Talk by Yves Lenoir, on 14 October 2014, during the
“International Symposium on Legal-medical Aspects of Nuclear Disaster and Human Rights”
organized at the University Waseda in Tokyo
(click on the pictures to enlarge)
The Chernobyl disaster has been unfolding into an unprecedented health disaster for which the ICRP, International Commission for Radiological protection is primarily responsible.
Some editors of the report, Chernobyl Forum, coordinated the works on the dosimetry in Fukushima and the sanitary prediction. Others “senior members” hold the field and apply there the ETHOS-CORE method which failed in Belarus.
May this enlightenment on the Chernobyl disaster, help the people of Japan to face the one in Fukushima.
This is why I thank the organizers of this Symposium for inviting me to present to this honourable assembly some elements of research on the history of the radio-protection, which the catastrophe on March 11th prompted me to undertake.
I claim thus here to subscribe to of Oscar Wilde's injunction :
“The only duty
we owe to history
is to rewrite it.”
The 27 April 1986, the situation and the actors
The evacuation of Prypiat started on Sunday April 27th, 36 hours after the explosion, even before the first radioactive plume triggered the markers of the Swedish power plant in Forsmark.
Two years later, close to Chernobyl, the head of a dispensary explained to me that the scenario applied was defined a few years earlier, when we feared that the Unites States would be the first to start an atomic war. It was all about respecting the exposure limit of 1 Sv defined for the troops engaged in an atomic battle. The dose flow in Prypiat reached 30 mSv/h, about 300 000 times its normal value. This number was confirmed by the evaluation of the doses received during the first day by the liquidators standing at a few dozens of meters from reactor n° 4 : more than 3 Sv (which means more than 125 mSv/h). The evacuation was mandatory.
When the world learned about the Chernobyl accident, Pripyat was already a dead town.
Before broaching the role of the ICRP in the health disaster of Chernobyl, allow me to present to you two slides.
The first one shows the sterling hierarchical diagram of the international apparatus for the radio-protection created in the UN instances between 1950 and 1956 :
The articles published by the laboratories and the universities are inspected by the UNSCEAR. What is left constitutes The Science of the radiation and their effects. The reports of the committee are submitted to the GA of the UN which ratifies them and confers them an unquestionable authority.
Leaning on this “pedestal”, the ICRP elaborates its recommendations :
• security rules in all the sectors where one is exposed to ionizing radiation and radioactive material ;
• limits of the doses not to exceed.
The other institutions deduce rules and legal dispositions from these recommendations.
In 1962, the ICRP created the Committee #4, in charge of the application of the recommendations.
At the time of the accident, Henri Jammet, who was president of the Committee #4 from its creation until 1985, was just promoted vice-president of the Main Commission, with Dan Beninson, its President, who was a member of the Committee #4 from 1962 to 1981. Jammet and Beninson were also Representatives of their country at the UNSCEAR, since 1964 and 1962 respectively. They were both consultants for WHO, IAEA etc. The reality of these accumulations, among others, refutes the one way information flow from the official scheme.
We will come back soon to the large consanguine family UNSCEAR-ICRP.
This second slide compares the fallout of Cs137 on the “black rains” zone of Nagasaki with those on Europe after the 26 April 1986.
The gravity of the accident of Chernobyl is beyond imagination. To make it perceptible I've placed the comparison surface some place in Russia astraddle two zones where the deposits are similar to those from the district of Nishiyama where the black rains fell. On the Nagasaki side, 45 km2, polluted by less than 30 kBq/m2 ; on Chernobyl side, more than a million km2 polluted up to 1 500 kBq/m2 !
The slide is misleading on one point. Obviously the further from Chernobyl we were going, the more the density of the radioactive clouds was diminishing. In fact, the deposits show the importance of the rains when they were passing. The exposure of the populations is not only due to the residual presence of Cs137. Therefore the epidemiological studies are distorted, more so since the control groups are taken in the regions with lighter fallout. Comparisons « before - after » would be more relevant.
Two approaches of the radio-protection in a major crisis situation
What happened on the 28 April 1986, after the Kremlin was forced to admit the accident ? To be more exact : what happened that sealed the fate of the populations already affected, and the ones which soon would be ?
