Final chapter "Conclusions" of the Russian government report "25 Years After the Chernobyl Accident: Summary and Overview of its Impact and Overcoming its Aftereffects, 1986-2011"
This Article translated from Japanese. Russian National Academy of Science published the original report at 2011.(Russian) This report has not translated in English. GEPR hope to be used this content by all experts and people in the world. Mr. Keiichi Nakagawa, M.D, PhD, provided translated articles from Russian to Japanese to GEPR.
Over the past 25 years since the Chernobyl accident, the radiation health situation in the areas exposed to radiation has returned to normal, and the additional doses to the majority of the population of Chernobyl-affected areas is much less than the variability in the natural background radiation in the Russian Federation and many European countries.
Russia had the practical and scientific potential to develop and implement, in the short time allowed, a large-scale complex of protective measures for contaminated sites that substantially reduced the radiation doses to the population and largely solved these problems of unprecedented complexity:
- Avoid exceeding then established annual dose limits for public exposure in the USSR and European countries; and
- Avoid major losses in agriculture and forestry.
It is important to emphasize that the doses to evacuees were significantly lower than the current criteria for exposure during evacuation. This was possible due to the rapid adoption of clear decisions of the Government Commission on the Elimination of the Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident, the heroism and selflessness of the liquidators that worked to clean up the accident and the plant personnel to ensure security and the continued operation of the first, second and third reactors of the station, despite the complex radiation environment.
Some of the misestimation in the first years of disaster recovery would include: a limited amount of iodine prophylaxis, failure to restrict consumption of agricultural products, primarily milk, during the period while highly radioactive isotopes of iodine were present in them, and the implementation of large-scale resettlement of people in the period after 1988 while setting goals not always based on a number of countermeasures to the accident at the nuclear power plant site and within the 30-km zone.
In addition, the laws adopted in the 1990s included as criteria for inclusion in the Chernobyl zone those areas with cesium-137 contamination density above 1 Cu/km2 (37 kBq/m2), and these largely determined the scaling of multiple socioeconomic and psychological consequences at Chernobyl for many years. In fact, some of the areas were legally classified as an area with additional level of radiation exposure to the population that was actually below the level of exposure from natural background.
In the course of the socioeconomic situation at the time, the Chernobyl problem grew from issues in the realm of the radiological protection of the residents into the political realm. The socioeconomic situation in the affected areas was complicated by a difficult psychological situation, caused by factors specific to the population's perception of radiation exposure and the extent of their impact on health, disabilities, law-making and information policy.
Reducing the level of social tension in the radiation-contaminated areas should have resulted from providing a comprehensive communication activities related to overcoming the consequences of radiation accidents and establishing a culture of life safety for the population, providing easy access to information and increasing radiological literacy.
The material presented in this National Report convincingly shows that the role of the radiation factor was especially in the field of health, which is much less than that of other adverse factors society suffered from the Chernobyl accident. Data from the National Radiation and Epidemiological Registry demonstrated that radiation exposure to humans caused:
- 134 cases of acute radiation injury in firefighters and workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP), who were on the scene the whole day and night after the explosion; 28 people in this group died within a few months after the accident, another 22 died from various causes by the end of 2010;
- Less than 40% of 748 cases of thyroid cancer in children (at the time of the accident), identified in the period 1991-2008 in the Bryansk, Kaluga, Oryol and Tula oblasts (regions) were due to radioactivity;
- About 20 cases of thyroid cancer out of 115 cases of these diseases identified in a cohort of 84,772 liquidators, or people who worked in the area of radioactive contamination in the period from April to July 1986;
- Less than 80 cases of leukemia deaths among Russian liquidators who received radiation doses above 150 mSv, out of the 198 cases registered in the National Register for 1986-2007.
- In the past 25 years, a total of 40,000 of the liquidators (a little over 190,000 people) died from various causes. The most common cause of death was chronic ischemic heart disease (1,763 cases), and among the serious cancer diseases the most numerous were malignant neoplasms of the bronchi and lungs (485 cases). In addition, the overall mortality of liquidators did not exceed that of the general male population of Russia.
Furthermore, the mortality indexes and mortality rates of the population of the Bryansk, Kaluga, Oryol and Tula oblasts, which were the most radioactively contaminated after the Chernobyl accident were also close to that of national index.
At the same time, in recent years, the situation with infant mortality rates for each of these areas was greatly improved largely due to the implementation of government programs to assist the affected population after the Chernobyl accident.
Analysis of the situation in the subsequent 25 years after the accident showed that compared with the nature of the radiation factors, other consequences of the Chernobyl accident, such as psychological distress, disruption of normal life, restrictions on business activities related to the accident and material losses inflicted far more damage to people.
