Rosalie Bertell , MD, PhD.
She is the recipient of five honorary degrees. Among her many awards can be numbered
the Alternative Nobel Prize, Right Livelihood Award; World Federalist Peace Award;
Ontario Premier's Council on Health, Health Innovator Award; the United Nations
Environment Programme Global 500 award and the Sean MacBride International Peace
Prize. She has recently been selected to be one of the 1000 Peace Women nominated for
the Nobel Peace Prize, 2005. Rosalie has published numerous articles, reviewed articles
for professional journals and was editor of the journal, "International Perspectives in
Public Health". Her books, "No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth"
and "Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War" can be obtained from IICPH. "Handbook
Chernobyl: An Unbelievable Failure to Help
By Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH
The disaster at the Chernobyl power reactor near Kiev, which began on 26 April 1986, at
1:21 AM, was one of the worst industrial accidents ever suffered in the world. Yet the
global community, which is usually most generous in pouring out aid to a stricken
community, has been slow to understand the scope of this disaster and to reach out to the
most devastated people of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. It is the purpose of this
discussion to probe the causes of the confusion of perception and failure of response to
the needs of these victims. Clearly the problem is one of communication, and the true
picture has not been well communicated to concerned people of all countries and faiths.
Has the International Atomic Energy Agency betrayed the victims of the Chernobyl
disaster because of its plans to promote the “peaceful atom” nuclear program in the
developing world? Has the World Health Organization failed to provide clear and reliable
health effect information and data on the extent of the suffering and death resulting from
this disaster? Are there other historical problems or actors which are now seen to interfere
with reasonable handling of the late effects of a nuclear disaster? Most importantly, what
can be done to remedy this tragic situation, both assisting those most hurt by the late
effects of Chernobyl, and preventing such injustice from occurring in future? At this time
of global crisis over climate change, with the current promotion of nuclear energy as a
“solution”, it is important to revisit the Chernobyl event and to take a sober second look
at the reality of the nuclear energy experiment, and the management of its hazards.
Although I sent my Handbook for Calculating the Health Effects of Exposure to Ionizing
Radiation1 to the Moscow Hospital 6, where the worst exposed first responders were
being treated, as soon as I learned about the Chernobyl accident, my first trip to Kiev and
Chernobyl was in 1989, three years after the disaster,. None of the pictures I took in 1989,
within the 30 km. exclusion area or near to the sarcophagus, turned out - probably
because the level to radiation being emitted from the failed reactor #4 was still too high.
I learned that the area around Chernobyl was once the cradle of icon painting and I saw
centuries old icons strewn on the floor of the nearby new library. These medieval icons
were now too contaminated with radioactivity to handle. The apartment buildings in
Pripyat were abandoned, schools closed and playground swings and slides stood idle.
Even a forest had been buried as radioactive waste. While a few physicians were alarmed
at the health problems they were seeing, most were telling people that they did not have
radiation sickness, and their worries were merely radiophobia.
By my second visit in 19912, five years after the disaster, there was no longer any talk of
radiophobia, rather, the increased illnesses among children and the cleanup workers had
become seriously disturbing. Dr. Maya Fomina, the physician who led the emergency
medical team at the disaster site in 1986, told me that while about 33% of the clean-up
workers were ill in 1987, 67% were ill by 1991 with a wide variety of chronic disorders.
These workers were between ages 18 and 30 at the time of the disaster, and in prime
health. Dr. Fomina had just lost a 22 year old assistant, one of her best medical
technicians, also a worker in the emergency tent3. She commented softly: “I did not mean
to give a death sentence when I chose her!”
Children exposed to Chernobyl fallout were experiencing chronic adult diseases of the
respiratory and blood systems, gastritis, nervous system diseases, cardiovascular diseases
and other diseases of internal organs. In general, in 1991, the level of serious illness in
children was about six to seven times above normal, while serious illness in the clean-up
workers was three to four times above normal. Medical technicians brought in to help in
the emergency were not trained in identifying radiation related blood changes, so they
often missed the early symptoms of developing physiological abnormalities4. There was
little over-all control of medical and environmental exposure records to assist researchers
who would later monitor the changes in health.
