Advancing a Free Society

Is the Press Causing More Damage than the Japanese Nuclear Accident Itself?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I have no scientific expertise on nuclear power plants. I followed closely at the time the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and listened to accounts of a Russian nuclear scientist-friend who worked on the damaged roof of the Chernobyl plant the day after the explosion. He suffered no known health consequences, although he still has to be checked each year. I also know many young Ukrainians who were evacuated from Kiev and whose thyroids had to be monitored through their young adulthood. I also know that the Chernobyl accident, the worst nuclear-power plant disaster in history, claimed (according to the authoritative report issued in 2005 by the Chernobyl Forum) “fewer than 50 deaths directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.” In the future, The Chernobyl Forum speculates there may be an additional 4,000 deaths from cancer. They do not explain this estimate, but a quarter century has already passed since the accident with relatively few deaths.

Strikingly, the report labels the mental health impact of Chernobyl as “the largest public health problem created by the accident” and partially attributes this damaging psychological impact to a lack of accurate information. These problems manifest as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative, and dependency on assistance from the state.

The current hysterical press and TV reports are indeed creating a “mental health impact” as large as or larger than that of Chernobyl, despite the free flow of information in this case and Gorbachev’s attempted cover up of Chernobyl. The press feeds upon irresponsible statements, such as from the European Union's energy chief, Guenther Oettinger, who characterized the situation as out of control. "We are somewhere between a disaster and a major disaster…There is talk of an apocalypse, and I think the word is particularly well chosen." The media also pounce on pronouncements like radiation “twenty times normal,” where “normal” is usual background radiation. No one bothers to explain what 20 times more than about zero actually means in terms of health risks.

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