Now one can justly assert that one of the main lessons of the Chernobyl accident is the underestimation of the importance of social and psychological factors. Experience has shown that their role is crucial for radiation contamination of any scale. Decisions of management should be based on a comprehensive assessment of the long-term socioeconomic consequences of decisions including analysis of their impact on social psychology. A crisis in the development of sociopolitical situation is possible even in conditions of rapid objective improvement of the radiation situation. Effective and scientifically sound measures to eliminate the effects of radiation accidents can be implemented only with trust in government and with consistent and fair information policies.
Today's societal obligation to the majority of people affected by the accident is for the state to make restitution for the errors up until now. That is why social security must remain a priority for state Chernobyl programs for the time being.
At the same time, on the state level it is necessary to develop evidence-based strategies of social protection for various categories of citizens that were mobilized by the state to perform work that involves health risks. The basis of this strategy should be the long-term interests of not only the individual but also society as a whole.
The development and implementation of state policy in this area should take into account the following principles and criteria, taking into account the reasonable requirements of existing regulations and practices already carried out:
- Providing health protection for affected citizens with favorable environmental conditions and work in the affected areas are a priority of state policy in overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl accident (As it is clear in the articles 7, 41 and 42 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, when an emergency occurs, the main task is to protect the populace).
- Targeting and coordinating the activities of public authorities, local self-government, organizations and citizens in accordance with their rights, powers and duties in this area.
- Planning and implementation of measures to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, the definition of their scope and content takes into account the level of socioeconomic impacts of reasonable sufficiency and efficient use of financial resources.
- Health protection and rehabilitation of citizens included in the National Register. It is these categories of people requiring medical monitoring to detect diseases at an early stage, and the timely provision of preventive, curative and rehabilitative health care.
- The main criterion for deciding on appropriate actions to overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl accident is the average annual effective dose to the population, and for areas where it is below the norms – the cumulative dose of the population.
- The criteria for the organization of activities in agriculture and radiation monitoring of food raw materials and food safety standards are for quality and safety of food raw materials and foodstuffs.
- In areas where the average annual effective dose is less than the established norms, planning and implementation of activities for the socio-psychological rehabilitation of the population regarding radiation pollution control involves food raw materials and foodstuffs – and only if necessary.
It is clear that the implementation of state policy in the further elimination of the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant should be carried out under the new federal program "Overcoming the Consequences of Accidents for the Period until 2015," the main objectives of which shall be:
- Ensuring the necessary conditions for safe living and economic activities in areas affected by radioactive contamination following the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant;
- Development of methodological, technological and organizational measures to protect the population and minimizing the consequences of radiation accidents and incidents on the basis of experience to overcome the consequences of radiation accidents.
This corresponds to:
- The priorities of socioeconomic development based on a certain UN General Assembly resolution entitled "Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance: strengthening of international cooperation and coordination of efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster" on November 20, 2007, under which a UN action plan was drawn up for the rehabilitation in Chernobyl and its surrounding area for the period up to 2016; and
- The "Concept of Socioeconomic Development of the Russian Federation until 2020" approved on November 17, 2008 as Russian Federal Government Order No. 1662-r, which provides improved environmental quality and ecological conditions of human life, a significant reduction in the proportion of the population living in areas with adverse environmental conditions.
In view of the approaches to further overcome the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, the main directions of state policy in this area under the federal target program "Overcoming the Consequences of Radiation Accidents in the Period up to 2015" should be:
- creating the infrastructure necessary to ensure safe living conditions for people in the affected areas;
- Development and implementation of measures for the health of citizens exposed to radiation;
- Creating conditions for the safe use of agricultural land and forest resources (translator's note: land provided for forestry excluding that used for defense and the like; also includes non-forested land adjacent to forests) in radioactively contaminated areas;
- Improving radiation monitoring systems and their components, as well as predicting the future situation in the affected areas;
- Increasing the willingness of authorities and forces to take action to minimize the consequences of radiation accidents by improving the technical, technological, and organizational normative planning base;
- Information support and socio-psychological rehabilitation of citizens exposed to radiation;
- International cooperation in overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl accident and other radiation accidents.
In general, the implementation of state policy in the aftermath of the Chernobyl NPP under the federal target program "Overcoming the Consequences of Radiation Accidents in the Period up to 2015" will provide:
- Improving the environment;
- Rehabilitation and return to the sphere of economic activity of the territories affected by radioactive contamination;
- Maintaining the conditions of radiation safety of life and health and social protection for the most affected populations;
- Providing medical care to persons at greatest risk of negative consequences of radiation exposure (risk groups);
- Promoting the level and quality of life through the creation of conditions for a dynamic and sustainable economic growth in areas exposed to radiation; and
- Increasing the willingness of the executive authorities of the Russian Federation and the public to meet the challenges of overcoming the consequences of radiation accidents and incidents.
Lessons learned from the experience of overcoming the consequences of the Chernobyl accident are highly relevant in light of the accident which occurred in March 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
(2011 – The Ministry of the Russian Federation for Affairs for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters, Moscow, Russia. Source: web site of the Nuclear Safety Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences.)