Radiation and Environmental Biophysics

, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 747–748

Reply to letter by Jargin on “overestimation of Chernobyl consequences: poorly substantiated information published”


  • Alexey Yablokov
    • Russian Academy of Sciences
    • Institute of Radioprotection “Belrad”
Letter to the Editor

DOI: 10.1007/s00411-010-0314-0

Cite this article as:
Yablokov, A. & Nesterenko, A. Radiat Environ Biophys (2010) 49: 747. doi:10.1007/s00411-010-0314-0

It was with great interest that we read Dr. Jargin’s comments (Jargin 2010) on our recent publication that appeared in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (New York Academy of Sciences 2009). Apparently, Dr. Jargin criticism is based on four sections (Chapters II-3,5,7 and IV-13) of our book that in total includes 18 separate sections. If he had read those sections describing the task which the author wanted to accomplish with their publication, and the methods of the meta-review applied in the study, his two general questions (about the character of information used and about a seeming contradiction with the IAEA position) would have probably been unnecessary.

Our book appeared as a reaction to reviews of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) devoted to the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident (IAEA 2006), which are based on a limited selection of «international literature on the medical consequences of the Chernobyl accident» written in English. This restriction of literature does not seem justified to us, as IAEA and WHO representatives (“Chernobyl Forum”) have ignored thousands of Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian publications that deal with the negative health consequences of the Chernobyl accident. The main reasoning for us to publish (New York Academy of Sciences 2009) was—as is often mentioned in the text of the book—was to summarize those publications. In the Foreword, the Introduction and in Chapter II, it is mentioned that obliteration of those publications is not acceptable both from a moral and an ethical (note that in general, medical practitioners could only add short statements about their studies in numerous scientific and practical conferences) but also from a methodological point of view (when the sample number is very large, there is no necessity to use statistical methods developed for a small number of samples).

In this respect, criticizing us with the fact that our conclusions are in disagreement with those of IAEA (2006) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR 2000) cannot but be surprising. The book itself was written as a counterpart to reports of official experts that may be connected to nuclear industry. In this respect, it is for example quite instructive that—as mentioned in our book—following an agreement between IAEA and WHO dated to 1959, WHO should “consult” with IAEA when publishing materials on radiation health effects. It is clear that any data on serious negative radiation effects are not advantageous for nuclear industries, and it affects WHO publications.

The task we wanted to cope with was to provide a scientific and practical analysis of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident and a description of the ways to alleviate them, but not to write an academic monograph. To perform such an analysis, one should not only include scientific publications but also other sources of information such as interviews with official persons (for example, about the number of thyroid cancer operations in different years or that of perished or sick liquidators in different regions), official documents and other important documentary evidence. To give just one example, in chapter 2 of Alexievich (2006), an unusual observation that requires future conformation is described, namely, that a physician met a seventy-year-old lactating woman in one of the Belarusian villages. But some years later, there appeared some scientific works showing the relation between radiation and abnormally high production of prolactin which could have caused the lactation in old women. Therefore, it is difficult for us to accept Jargin’s reproach that we used «non-professional publications».

It is also quite surprising that referring to scientific theses is criticized. Concentrated theses include scientific material compiled by researches within many years, and it is common practice in science to use their results.

Jargin is quite right that sometimes references in the text do not correspond with those used in the list of references. In these cases, we cited not all but only the basic works of the corresponding author. We also agree that, in some cases, translation from Russian to English was not very accurate which is, by the way, a general problem of translation from any of the Slavonic languages to English. For example, there are no strict rules for translating Russian letters such as «Ц», «Щ», «X», «Ю», «Я», «Й» and others. If necessary, however, it would not be a major problem to find any reference in question.

Some of Jargin’s critical remarks may be connected with the fact that the electronic version of New York Academy of Sciences (2009) on the website just allows isolated reading of selected chapters (this was made at request of the Publisher but not of the authors). It is also a pity that there is no complete list of references available in the electronic version.

At present, everybody can compare the picture of consequences of the Chernobyl as drawn by IAEA and WHO with that described in several thousands of scientific publications and many other documents, which is quite different. In terms of milk contamination, for example, the IAEA data are based on official contamination data published by governmental bodies. However, these milk concentrations should not exceed a level of 100 Bq/l, and, as stated in National Report of the Republic of Belarus (2006), “special concern is given to the quality of foodstuffs produced in the private sector … Sometimes there are the cases of production of milk having radionuclide contents above permissible norms”. By 2009, “A certain fraction of mushrooms, berries, wild flesh and fish consumed by inhabitants was highly contaminated, i.e., during the last three years about 30% of mushrooms, 15% of berries and 40% of wild flesh.” (http://www.chernobyl.gov.by/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=665&Itemid=1). The cited sources prove that IAEA just used “official” numbers on radionuclide concentrations, but that in reality there are still highly contaminated food stuffs, which was not included in the IAEA estimate.

We have doubts that these facts will persuade Mr. Jargin who has accepted the “global average individual annual dose of 2.4 mSv/a” as a reference point though the dose limit (according to Belarusian Legislation) uses 1 mSv/a (The Law of the Republic of Belarus 2001). At the same time, some part of inhabitants has got higher radiation doses.

As for pectin, the situation is the same. Dr. Jargin’s doubts about the 137Cs-lowering effect in the light of “a piece of apple or pear eaten accidentally” touch most of all. Taking into account that the quantity of pectin in two teaspoons of powder is equal to the quantity of pectin in 1,500 grams of apples, one should do all his/her best for “a piece of apple or pear eaten accidentally” and every day for 24 days, to have a significant influence on the objectivity of the experiment. That means that casual consumption of apples of pears could not influence the experiment, because pectin concentration in fruits is tremendously low in comparison with that in pectin powder.

Finally, we emphasize that statistical data processing of the medical data published in (New York Academy of Sciences 2009) was performed in accordance with standard procedures (e.g. Student’s test, calculation of mean-square errors and evaluation of the scientific significance of differences (Kasandrova and Lebedev 1970). Unfortunately, the program suggested by Dr. Jargin does not provide information on formulae and methods of calculation. Therefore, this is an issue that would require further discussion.

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© Springer-Verlag 2010