Downplaying the danger of Chernobyl


Tom Allan’s report of his holiday inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone (Nuclear reaction, Travel, 25 May) was both misleading and dangerous in its assertions. He gives the impression that the radiation dangers are minimal: “less radiation risk than on a single transatlantic flight”, according to his ornithologist Belarusian guide, Valery Yurko.

The problem around Chernobyl is not average radiation exposure but the millions of highly radioactive hotspots of radioactive particles spewed from inside the destroyed Chernobyl reactor core. The entire exclusion zone area has suffered from serious forest fires in the 33 years since the catastrophe, re-suspending these hot particles into the atmosphere and spreading them around.

I would recommend Mr Allan re-read the chilling warning in the incisive article by Dr Kate Brown of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seven weeks ago (Chernobyl’s disastrous cover-up is a warning for the next nuclear age of radioactivity, 4 April), based on her excellent new academic study Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future.

Mr Allan also inaccurately asserts “so far, the effect of radiation on the animal populations has not been visible”. I suggest he consult the extensive academic research of Professor Tim Mousseau of the department of biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, and his international colleagues, where he will find extensively set out the crippling effect of the radioactive contamination on both flora and fauna.
Dr David Lowry
Senior international research fellow, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

• Tom Allan is poorly informed about the risks of radiation. The external radiation he received may be low, but what about the radioactivity he inhaled? Internal radiation is far more serious than external radiation, as his lungs are likely still being irradiated from the radioisotopes he breathed in during his short visit.
Dr Ian Fairlie
Consultant on radiation in the environment, London

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