Alanis Morrisette sings in her 1996 hit, “Ironic,”1 http://www.google.com/search?q=alanis+morisette+ironic+lyrics&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8
“An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late…” and so on.
Those living near the site of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters may well hope that irony is on their side, as it turns out that Chernobyl radiation is still poisoning millions and in some spots, according to a new Greenpeace study, radiation levels are actually getting worse.2 Osborn, Andrew. “Locals eating radioactive food 30 years after Chernobyl: Greenpeace tests.” 9 March 2016. Reuters. 9 March 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/chernobyl-fukushima-radiation-idUSKCN0WB0B7 The irony? Hours after the release of the Greenpeace document, an Israeli group announced that it may have discovered a cure for radiation poisoning.
The Chernobyl meltdown occurred 30 years ago; the Fukushima event five years ago. According to the Greenpeace report, called Nuclear Scars: The Lasting Legacies of Fukushima and Chernobyl, over five million people live in areas still contaminated by radiation from these disasters.3 Dawe, Alexandra, et al. “Nuclear Scars: The Lasting Legacies of Fukushima and Chernobyl.” Greepeace. 9 March 2016. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/nuclear/2016/Nuclear_Scars.pdf Five million–that’s five times the population of the entire state of Hawaii. More than six thousand square miles of land is still considered unusable for economic activity. Again, for perspective, that’s about 1200 more square miles than the land mass of the entire state of Connecticut. Or the equivalent of driving across the US and back. But that’s nothing compared to the land mass still considered contaminated (although usable–go figure). We’re talking about 93,205 square miles, just about the size of the United Kingdom (which is 93,628).
According to the report, “This contamination touches every aspect of the lives of the people who must live in these places. It is in what they eat and what they drink. It is in the wood they use for construction and burn to keep warm as well as in the ashes they use as fertilizer on their fields and orchards. And just as this contamination will be with them for decades to come so will the related impacts on their health… Thousands of children, even those born 30 years after Chernobyl, still have to drink radioactively contaminated milk.”
Experts figure it will take about 10,000 years for the area within six miles of Chernobyl to become habitable again. The problem is that many people still live in the contaminated (but supposedly habitable) zones, and the study found that radiation levels in grains, for instance, have been increasing as time goes on, not decreasing. Because the surrounding area in Russia is economically depressed, local people can’t afford to buy anything but local produce, and in this case, local is anything but healthy. The problem is particularly pronounced in the surrounding forest, which can’t be cleaned up. One can only imagine that in a century, construction will cover those radioactive forested areas, and any living beings doing business in those zones will suffer the consequences.
Predictably, cancer rates have been climbing. The report notes that it’s too soon after Fukushima to see an increase in cancer rates, but in the area surrounding Chernobyl, birth rates are down, mortality rates are up, and there have been significant increases in thyroid cancer in both children and clean-up workers, elevated numbers of leukemia and breast cancer diagnoses in clean-up workers, an increase in cataracts, and higher rates of cardiovascular disease in the general population.
The prospect for Fukushima looks at least as dismal. In fact, the experts say “[they] have yet to fully stabilize the station and many fear radioactive emissions could resume in the event of another natural disaster.” In spite of this fact, the Japanese government is urging citizens displaced by the disaster to return to their contaminated homes by 2017, touting wide-reaching clean-up efforts that supposedly have made the area safer. But in so-doing, the government raised the maximum allowable exposure level for individuals by 20 times. Before Fukushima, the top exposure limit considered safe was 1 mSv per year, and it’s now 20 mSv per year. In other words, the clean-up efforts haven’t really done the job, and people are being forced to jump back into the nuclear stew as they’re going to be losing government support. Plus, according to a New York Times article just this morning, a full cleanup of the site will take at least another 40 years.4 Soble, Jonathan. “Fukushima Keeps Fighting Radioactive Tide 5 Years After Disaster.” 10 March 2016. New York Times. 10 March 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/11/world/asia/japan-fukushima-nuclear-disaster.html
And we can pretty much bet there will be another meltdown or some form of disaster resulting from the existence of the 398 nuclear reactors still extant in the world. Certainly, the Japanese judicial system thinks so, as evidenced by the fact that it just ordered one of the two remaining atomic power plants still operating in the country to shut down due to safety concerns. But as mentioned above, an Israeli company, Pluristem Therapeutics, may have just the thing to counteract radiation poisoning should another event occur.5 Ringler, Elana. “Israeli placental cell therapy could cure radiation sickness.” 9 March 2016. Reuters. 10 March 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-radiation-treatment-idUSKCN0WB1ZJ Israel has been working on its formula for at least a decade in preparation for possible nuclear attack from its hostile neighbors, but the remedy will work regardless of whether the radiation comes from a meltdown, a leak, or a bomb.
After exposure to radiation, cells begin to degrade and this can result in failure of multiple organs and death. The company already has conducted animal tests using an injection of placental cells into rodents exposed to high levels of radiation, with an astounding 100 percent recovery rate. The scientists took placental cells from women who had undergone cesarian sections and injected those cells into the muscles of rodents that had been exposed to high levels of radiation. The amazing thing is that the injected cells first affected the bone marrow and from there rebuilt cells in all the organs. The animals had been exposed to such high levels of radiation that they otherwise would have had a 70 percent risk of mortality.
The caveat is that the cocktail needs to be injected within 48 hours of exposure, and even if the government stockpiles huge supplies, it would be difficult to distribute the stuff to the entire affected population within two days of any sort of nuclear disaster. If it gets government approval and hits the market, you can bet some people will get bootleg supplies for their own use, just in case. In the meantime, those people already exposed to fallout from Chernobyl and Fukushima are a little too late to reap the benefits.
|↑2||Osborn, Andrew. “Locals eating radioactive food 30 years after Chernobyl: Greenpeace tests.” 9 March 2016. Reuters. 9 March 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/chernobyl-fukushima-radiation-idUSKCN0WB0B7|
|↑3||Dawe, Alexandra, et al. “Nuclear Scars: The Lasting Legacies of Fukushima and Chernobyl.” Greepeace. 9 March 2016. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/nuclear/2016/Nuclear_Scars.pdf|
|↑4||Soble, Jonathan. “Fukushima Keeps Fighting Radioactive Tide 5 Years After Disaster.” 10 March 2016. New York Times. 10 March 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/11/world/asia/japan-fukushima-nuclear-disaster.html|
|↑5||Ringler, Elana. “Israeli placental cell therapy could cure radiation sickness.” 9 March 2016. Reuters. 10 March 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-radiation-treatment-idUSKCN0WB1ZJ|