The numbers of victims was staggering: 650,000 workers were directly involved in
fighting the fire, assisting evacuees, and cleaning-up. About 116,000 people had been
evacuated from the 30 km. radius, which included the thriving city of Pripyat and more
than 70 other settlements. Additionally 77 administrative districts in 12 regions of
Ukraine, including more than 1500 villages, residential area and towns were heavily
contaminated with radioactive material. It is estimated that by 1991, about 200,000
people were still living in the high risk areas of Ukraine, and many more were exposed to
the nuclear fallout in Belarus and Russia5. Yet internationally, there was little outpouring
of help and concern by the general public!
Even in 1991 there was widespread concern in Ukraine about 150,000 people, including
60,000 children exposed to high levels of radiation to the thyroid gland (2000 mSv for
children and 5000 mSv for adults). This problem was not discussed or admitted
internationally until the release of a paper in the British Journal Nature6 and the World
Health Organization (WHO) call for help to aid child thyroid cancer victims in 1999. Dr.
Keith F. Baverstock, Head of the Department for Radiation and Health at the European
Office of WHO in Rome, has testified that the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) experts knew of at least twenty cases of rare childhood thyroid illness in Ukraine
Dr. Keith F. Baverstock visited the Gomel Region of Belarus, which had received
significant fall out from Chernobyl, and noted the dramatic increase in thyroid cancer
especially in very young children. Even in major European or American cities, one rarely
saw more than one or two cases in a year, and on his visit to a hospital in Minsk he saw
11 such cases in one day. Baverstock stressed the problem of the very close dependency
of the people of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia on their environment:
“(T)hey depend on the earth to grow things and feed themselves and their animals,
on the rivers and lakes for fish and water, and on the forest for its fruits of berries
The International Chernobyl Project
In 1989, the former Soviet Union, its credibility shattered because of its non-handling of
the Chernobyl disaster, invited the IAEA to review the health impacts. In 1991 the IAEA
reported that no health problems in the victims of Chernobyl could be linked to radiation!
This 1991 report on health was chaired by Professor Fred Mettler, Jr., Director of the
Medical Expert Group of the IAEA International Chernobyl Project. Dr. Mettler, Jr., MD,
was Chair of the Department of Radiology, at the University of New Mexico, School of
Medicine, Albuquerque, NM, USA. On April 24, 2006, the twentieth anniversary of the
Chernobyl disaster, Dr. Zenon Matkiwsky gave the following rebuttle of Dr. Mettler’s
“In July 1992, I took part in a U.S. Congressional Hearing and I listened to the
The UNSCEAR researchers appear to have relied on eliminating all cancers occurring in
the first ten years after the accident, and they reported a rough estimate of deaths, using a
minimal risk factor reduced by a DDRF (Dose and Dose-Rate Reduction Factor) for
estimating cancer deaths in the areas where they admitted contamination of land, milk
and potatoes. It is well known that radiation, through its mutation ability, can accelerate
the development of any cancers present in the population at the time of the disaster. Many
early, uncounted cancers may fit into this category51.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Many people are mystified that three UN Agencies (IAEA, WHO and UNEP) appear to
be agreeing on the minimal damage done to the people directly affected by Chernobyl
and other low dose radiation exposures. I think this is a failure to understand the profound
influence wielded by ICRP which dictates not only what should be of concern to UN
Agencies, but also provides the methodology which must be used in order to determine
both the dose of ionizing radiation received by the victims and the risk posed by that
dose52. All of the U.N. Agencies use these same protocols, methodologies and risk
estimates - hence there are no independent assessments. Reform of the UN must assure
independence of its agencies.
Numerous independent scientists and physicians have challenged the ICRP “system” for
under-estimating radiation dose and risk, especially that for internal exposures53, 54, 55, 56,
and while it is broadly admitted to be an underestimate of harm there is no widely
accepted methodology to replace it. This is the direct result of the constrained and
secretive science practiced since the early 1940’s and 1950’s with respect to nuclear
technology. It is a disgrace in the 21st century!
The time has come to replace closed science with open science, self-perpetuating
committees with professional societies accountable to their peers, and monopolized areas
of research with properly funded transparent scientific research. While physics is needed
to identify and quantify the strength and nature of a radiation source, physicians with
expertise in epidemiology, toxicology, oncology, pediatrics and community health should
describe the injury caused by it, and the ramifications of the exposure for the public
health. The need is urgent for UN reform in this important area on which the survival of
the human species and the environment may well depend.