Let's compare two initiatives among others : that of the Belorussian physicist Vassily Nesterenko, in charge of building a mobile nuclear reactor, (the PAMIR project), developed in the atomic center of Sosny near Minsk, and Dr. Henri Jammet's, as vice-president of the ICRP and historical authority in the domain of the application of the recommendations of the Commission.
Let's start with Nesterenko. He learned about the accident on the 28 while he was in the Kremlin to present the advancement of PAMIR to the military-industrial Commission of the cabinet of the USSR.
After a few contradictory phone calls, he took the 7pm flight to Minsk. His driver was waiting for him at the airport with the appropriate measurement equipments. The slide on the screen summarizes the measurements of the ambient gamma radioactivity the night of the 28 to the 29 April in a round trip from Minsk to the confines of Ukraine in Brahin, 40 km from the power plant. His meter was displaying 300 µSv/h, about 3 000 times the normal background noise. The measurements during the trip back appeared to be much higher at the same places on the outgoing trip. Back in Minsk he had numerous emergency measures applied by using services and people for which he had some leverage : distribution of stable iodine, control of the radioactivity of the food, prohibition of bathing, restriction of outings etc. In short, he made them respect the elementary principles of radio-protection that any manager of an atomic activity knows, the first one being to react without any delay to protect as many people as possible from the exposure to radiation.
The 28 April, Henri Jammet is one of the first international managers who contacted the head of radio-protection in USSR, Pr. Leonid Ilyin, his alter ego in UNSCEAR, where he represents the USSR.
The 6 Mai he participates in Copenhagen in the first meeting of experts, presided over by Dan Beninson. According to an authorized testimony : “The group of experts warned against the use of rain water and recommended the watching over of radioactivity in food, but didn't suggest evacuation.
The group of international experts were very reserved in their comments and advice, ten days after the accident.”…
So the world radio-protection authority didn't recommend measures similar to the ones demanded by the physicist Neterenko a week before. What was the consequences of this advice in those crucial moments ?
We can form an opinion by comparing two concordant testimonies.
The first one, reported on the medical page of the newspaper, Le Monde on 4 June 1986, directly from Dr Henri Jammet himself, after coming back from an official mission aimed at « harmonizing » the reactions in the european countries effected by Chernobyl. His recommendations are clear :
“(…) The residents of the villages close to Chernobyl (a thousand people) and who were in the path of the wind, endured the effects of intense radioactive fallout (…). They were put through a complete medical examination and they must be followed, without being able to say right now, for certain, if the irradiation they received will have any repercussion on their health.
On the other hand, it is clear that the places affected by this fallout will have to be carefully analyzed before human beings have a chance to visit or live there without any risk.
It is a « principle of optimization » which will lead the decisions of the Russian specialists in radio ecology.
At a larger distance (…), it was possible to make an evaluation of the real radioactive contamination (…). This level of contamination (…) entails no clinical consequence thus does not require any special measures.”
With regard to the publications of UNSCEAR, where the sensitivity of the children to I131 is stressed, and of the ICRP 9 from 1965 where it is specified that the doses on the Thyroid must not pass 10 to 50 mSv for the children, the off-handedness shown by Henri Jammet leaves us speechless.
Keep in mind these two locutions :
« Clinical consequences » and « Principle of Optimization ».
Let's go back to the USSR to learn about the reactions to the interventions of Vassily Nesterenko.
At the end of the afternoon, 29 April, he is received by Mikhaïl Kovalev, president of the Central Committee of the cabinet Belorussian, the only one empowered to declare a state of emergency and the evacuation of the population. While he is explaining the situation and what measures must be taken, the minister of health calls Leonid Ilyin from the room next door to submit the propositions of the Physicist. This is the answer of Ilyin, the day before he discussed these details with Dr Jammet :
“There is no hurry. It's not necessary to evacuate.”
The relevance of Nesterenko's requests would be verified soon after by the terrifying numbers he transmitted on 14 May to the Central Committee of the Belorussian CP :
“The energy level of the Gamma radiation in the districts of Brahin, Khoïniki, Narovlia from 27 April to 5 May 1986 probably reached between 50 and 150 Rad. (…) The dose level absorbed by the thyroid is between which considerably surpasses the maximum doses (…) for the populations, even in case of an accident.”
