that treatment with apple pectin significantly reduced the 137Cs body burden of the children and was also associated with an ECG improvement. Note that, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 137Cs activity concentration in milk from contaminated areas (the main alimentary exposure source for children) has been under the permissible level since 1996 at the latest (IAEA 2006) and that the study in question was performed in 2003. Moreover, the 137Cs-lowering treatment with apple pectin, “a sorbent binding heavy metals (including 137Cs) in the intestinal lumen” (Nesterenko et al. 2004) appears pointless in a sanatorium where all children “received exclusively clean food” (Nesterenko et al. 2004). A teaspoon of diluted apple pectin given twice a day to the children was reported to reduce the “137Cs level in children” by 62% (Nesterenko et al. 2004), the corresponding P-value being not only below 0.01, as it is indicated in the article, but in fact below 0.0001 [paired t-test calculated on the basis of the figures from (Nesterenko et al. 2004) using GraphPad InStat version 3.00 for Windows, GraphPad Software Inc., San Diego, California, USA. (http://www.graphpad.com)]. The extremely significant difference and, correspondingly, pronounced 137Cs-lowering effect of the apple pectin treatment appears doubtful because consumption of apples and other pectin-containing fruit should have been strictly monitored (which is not mentioned in the article): note that if two daily teaspoons of diluted pectin (based on milled apple leftovers after pressing) reduces the “137Cs level” by 62% (Nesterenko et al. 2004), then a piece of apple or pear eaten accidentally could have significantly influenced the results of the experiment. One of the concluding statements in Nesterenko and Nesterenko 2009, i.e., “Twenty-two years after the catastrophe the true situation in Chernobyl’s heavily contaminated territories shows that the internationally accepted individual dose limit is in excess of 1 mSv/year because of the unavoidable consumption of local radioactively contaminated products”, is incomprehensible because the global average individual annual dose from natural background is about 2.4 mSv anyway, being several times higher in some countries and much higher in some densely populated areas without any known medical consequences (Balaram and Mani 1994; Mould 2000; Ghiassi-nejad et al. 2002; Prekeges 2003).

With regard to the publications by Yablokov (2009a, b, c, d), and others in the same volume, statistics and other data are quoted with references to mass media, commercial editions, releases of lay public organizations, websites of unclear affiliation (some quoted URLs don’t work), other non-professional publications, patents, personal communications etc. References in the text and in the reference list not always agree.

Here follow several examples. Citations from the text are paired with corresponding references.
  1. 1.

    “In 2003, some 99.9% of the liquidators were officially “sick” in Kiev; 96.5% in Sumy Province were sick and 96% in Donetsk Province (LIGA, 2004; Lubensky, 2004).” (Yablokov 2009a)–LIGA (2004). Chernobyl: Medical consequences 18 years after the accident. LIGA-Business-Inform, April 22, and Lubensky, A. (2004). Forgotten victims of Chernobyl (http://www.english.pravda.ru/world/20/92/370/12608_Chernobyl.html04/23/200418:06; http://world.pravda.ru/world/2004/5/73/207/16694_Chernobil.html).’

The following examples are from (Yablokov 2009b):
  1. 2.

    “In one village we found twelve lactating elderly women (Aleksievich, 1997).”–Aleksievich, S. (1997). Chernobyl Prayer: Chronicle for the Future (“Ostozh’e,” Moscow): 223 pp. (in Russian) (cited by Literaturnaya Gazetta, Moscow, April 24, p. 3).’

  2. 3.

    “There are increasing instances of a phenomenon termed “Chernobyl dementia” which includes disorders of memory, writing, convulsions, and pulsing headaches, caused by destruction of brain cells in adults. (Sokolovskaya, 1997).”–Sokolovskaya, Y. (1997). One more Chernobyl shock: Radiation harms not only heart and blood, but brain. Izvestia (Moscow), October 3, p. 5 (in Russian).

  3. 4.

    “Under the influence of irradiation a large amount of testosterone develops in the female organism. Testosterone is a male hormone that is normally present only in very small quantities in females, but when a woman has too much of it she can lose her female characteristics… (Ulevich, 2000)”–Ulevich, O. (2000). Chernobyl girls turn into boys. “Version” (Moscow) 7, February 22–28, p. 14 (in Russian).

  4. 5.

    “From 1991 to 1998 the incidence of ischemic heart disease in liquidators increased threefold, from 20 to 58.9% (Zubovsky and Smirnova, 2000).”–Zubovsky, G. and Smirnova, N. (2000). Chernobyl catastrophe and your health. Russian Chernobyl (http://www.portalus.ru/modules/ecology/print.php?subaction=snowfull&id) (in Russian).

