The Chernobyl irradiated between cancer and despair
(The After-Chernobyl, Supplement of the World , April 20, 1996, p. II)
by Jean-PauI Dufour
KIEV and MINSK of our special envoy
In 1986, the strong image symbolizing the Chernobyl disaster was that of a firefighter, made bald by acute radiation, who awaited death in the greenish atmosphere of a sterile room of the Moscow “hospital number 6”. Ten years later, the martyr hero can be replaced by a child.
Sacha, for example, an eleven-year-old kid met at the clinic of Professor Evgueni Demidtchik, in Minsk (Belarus). A wound in the process of healing bars his throat, a trace of an ablation of the thyroid gland suffered two weeks earlier. In a few days, if all goes well, he will be able to join his parents, his infected village and his girlfriend who had also recently had an operation in the same department.
Only in the country to treat thyroid cancer, the establishment of Professor Demidtchik has seen 424 children like Sacha march since the disaster. Most came from the Belarusian region of Gomel, located some 150 kilometers northeast of Chernobyl, badly affected by the radioactive plume from the damaged power plant. On the other side of the border, Vladimir Babeschko, director of the Kiev Institute of Radiology, specifies that “ 542 children and adolescentsUkrainians have had thyroid cancer surgery. Fortunately, this kind of tumor can be treated fairly well. It nonetheless caused (according to official statistics …) the death of four children. Under normal conditions, thyroid cancer is very rare in children: Professor Demidtchik treated only seven in his establishment between 1976 and 1985 (none came from the Gomel region). These four deaths are therefore undoubtedly attributable to the aftermath of the disaster. More precisely, to the radioactive iodine absorbed by these children and fixed by their thyroid. Everyone agrees. A rare unanimity. For most of the other deaths, even among large irradiated patients, responsibility for radiation and radioelement contamination is the subject of heated debate among experts.
Epidemiologists estimate that the catastrophe could cause 6,000 to 17,000 cancer deaths in the next sixty years for the entire population of the former USSR. But these forecasts do not take into account the increase in the most diverse diseases observed by all specialists. In contrast, Greenpeace relies on the assertions of a Ukrainian doctor to assert that 60,000 deaths have already been recorded among the 360,000 “liquidators” of this country who participated in the fight against the fire at the plant and the cleaning of the plant. “restricted zone”. A figure described as “fanciful” by the spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency.
And yet, if people are to be believed, everyone is sick. In Belarus and Ukraine, the two republics most affected, any conversation inevitably ends with [sic] the mention of a friend or neighbor who died “from a heart disease” or even “from a lung weakness. », Obviously due to the accident. From the slightest cold to myocardial infarction, of course, to cancers (which, as everywhere, represent one of the first causes of mortality), the inhabitants tend, consciously or not, to attribute everything to Chernobyl.
Svetlana’s husband was an electrical fitter in Chernobyl. After the accident, he worked for several weeks to rehabilitate the networks damaged by the fire. Since then, she says,”
” Two years after the disaster, my vision from afar has deteriorated “, adds her daughter, a twenty-year-old student, sufficiently shrewd, however, to smile when she is told that the onset of myopia at twelve. is not necessarily a sign of irradiation …
One should understand. In the very difficult economic conditions experienced by the inhabitants of the former USSR, the status of liquidator is a precious asset. Admittedly, the pension – baptized “coffin premium” by its beneficiaries – is extremely modest. But you are immediately given the apartment that others can wait twenty years. Your children have priority for entering university and may have the chance to be invited abroad. While it is not necessary to be sick to benefit from these privileges, it may be wise to appear so.
However, we do see ” a steady increase in all diseases», Underlines Angelina Nyagu, president of the association of the doctors of Chernobyl. And in particular cardio-vascular, digestive or neurological disorders, dysfunctions of the immune and endocrine system and diabetes. It can be explained, according to her, by the stress due to the disaster, the displacement of the population, the fear of contamination. In addition, since 1990-1991, a brutal deterioration in living conditions caused by the collapse of the former USSR. ” All of these factors create a very serious psychological state, sometimes close to neurosis, which causes the appearance of psychosomatic illnesses and strongly influences the state of health of people ,” explains doctor Nyagu. The death and birth rates are clearly affected .
The same phenomenon is not observed among liquidators. The latter, she says, ” feel their life is over .” They drink and smoke a lot, sink into depression. Paradoxically, ” trauma, suicide and alcohol intoxication have become the main cause of death for them, while everywhere else [including the West] it is cancer and cardiovascular disease that come first! “
Angelina Nyagu does not hesitate, however, to evoke possible direct effects of radiation or contamination in the onset of these diseases. This opinion goes against the majority opinion among specialists, who generally believe that radiation only causes cancer in low doses. However, in the neurology department that Angelina Nyagu directs at the Kiev Institute of Radiology, researchers have highlighted a troubling relationship between the level of irradiation received and certain neurological disorders. The same kind of observation can be made for certain cardiovascular diseases, underlines Denis Mathé, scientific advisor at the French Institute for Nuclear Protection and Safety. It becomes difficult, under these conditions, to incriminate stress alone.
The only certainty is that people suffer and die, victims of the combined and inseparable consequences of two “accidents”: Chernobyl and the collapse of the former USSR. “ Perestroika in 1986, followed by Ukraine’s independence in 1991, were two positive historical and political events of considerable importance. But their first effect was to plunge our people into a long period of full begging , explains Ilya Liktarev, director of the Radiation Protection Institute. The totalitarian USSR could provide healthy food to the population and care for it. Our democratic countries do not have the means . ”