The 3 May, following an inspection in the oblast of Gomel, Nesterenko insisted the evacuation zone be extended , from 30 to 100 km. The proposition was sent to the Central Committee to be discussed during the session of the 7 May.
The next day, after the international meeting headed by Dan Beninson, Vassily Nesterenko is excluded from the session of the Central Committee.
As for the president of the cabinet of Ukraine Liashko, he was criticized by those in high places in Moscow for having put in place too strict protection measures.
The ICRP recommendations, relayed by Leonid Ilyin were applied to the letter.
On screen : Jammet and Beninson in the 70s, at the time of a gathering of the ICRP.
The men of radio-protection in their UN official citadel
The Chernobyl crisis, unexpected, was a revelation of the truth, that showed the real goals of the duo ICRP-UNSCEAR.
Who are these men, like-minded with Jammet and Beninson ? Where do they come from ? How were they educated ? What are their deep options that are not negotiable ?
They pertain to the third generation of radio-protectors.
The first generation, that of the pioneers, who came together during the Stockholm Congress, 27 July 1928, where the first International recommendations for the protection against X-rays and radium were adopted. The health of radiologists and radiotherapists was at stake. Among its members, are the Swede Rolf Sievert (1896-1966), a medical physicist, and the American Lauriston Taylor (1902-2004), a physicist specialized in radiation measurements. Both had a permanent seat in the Main Commission of the ICRP as members, then as emeritus members, Sievert until 1964, and Taylor until 2004.
Concerned with harmony and efficiency, as well as guarantying the manipulability of the group, Lauriston Taylor obtained that membership remain low. In 1947, after the Bomb, he rejected the idea of making public the discussion on the exposure limits, for fear of undermining the confidence of people by revealing the scientific uncertainties.
The second generation sees the coming on board in the ICRP and UNSCEAR of scientists, Austin Brues, Shields Warren, Gioacchino Failla, Merril Eisenbud, James Neel, John Laughlin, Max Zelle, Charles Dunham, Paul Henshaw etc… associated with various projects like Manhattan Project, studies of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, human experimentations, management of the Fukuryu Maru affair. Globally, they dispute the cautiousness of the geneticians, where we discern Hermann Müller, the discoverer of the mutagenesis triggered by the radiation in 1927. For the first, in a few words, without clinical effects, exposure is considered harmless, without foreseeable sanitary effect.
Educated into the cult of X-rays and radium, and fascinated by the power of the Bomb, they were convinced that the future was atomic energy, and radio-elements applications. There was no question of slowing down the movement. Hence, to the fear publicly expressed by the geneticist Alfred Sturtevant in June 1954, which was supported by Hermann Müller, Lewis Strauss, the head of USAEC, opposed a denial whose conclusion started with these words :
“Fundamentally, our problems of human adjustment to a world in which nuclear energy is widely utilized are serious enough without exaggerating the significance of vanishingly small probabilities”.
Austin Brues, head of the Biology and Medicine Division of USAEC, which was also a member of the Committee #2 of the ICRP, and who will become one of the first American emissaries to UNSCEAR the next year, made matters worse in a blaring way with an article « The New Emotionalism in Science », published by Cancer Research, where one could read, among others, this sentence :
“Now I am no geneticist, but I did go to medical school and learned that one of the characteristic symptoms of hysteria is a contracted field of vision (…)”
In 1946, Brues who was close to Pres. Truman, was one of the instigators, of the creation in Hiroshima of the ABCC of which he was one of the administrators along with James Neel, Paul Henshaw and the already quoted Shields Warren.
In the middle of the 50s those I call « the clinicians » have the upper hand and prepare the future.
The third generation rises while the geneticists are on the verge of losing their battle for cautiousness. It's a generation of legatees. We find here Dan Beninson and Henri Jammet. They were really young when they found their place in this elite.
The public debates on the fallout were still raging. The image of the atomic energy is blurred, and that concerns them. They know that the future of the atom depends on the public perception of the risks thus of the radio-protection. They take on the mission of restoring confidence. They dedicate themselves to this mission, and consecrate their life to it.
Beninson, born in 1930, obtained his medical degree in Buenos-Aires in 1954. He spent two years in Donner Laboratory (The Birthplace of Nuclear Medicine) from the Lawrence Livermore Lab, founded in 1940 and which was included in the Manhattan Project starting in 1941. His PhD in hand, he is recruited by the Argentine Commission for Atomic Energy and, following in the same vein, is nominated as delegate of his country in UNSCEAR. He was then 26. He was promoted Representative in 1962 and kept this status until his death in 2004.