  5. 6.

    “By 1998 nervous system and sense organ diseases in children had increased sixfold compared to 1986 (TASS, 1998).”–TASS (1998). Morbidity of Ukrainian children increased six times after Chernobyl accident. United News Line, April 6, Kiev (in Russian).

  6. 7.

    “The expression of chronic pancreatitis in liquidators correlated with the level of irradiation and the degree of the lipid peroxidation (Onitchenko et al., 2003)”–Onitchenko, N. P., Kokyeva, O. V., Sof’yna, L. I., Khosroeva, D. A. & Litvynova, T. N. (2003). Method of risk prognostication for development of chronic pancreatitis in liquidators. Russian Patent 2211449, MPK {7} G-1N 33/48, G01N 33/50/-N2001114065/14; Bull. 24 (in Russian).

Note that abbreviated titles of Russian-language journals are often given in the reference list differently from conventional abbreviations used by MEDLINE. Moreover, a major part of literary sources quoted by Yablokov are abstract books of meetings and conferences in Russian and other languages of the former Soviet Union, institutional editions, candidate’s and doctoral theses, brochures, etc. Their titles are roughly translated into English, which makes their finding in libraries hardly possible even in the former Soviet Union. For the rest of the world, most of the quoted editions are totally unavailable. Following are several quotations from Yablokov (2009b) paired with corresponding references:
  1. 8.

    “Impairment of blood circulation in the brain (neurocirculatory dystonia) was found in a majority of the liquidators examined in 1986–1987…These changes occur mainly owing to disease of small arteries and arterioles (Troshyna, 2004)”–‘Troshyna, O. V. (2004). Abnormalities of cerebral hemodynamics and peripheral neuromotor system in liquidators after many years. M.D. Thesis (Institute of Total Pathological Pathophysiology, Moscow): 23 pp. (in Russian).’

  2. 9.

    “Researchers reported vertebral osteochondrosis, osteoarthritic deformities of the extremities, atrophic gastritis, and other problems in the exposed population. (Ostroumova, 2004)”. “Infectious disease deaths among infants were significantly correlated with irradiation in utero (Ostroumova, 2004)”–Ostroumova, E. V. (2004). Abnormal clinical processes and fate of persons with chronic radiation sickness following long-term exposure during antenatal and postnatal periods. M.D. Thesis (Tyumen’ Medical Academy, Tyumen’): 22 pp. (in Russian).

  3. 10.

    “Pathological tooth enamel erosion is widespread among liquidators (Pymenov, 2001).”–Pymenov, S. V. (2001). Search of stomatological status and complex health demands of liquidators. M.D. Thesis (Institute of Advanced Training, Moscow): 26 pp. (in Russian).

  4. 11.

    “Children and the teenagers living in the contaminated territories have a significantly higher incidence of dental caries. (Sevbytov, 2005).”–Sevbytov, A. V. (2005). Clinical manifestations of oral diseases and delayed effects of irradiation. M.D. Thesis (Stomatology Institute, Moscow): 51 pp. (in Russian).

  5. 12.

    “For children in the contaminated areas of Tula Province, endocrine morbidity was fivefold higher in 2002 compared to the period before the catastrophe. (Sokolov, 2003).”–Sokolov, V. V. (2003). Retrospective estimation of irradiation doses in the Chernobyl radioactive contaminated territories. Ph.D. in Technology Thesis (Tula University, Tula): 36 pp. (in Russian).


At the same time, international literature is scarcely quoted and almost not discussed by Yablokov. Statements such as “More than 20 years after the catastrophe, by virtue of the natural migration of radionuclides the resultant danger in these areas has not decreased, but increases and will continue to do so for many years to come. Thus there is the need to expand programs to help people still suffering in the contaminated territories, which requires international, national, state, and philanthropic assistance.” (Yablokov 2009d) are in disagreement with those of IAEA (2006) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR 2000), according to which no somatic disorder or immunological defect could be associated with ionizing radiation caused by the Chernobyl accident (with the exception of the increased risk of thyroid cancer in those exposed at young ages). Probably, this citation illustrates one of the motives prompting to overestimate Chernobyl consequences.

A concluding point is that the review series by Yablokov et al. (2009a, b, c, d) and Nesterenko and Nesterenko (2009) contain poorly substantiated information exaggerating the medical consequences of Chernobyl accident.

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