Physicians for Social Responsibility Cites Flawed Evacuation Zones, Nuclear’s Health Risks on Chernobyl Anniversary
April 26, 2011
- April 26, 2011 – Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) today cited gross
inadequacies in evacuation zones around nuclear reactors and underscored the ongoing health
risks of nuclear energy to the public.
The 25th anniversary of Chernobyl and the continuing crisis at
Fukushima—both Level 7 nuclear disasters—are clear reminders that standard
evacuation zones cannot protect the public from a nuclear accident. One-third of the population of the United States
(over 111 million people) lives within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor. Given the
consequences of the
Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, PSR is calling for a major reassessment of
contingency plans for nuclear accidents, as well as a full and fair accounting of the data on
the impact to public health and the environment.
PSR unveiled a new interactive Evacuation Zone Map at a press conference
today held jointly with the Institute for Policy Studies’ Robert Alvarez. The map, which is available at www.psr.org/evacuation2011, shows a person’s
residence in relation to a nuclear reactor and an evacuation zone.
“The original evacuation zone around the Fukushima reactors and the
current 10-mile evacuation
zone mandated in the US are insufficient,” said Jeff Patterson, DO, immediate
past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We must reevaluate our
contingency plans for protecting the public from these dangerous reactor sites.
The nuclear industry, and our government, continues to put innocent lives at
risk by ignoring the real dangers of nuclear accidents to public health. As we have seen in nuclear testing, the Kyshtym explosion, Chernobyl and now in Fukushima, when catastrophic releases of
radiation happen, they quickly affect not just populations nearby but the whole
world, spreading long-lived radioactive pollution everywhere.”
Using simulation software provided by the US Government, PSR analyzed
what would happen from a nuclear reactor accident near a major metropolitan area: the Braidwood reactor outside of
Chicago. The simulation modeled a loss of coolant accident with exposure of the reactor core, a containment breach,
and release of the reactor’s superheated radioactive fuel into the air. The
resulting plume of radioactive materials would extend north from the reactor
itself to the northern edges of metropolitan Chicago, and east into Indiana and
“The computer simulation of an accident at
Braidwood in Illinois showed that more than 200,000
people would likely receive high enough doses to develop radiation sickness and
20,000 might receive a lethal dose, according to PSR projections,” said Andrew S. Kanter, MD, MPH,
president-elect of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
The accidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima provide important lessons
regarding the danger to public safety and the need for evacuation zones that
are appropriate and feasible around nuclear reactors, if they are to continue
to operate. On April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear
power plant exploded, contaminating approximately 77,000 square miles of land
and spreading dangerous radioactive isotopes around the world. The impact of the disaster on public health
continues to be felt 25 years later.
From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled from the
contaminated areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. The range
of credible estimates of the number of resulting excess deaths ranges from
27,000 in a report by the Union of Concerned scientists (not including thyroid cancer or other causes) to 985,000 in a report by the New York Academy of
Sciences (including in
European countries, where there was radioactive fallout). The current
permanent exclusion zone around the Chernobyl reactor extends for 30 km and 5,800 square km is heavily contaminated. Areas
300-400 km away in Belarus are uninhabitable.
Hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of forest and agricultural
area are off limits or required decontamination.
In Japan, radiation from the crippled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex has been detected well outside the 20 km evacuation zone. Radiation
measurements of soil
samples taken as far away as 50 km from the reactor showed levels of cesium-137 which exceed the cut-off used for
determining the long-term evacuation zone around Chernobyl.
“The 50-mile zone for
Americans living near Fukushima recommended by Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Chairman Gregory Jaczko on March 16 was appropriate and should be required for
nuclear reactors in the United States as well,” said Dr. Kanter. “It is clear that the authorities and health care system would not be
able to properly protect the health of all the people and vulnerable
populations that would need to be moved in the case of significant reactor
accident, let alone the massive number of injured or potentially injured, and
the entire process would likely be a public health disaster.”
The nuclear industry’s most common argument is that there is no significant health consequences associated with low doses of
radiation. However, it is the consensus of the medical and scientific
community, summarized in the National Research Council’s BEIR VII report, that there is no safe level of radiation. Any exposure, including exposure to naturally
occurring background radiation, creates an increased risk of cancer. The BEIR report concluded that every thousand
man rems of radiation exposure will cause one cancer.
While the risk of low dose exposure may be very low for a given
individual, when large numbers of people are exposed, there are health consequences. If one person receives 1 rem of exposure, he
or she has a one in one thousand chance of getting cancer. If a thousand people are exposed, one of them
will get cancer. If a million people are
exposed, one thousand of them will get cancer.
While the dose of radiation in a glass of drinking water may be so low
that any one person does not need to take specific protective measures, the
cumulative impact on the whole community may be very significant.
“We cannot be asked to protect the public after the fact,” said Ira
Helfand, MD, a member of the Board of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“The health system cannot respond adequately to a large scale disaster on the
order of Fukushima. The risks to public health, the economy and our environment
from nuclear power far outweigh the benefits.”
FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (PSR)
Physicians for Social Responsibility is the largest physician-led
organization in the country conveying both the health risks and threats to human survival posed by nuclear
weapons, climate change, nuclear reactors and toxic degradation of the
environment. Founded in 1961 by physicians concerned about the impact of nuclear
proliferation, PSR shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize with International
Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War for building public pressure to
end the nuclear arms race. PSR is dedicated to improving national policy formulation and
decision-making about security, energy and the environment through the combined
efforts of credible, committed health professionals and our active and
concerned citizen members. For more
information, go to http://www.psr.org.