Henri Jammet, born in 1920, is a true believer in CEA where he becomes the head of the Radiological Protection Service in 1951. Two years later, he was co-opted by the ICRP. He was 33. He was named delegate for France at UNSCEAR in 1958.
Both men contributed to the selection of the fourth generation, the one actually taking care of business, especially in Fukushima. Abel Julio González became one of this generation's leaders, succeeding Dan Beninson, at the end of his career without any weakening of his influence.
The graph on screen demonstrates the tradition of holding several political offices in UNSCEAR-CIPR among these big administrators. Of course all of them also had roles as experts and advisors for countless institutions, especially IAEA and WHO were UN is concerned.
So you have an idea of the genetic legacy of the international complex of radio-protection, and of the mechanism of its preservation from a generation to the next one.
1988-89, The disaster reveals its face ; a new type of crisis
During the end of 1988, and the beginning of 1989, the health conditions were deteriorating. The children were sicker and sicker. The cattle were in bad shape. Anger was growing. The soviet government was forced to publish the contamination maps. The prognosis of minimum effects supported by Beninson and his peers in all the conferences and decision instances have lost all its credibility.
In the areas scattered with deposits in leopard spots, the population must be evacuated. What should be done ? The following, from the authorized testimony, reports how Ilyin and the leaders of the ICRP fixed the problem :
“Three years later in Vienna, they were unofficially discussing the increase of the dose, integrated over a life time, that would be tolerable for the local population. Beyond the threshold they would define, it was clear that they had to be moved. The number of 350 mSv proposed by L. Ilyin was accepted and made public a few days later.”
This dose represented five times the limit recommended for the public by the ICRP. In the USSR, shaken by political movements taking as much advantage as possible of Chernobyl, with a population scandalized by the lies used to hide the putting at risk of hundreds of thousands of people, the government was feeling too weak to impose this dose. The authority lays with the experts, as long as the experts are perceived as legitimate. The authority of the soviet radio-protectors, on the front line for the opinion and the media, was annihilated. And more over, evacuation would have been too expensive, so this limit had to be accepted.
To that end, the WHO was requested to send a mission of high level experts in charge of convincing the public of the aptness of this decision. The WHO has only little expertise in radiation science and radio protection, but it has a reassuring image while the ICRP acronym evokes nothing. The mission included two members of the ICRP, the president Dan Beninson and Pierre Pellerin, from the Committee #3. The Canadian Peter Waight, unknown “director of the group of radio-protection of the secretariat of the WHO”, was its flag bearer. That happened in 1989.
The 15 April 1990, in Minsk, a physicist, Mikhaïl Guemastiaiev, who questioned Beninson during a public conference about the 350 mSv, told me that having disputed that rule he was answered :
“You have no money, thus no way to evacuate, hence you have no problem.”
This sentence is not obscene : it is congruous with the Optimization Principle, presented in 1973 in the Publication ICRP 22 and integrated four years later in the large Publication 26 named “Recommendations of the ICRP”. This fundamental text marks the accomplishment of the methodological work carried out by the Committee #4 under the chairmanship of Henri Jammet since 1962.
It's time now to say a few words about the philosophy in the domain of recommendations application.
As low as…” and “Optimization Principle”
On 17 April 1974, Dr Jammet gave a talk in front of the Inter-ministerial Group charged with the evaluation of the technical options for the management of the radioactive waste. I was a part of this group. That day, I understood that the radio-protection was mainly an economical problem. Of course, Jammet talked solely about the Optimization Principle published the year before using the diagram here on the screen.
We recognize the usual curve of economical optimization of an activity which provokes collateral damage. It's not really an cost-benefit analysis — which would require calculating the benefit corresponding to a given exposure, but to determine the exposition value for which the marginal cost of a better radio-protection equates the cost of the avoided detriment.
How to decipher the answer of Beninson ?
To evacuate more people would have entailed large expenses and immediately committing to taking out loans. The expected benefit would have stayed as virtual benefit for three reasons : the first is that it would correspond years, or even decades, later to a reduced health expense; the second, that it would be impossible to calculate the amount of expenses saved in that case ; the third, that an avoided expense can't refund a debt.
