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March 9, 1996

Chernobyl's 10th:   Cancer and Nuclear-Age Peace
Don't Be Deceived

John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Molecular and Cell Biology, U.C. Berkeley

          Forget it, if you are thinking about having a real evaluation, from the radiation establishment, of the human cost of the Chernobyl Blow-Up at this 10th anniversary (or ever). The monolithic nuclear/radiation "community" cannot afford to provide a meaningful analysis of the radiation consequences. Life, for this monolith, requires the lowest possible death consequences of Chernobyl. And the reason that a real evaluation is absent is not because it is too early in the follow-up to know. Nor does the reason have anything to do with cold wars, with Communism, or other 'isms'. Those enterprises (military or civilian) which deliver ionizing radiation to people, anywhere in the world, share the common goal of underestimating the health-hazard of ionizing radiation. Thus, the military enterprises, the nuclear power enterprises, and the medical radiation enterprises (x-rays and "nuclear medicine") share a common endeavor.

          Does one ever hear part of the truth? Yes, on some occasions. For example, when one has a massive source of locally-concentrated radiation exposure, such as that caused by mountainous releases of radio-iodine in parts of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, the pathway from grass to cow to milk to human thyroid gland creates very high radiation exposure of that particular gland, especially in children. By now, even the best apologists for the nuclear power enterprises are admitting the thyroid cancer-rate in some of those regions is already 100 times the normal rate. The many hundreds of observed radioiodine-induced thyroid cancers will increase with time, but will be a much smaller number than all other Chernobyl-induced cancers which will ultimately occur --- without detection.

A Million Chernobyl-Induced Cancers

          My estimate in 1986, based upon releases of various non-iodine radionuclides, was 475,000 fatal cancers plus about an equal number of additional non-fatal cases, occurring over time both inside and outside the ex-Soviet Union [1]. Such estimates, old and new, have to be based on real-world evidence from non-Chernobyl studies --- because standard epidemiological studies (which "count" extra cancer cases) are the wrong tool for evaluating Chernobyl. No one can "see" even a half-million Chernobyl-induced cancers when they are spread among a half-billion people and occur over a century.

          There is great "beauty" in this situation, from the viewpoint of radiation enthusiasts. They can sponsor studies from which they can announce, "We didn't find a half-million extra cancers --- we didn't find any provable excess at all."

          If a half-million people were rounded up in a stadium and shot to death, the corpses would be there to see. The same number of people killed by vicious cancers from Chernobyl --- spread out in time over Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, and the ex-USSR --- will never know what killed them. And assuredly the radiation community won't tell them. Then how can we assure you that the cancers are real?

No Safe (Risk-Free) Dose of Ionizing Radiation

          In 1986 [2], and more definitively in 1990 [3], we provided proof that there cannot be a threshold dose (safe dose) of ionizing radiation with respect to cancer causation. Resolution of the "safe dose" issue means everything, as to the true cost of exposure to nuclear pollution and to other sources of ionizing radiation (such as medical x-rays). My proof has been confirmed. The United Nations and British radiation committees have recently published (1993, 1995) conclusions nearly identical with my analysis of 1990. [4] No safe (risk-free) dose.

          This means that you cannot have a Chernobyl accident without having Chernobyl-induced cancers. And when a lot of people receive extra radiation exposure, the aggregate number of radiation-induced cancers over time can be very large --- even though each individual's personal risk is very small. [5]

Something Even Bigger Than Chernobyl

          Chernobyl is not alone as a killer. We have been killing people with radiation for the past 100 years. I refer to the over-use of radium and medical x-rays ever since Roentgen's 1895 discovery of the x-ray. In 1995, I published the finding that about 75% of recent breast-cancers in the USA were caused by earlier medical exposures to radiation [6]. The radiation "authorities" have, of course, criticized my work with their rhetoric, since they are unable to refute the work otherwise. And more recently, I am extending my estimate of causation to include the majority of most types of cancer in both women and men [7]. This makes even Chernobyl small by comparison.

          "But we are not interested in radiation-induced cancers from X-Rays!" is the bizarre reaction from some members of our nuclear-age peace movement. Sadly, the misery of unnecessary cancer is the same, whether the cause is Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Hanford, or careless overdosing by medical x-rays. Indeed, from equal radiation doses, medical x-rays are twice as carcinogenic as gamma and beta radiation from Chernobyl and Hiroshima.


  1. Gofman, John W., "Assessing Chernobyl's Cancer Consequences:   Application of Four `Laws' of Radiation Carcinogenesis", paper presented at the Symposium on Low-Level Radiation, National Metting of the American Chemical Society, September 9, 1986. Reprinted as Chapter 37 of Radiation-Induced Cancer from Low-Dose Exposure:   An Independent Analysis, 1990.

  2. Gofman, John W., Radiation And Human Health, 1981. ISBN 0-87156-275-8. LC 80-26484.

  3. Radiation-Induced Cancer from Low-Dose Exposure:   An Independent Analysis, 1990. See especially the 70-page proof spanning Chapters 18 through 21 which comprise Section 5:   Disproof of Any Safe Dose or Dose-Rate of Ionizing Radiation, with Respect to Induction of Cancer in Humans

  4. The two reports from the United Nations and British radiation committees are:
    1. United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation:   UNSCEAR 1993 Report to the General Assembly, with Scientific Annexes. 922 pages. No index. ISBN 92-1-142200-0. 1993.
    2. National Radiological Protection Board (Britain), Risk Of Radiation-Induced Cancer At Low Doses And Low Dose Rates For Radiation Protection Purposes. Prepared by Roger Cox (head of biomedical effects) + Colin Muirhead (head of epidemiology) + John W. Stather (assistant director of NRPB) + A.A. Edwards + M.P. Little. 77 pages. ISBN 0-85951-386-6. Vol.6, No.1 in the series Documents of the NRPB. October 1995.

  5. See "Part 8 ``Negligible'' Personal Risks vs Large National Rates" of A Wake-Up Call for Everyone Who Dislikes Cancer and Inherited Afflictions, Gofman and O'Connor, CNR, Spring 1997.

  6. Gofman, John W., 1996, Preventing Breast Cancer:   The Story Of A Major, Proven, Preventable Cause Of This Disease, 2nd Edition, CNR Books.

  7. This is third in a series by CNR on the Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation (HEIR) Reports. This book, not yet complete, will be a study, covering both males and females, of the causal role of medical radiation in the overall cancer problem --- not in breast-cancer alone.

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