CHERNOBYL CANCER? PROBABLY NOT.
Larry Buttrose mourns an untimely death:
A few weeks ago, a neighbour from up our street left a printed sheet of white paper in our letter box informing us that his wife had died, and that a memorial service would be held. It was very sad to read.No ifs, ands or buts: Chernobyl caused A*'s cancer. So did A* live close to the reactor, or was she perhaps one of the highly irradiated workers who tried to contain the mess? No:
A* was a delightful young woman. The couple had come to parties at our home, and she was elegant, charming and witty, even though she had little voice. The reason her voice was weakened was the cancer that had affected her throat, and the reason she had cancer, and would eventually die leaving her husband and child, was Chernobyl.
A* and her husband had come to Australia from Poland. After one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power station blew up in 1986, its plume of lethal fallout was carried on the winds far and wide. Poland was literally next door: it shares a border with Ukraine, and A* had been affected by the radiation.Sad and stirring? Yes. Did Chernboyl fallout cause her cancer? Probably not. The adverse effects of Chernobyl fallout have been carefully studied; the IAEA reporting:
While they had come to Australia and resettled, she had fallen ill.
Her husband said the doctors had told him they had never seen a cancer of its kind before. Last year he took A* to Germany for special treatment, but to no avail. After a decade of fighting the cancer with enormous bravery, A* died.
Apart from the dramatic increase in thyroid cancer incidence among those exposed at a young age, there is no clearly demonstrated increase in the incidence of solid cancers or leukaemia due to radiation in the most affected populations.So, whereas A*'s cancer might be Chernobyl related, it's impossible to know this with any certainty. It is therefore grossly irresponsible of the Sydney Morning Herlad to publish this anti-nuclear piece, based, as it is, on grotesquely cynical exploitation of a death to a "never before seen cancer" "caused by Chernobyl". Conjecture is not fact and should not be reported as such, even in an opinion piece.
By the way, Hiroshima cancers, while more common than normal, are not as common as many would suspect.
Editing note: Several errors have been corrected: the author is Larry, not Trevor Buttrose; the piece is in the Sydney Morning Herald, not The Age.