What needs was this Optimization Principle fulfilling ?
Well, the idea was to get out of the intellectual tight spot of the “as low as…” ! Its last version is the well known doctrine ALARA (As low as reasonably achievable, taking into account economic and societal factors), instituted by the Publication ICRP 26. The series of the variations of the “as low as…” starts with the Publication 1 in 1954. The old rule of the “lowest possible” recommended in medicine is replaced by “as low as practicable” or even by this quasi synonymous version from 1959 : “as low as is operationally possible”. The discomfort is obvious. We are sloshing through rules opened to interpretation. In 1965, Publication 9 brings some precision : “…all doses be kept as low as is readily achievable, economic and social consequences being taken into account”, which allows to justify about anything. Everybody knows what “readily” means. In 2001 a change from ALARA to ALARP, P for Practicable was discussed. No follow-up. The ICRP stays lost in a dead end of the “as low as…”.
By using the numbers, the Optimization Principle brings a real intellectual comfort and guards again any controversy. Each case is studied separately. A few examples of calculation for optimized protection measures are introduced in Publication 37, Committee 4 (1983). Only one of them, named “Example of an optimization procedure regarding radioactive products released”, would quiet the most experienced protester, with its list of four pages of symbols — variables, functional coefficients and other parameters — used in the calculation…
The application of the Optimization Principle constitutes the business of the CEPN created in 1976, initiated by Henri Jammet. The CEPN includes four members : Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, Electricité de France , Institut de Radio-protection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, AREVA. It extended his market to other branches of dangerous activity, like asbestos. Not long after 2000, the ICRP became dependent on the CEPN to which it subcontracts the mathematical studies out of reach for its members. The economist jacques Lochard, Director of the CEPN since 1979, and is as well as today vice-president of the ICRP, and his team, including the mathematician Thierry Schneider, theorist of fear of radiation modeling (sic!), coordinates the program ICRP Dialogue Initiative in Fukushima. A new posthumous strategic success was awarded to Jammet : the CEPN is integrated to ICRP… and conversely !
Despite the appearances it gives itself, radio-protection is not a science. Its practice, during bad times, is all about the execution. Nesterenko did his best to protect humans. Jammet and Beninson didn't even try to implement their Optimization Principle. In fact, what they applied was the Precaution Principle to be able to the preservation of the future of atomic energy.
Compelled to deny, “For the sake of Atom” !
The publication of the report of the Chernobyl Forum was preceded by communications from UNSCEAR and IAEA which emphasize a good correlation between the forecasts of the Vienna Conference and the real consequences of the accident.
We will not probe the abyss that exists between the quasi-absence of health damage proclaimed by this report, and the results of the epidemiological studies which contradicts it. Without an authority empowered to arbitrate it, it would be vain to start a conflict where a supreme authority denies the principle of reality !
“No health consequence…” prophesied in the beginning of June 1986 the vice-president of the ICRP and Representative for UNSCEAR of country which uses the most nuclear energy in the world. His friends Beninson, Ilyin and a few others were onboard of this kind of catamaran UNSCEAR – ICRP which is strongly heading towards the development of atomic energy since the 50s.
So, Chernobyl produced thousands of scientific publications some of which UNSCEAR classified. Could we even for a moment imagine that in the heart of the Committee, among those friends and acquaintances, bound by so many years of shared ideas and cosigned reports, that a majority could have emerged to keep studies which calls into question the responsibility of the most influential of their peers in the heart of the ICRP in the Chernobyl disaster ?
It would have been like shooting a torpedo from the hull of the UNSCEAR towards the hull of the ICRP… and the skiff would have capsized. The international radio-protection would have sunk and taken down into the abysses the belief in the virtue and the harmlessness of atomic energy displayed by the politic elites and the opinion makers, but also a cornerstone of the industrial development model. Farewell EPR, Generation IV and controlled fusion ! A tragedy worse than Chernobyl !
There is no Gorbachov in this environment. The founding fathers had very well prepared their affairs. Their creature survived the Chernobyl test, and even ended reinforced. The proof is in its management of the Fukushima crisis.
Forced into denial to endure : apparently solidary, “For the sake of Atom !”
Thank you for listening.