1. Handbook for Estimating the Health Effects from exposure to Ionizing Radiation,
compiled by Rosalie Bertell, IICPH Toronto, Canada; MCPH Buffalo, USA; and
IRRTI, Birmingham UK. 2nd Edition 1986.
2. R. Bertell, “Chernobyl: April 1991”, Environmental Health Review, Vol. 14, Fall
3. R. Bertell, “Chernobyl”, in Environmental Awareness, Vol. 16 (2) pp 49-55, 1993,
The International Society of Naturalists (INSONA), India. -
4. R. Bertell, “Internal bone seeking radionuclides and monocyte counts”,. International
Perspectives in Public Health, Vol. 9, 1993.
5. P. Webster, “Lessons from Chernobyl”, New York Times, 8 June 2003, Note: this
article was in the 23 April 2003 issue of The Nation, posted to the web on 8 April
6. K. F. Baverstock Nature, Vol. 359, 3 September 1992, , WHO European Centre for
Environment and Health, 00156 Rome, Italy.
7. K. F. Baverstock, “WHO calls for more aid to help child thyroid victims”, World
Health Organization, ECEH, Rome Division 1995.
8. P. Webster, “Lessons from Chernobyl, in The Nation, 23 June 2003.
9. ibid. Ref. 6, WHO 1995.
10. Chornobyl Chronicle, Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund
Newsletter, Spring 2007 Vol.XXXVIII.
11. ibid.Ref. 5.
12. ibid. Ref 6.
13. December 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower gave the "Atoms for Peace" speech at
the United Nations in New York, USA.
14. Funding is difficult to estimate for the Atomic Bomb Casualty commission,
September 1945 to 1974, and the Radiation Effects Research Foundation 1974 to
present, because of changes in the values of the dollar and yen. However, the United
States Atomic Energy Commission and National Science Foundation contributed
between $1 and $3.5 Million each year in the ABCC period, and there was joint US-
Japanese funding since 1974. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Vol.
95, Issue 10, 5426-5431, May 12, 1998.
15. A. Yaroshinskaya, Chernobyl 20 Years Later. The Crime without Punishment.
Publishing house is "Vremya" (The Time), Moscow, 2006.
16. ibid. Ref. 7
17. Biological Hazards of Atomic Energy, Papers from a Conference held in London,
1950, by the Institute of Biology and the Atomic Scientists Association. Ed. A.
Haddoe, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1952.
18. R. Bertell,. “Avoidable Tragedy Post Chernobyl”, Humanitarian Medicine, Vol. 2(3)
p 21-28, 2002
19. ICRP #60, 1990.
20. Several published studies have shown increases in cancer above the expected value
shortly after exposure to radiation, prior to the ICRP designated latency period for
radiation induction. This was also observed after the Chernobyl disaster. See US
National Academy of Science BEIR III Report, 1980, page 369. They report here on
the ankylosing spondylitis patients followed by Sir Richard Doll. There were 28
cancers of colon deaths in the irradiated patients, with 17.3 expected. Of these, six
occurred in the first three years with 2.52 expected. The authors conclude: "the early
excess was not caused by radiation, but was related to the treated disease. Although
the group not treated with radiation showed no such early excess".
21. .Committee Membership Information on National Institute of Occupational Safety
and Health (NIOSH) Research Programs, p484, paragraph #157.
22. P. Nowell ,“The Clonal Evolution of Tumor Cell Populations”, Science, October
1976. This work has been confirmed recently by research into genomic instability.
"The loss of stability of the genome is becoming accepted as one of the most
important aspects of carcinogenesis" in “Genome Instability and Ionizing Radiation”
by WF Morgan et al. in Radiation Research 146: 247-254,1996
23. Radiation Research Vol. 137, 1994, contains the four main papers on cancer
incidence rate in atomic bomb survivors.
24. In Ref. 16: F. B. Ford, “The Influence of Radiation on the Human Genotype”..
25. "New A-bomb Studies Alter Radiation Estimates", Science Vol.212, 22 May 1981,
26. ICRP Publication 60: 1990 Recommendations of the International Commission on
Radiological Protection, 60. Annals of the ICRP Volume 21/1-3.
27. U.S. Japan Reassessment of Atomic Bomb Radiation Dosimetry in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, Final Report. RERF (Radiation Effects Research Foundation) 20 June 2006.
28. ICRP Publication 63: Principles for Intervention for Protection of the Public in
Radiological Emergencies. ICRP 22: (4) 1991
29. CHERNOBYL: Environmental, Health and Human Rights Implications, Transcripts
from the Permanent People's Tribunal Hearing, Vienna, Austria, April 1996. IPB
30. V.T. Padmanabhan, Sugunan AP, Brahmaputhran CK, Nandini K, Pavithran K.
“Heritable anomalies among the inhabitants of regions of normal and high
background radiation in Kerala: results of a cohort study, 1988-1994”. International
Journal of Health Services.34(3):483-515, 2004
31. .2003 Recommendations of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, Regulator’s
Edition, Brussels, 2003.Editor: Chris Busby, Published by Green Audit, Castle
Cottage, Aberystwyth, SY23 1DC, U.K.
32. Institute de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleare, Response to ECRR: “Health
Consequences of Chronic Internal Contamination by Radionuclides” DRPH/2005-20,
Paris 2005 and NATO Report, August 1992, submitted to Defense Ministry, Paris,
June 29, 2005; made public in France, 1 July 2005.
33. R. Bertell, Occupational Hazards of War: “Depleted Uranium: all the questions about
du and Gulf War syndrome are not yet answered”. International Journal of Health
Services, Volume 36, Number 3, Pages 503–520, 2006 © 2006, Baywood Publishing
34. United Nations Scientific Committee of Atomic Radiation Report to the General
Assembly in 2000. Volume II Effects. Annex J, page 484, paragraph 157.
35. From Obninsk Beyond: Nuclear Power Conference Looks to Future. International
Atomic Energy Agency. Retrieved on June 27, 2006.
36. 50 Years of Nuclear Energy (PDF). International Atomic Energy Agency 2007
37. “On This Day: 17 October”. BBC News. Retrieved on 2006-11-09.
38. Bernard L. Cohen. The Nuclear Energy Option. Plenum Press (out of print).
39. History of the International Atomic Energy Agency: The First Forty Years, by David
Fischer, IAEA fortieth Anniversary Publication, 1997, Vienna, Austria, page 326.
40. In “Nuclear Safety: Impressive & Worrisome Trends”, IAEA Bulletin 47/2, 1999.
41. Res. WHA 12-40, passed by the World Health Assembly, 1959.
42. The Draft Statutes of this proposed agency can be found at: http://www.world-
43. New Scientist, 6 April 2006.
44. R. H. Nussbaum and W. Kohnliein, "Inconsistencies and Open Questions Regarding
Low-Dose Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation", in Environmental Health
Perspectives, Vol 102, No. 8, August 1994.
45. Maseo Tomonaga, M.D., Ph. D., “Late Medical Effects of Atomic Bombs still
Persisting Over Sixty Years”, in PUGWASH Newsletter Vol. 42 No. 2, p.60, 2005.
46. ibid. Ref. 25
47. R Bertell, No Immediate Danger, The Womens’ Press, London, UK 1986.
48. R. Bertell, “Behind the Cover-up: Assessing conservatively the full death toll of
Chernobyl”, Pacific Ecologist, (New Zealand) Issue 12, Winter 2006.
49. Chernobyl: Environmental, Health and Human Rights Implications, Editor R. Bertell,
International Peace Bureau, Geneva, 1996.
50. ibid. Ref 44
51. ibid. Ref. 19.
52. The IAEA determines the probability of those adverse outcomes or “detriments” that
it identifies “of concern”.
53. E. Burlakova, “Low Intensity Radiation: Radiobiological Aspects”, Radiation Protection
Dosimetry, Vol. 62, Nos 1 & 2, 1995.
54. R.H. Nussbaum, “The Linear no-threshold dose-effect: Is it relevant to radiation protection
regulations? Medical Physics, Vol. 25, No. 9, 1998, pp. 291-299.
55. R. Bertell, "Epidemiology in Radioactive Contaminated Areas" in Biomedical and
Psychosocial Consequences of Radiation from Man-Made Radionuclides,
Proceedings of International Symposium, Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and
Letters Foundation, Trondheim, Norway, 1994,303-324.
56. R. Bertell, ."Low Level Radiation Exposure Effects in the Tri-State Leukemia
Survey", pages 48-59, in 100 Years After Roentgen, Edited by Inge
Schmitz-Feuerhake and Edmund Lengfelder, Proceedings of the International
Congress held in Berlin 1995, Published in 1997..