See Also: Radiation hits very young the hardest, 15 March 2000, Reuters
One of the most pervasive myths about Chernobyl
is that only 3% of the
reactor core was released into the biosphere when the explosion occurred
on April 26, 1986. Vladimir Chernousenko, Scientific Director of the
Ukrainian Academy of Sciences' Task Force for the Rectification of the
Consequences of the Accident, in his 1991 book Chernobyl, Insight from the
Inside, dispels this myth (and a partial list of 20
A more official view on `The Nuclear Accident in Block 4 of the
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station and the Safety of the RBMK Reactor'
give[s] the following excerpts from an unpublished report by A.A.
Yadrikhinskii, Nuclear Safety Inspection Engineer of the USSR State
Atomic Energy Survey Commission (Kurchatov town, RSFSR February, 1988):
. . . Radiation emission was no less that 80% of the core (with
a total of 192 tons), which amounted to 6.4 x 10^9 Ci. If
we divide the figure by the population of the whole earth (4.6
x 10^9 people) then we get 1 Ci per person.
Choosing to ignore the facts about how we are collectively contaminating
this Earth with lethal-to-all-life-doses of man-made nuclear fission
products will ensure the cessation of billions of years of life exploring
itself on this planet. It doesn't have to go down this way. If we were
living in the areas that the children described below are, we would not be
able to ignore the facts which the International Nuclear Mafia
continuously deny when they parrot the line in the global media about how
"There's no health danger from nuclear power" and "No one died at
Chernobyl" and "This form of energy is clean and safe; anyone who says
otherwise doesn't know what they're talking about".
from the San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, September 3, 1992:
And see the June 30, 1999 Reuters story below regarding
Thyroid cancer 10 times higher in Chernobyl kids
Thyroid Cancer on Rise For Chernobyl Children
Children who were exposed to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear power
plant disaster are developing thyroid cancer sooner and in larger numbers
than expected, researchers report.
The results are the first reliable data in the population downwind of
the Chernobyl accident in 1986, said Dr. Marvin Goldman, a radiation
biologist at the University of California at Irvine who was not involved in
the new study.
An increase in thyroid cancer had been reported earlier, but some
Western health officials had expressed concern about the reliability of the
In a letter published yesterday in Nature, a British science journal,
Dr. Vasily S. Kazakov of the Belarus Ministry of Health in Minsk and his
colleagues say that the thyroid cancer rates in the regions most heavily
irradiated began to soar in 1990.
In Gomel, the most contaminated region studied, there used to be just
one or two cases of thyroid children a year. But Kazakov and his
colleagues found that there were 38 cases in 1991. In six regions of
Belarus and the city of Minsk, the investigators found 131 cases of thyroid
cancer in young children, some of whom were still in the womb when the
Chernobyl accident occurred.
Because of questions about the cancer reports, the World Health
Organization sent a team of scientists to Minsk to verify the reports. In
an accompanying letter in Nature yesterday, they confirmed Kazakov's
Children are particularly susceptible to thyroid cancer from radioactive
iodine because their thyroid glands are small and concentrate the iodine
from radioactive fallout because they drink more milk and get larger doses
of radioactive iodine and because their thyroids are thought to be more
vulnerable to the radiation.
Thyroid cancer is usually very amenable to treatment, said Dr. Blake
Cady, a cancer surgeon and thyroid cancer specialist at the New England
Deaconess Hospital in Boston. But investigators were struck by the seeming
aggressiveness of some of the children's cancers. A 7-year-old child died
and 10 other children are seriously ill, they reported.
NATURE, Vol. 359, 3 SEPTEMBER 1992
Thyroid cancer after Chernobyl
SIR--We would like to report a great increase in the frequency of
thyroid cancer in children in Belarus, which commenced in 1990 and
continues. Table 1 shows the incidence of thyroid cancer in children
in the six regions of Belarus and Minsk City from 1986 to the end of
the first half of 1992. It can be seen that the overall incidence rose
from an average of just four cases per year from 1986 to 1989
inclusive, to 55 in 1991 and is projected to be not less than 60 in
1992. This increase is not uniformly distributed across the country:
for example, there is no significant increase in Mogilev, Minsk City or
Vitebsk. By far the greatest increase is seen in the Gomel region,
from one or two cases per year to 38 in 1991, and a less obvious
increase is seen in the Brest and Grodno regions.
TABLE 1 Incidence of thyroid cancer in children in Belarus
Region of Years
Belarus 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992* Total
Brest 0 0 1 1 6 5 5 18
Vitebsk 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 4
Gomel 1 2 1 2 14 38 13 71
Grodno 1 1 1 2 0 2 6 13
Minsk 0 1 1 1 1 4 4 12
Mogilev 0 0 0 0 2 1 1 4
Minsk City 0 0 1 0 5 2 1 9
Total 2 4 5 6 29 55 30 131
* Six months of 1992
The Gomel region lies immediately to the north of Chernobyl and is
known to have received a high level of radioactivity as fallout after
the breakdown of reactor number 4 on 26 April 1986. The plume passed
first over the Gomel region in the first few hours after the major
release of radioactivity, and then over the Brest and Grodno regions.
The fallout contained large amounts of iodine-131 and significant
amounts of the short-lived isotopes of iodine, although these were too
short-lived to be measured.
We have classified the tumours according to the World Health
Organisation classification (2nd edn) and find that virtually all are
papillary carcinomas (128 of 131). They are, however, relatively
aggressive, as can be seen from Table 2. Fifty-five of the 131 cases
showed direct extension to the perithyroid tissues and six distant
metastases, mostly in the lungs. It can be seen that only about 23 per
cent were less than 1 cm in diameter. One of the children has died at
seven years of age and ten others are seriously ill.
TABLE 2 Extent of spread (TNM classification) of thyroid cancer in children
Total Lymph node metastases
TNM number of -------------------------------------
symbol cases None(N O) Ipsilateral(N 1a) Other(N 1b)
<1 cm T1 30 17 10 3
1-4 cm T2 33 17 8 8
>4 cm T3 7 3 4 0
tissues T4 55 14 18 23
metastases M1 6 1 1 4
Total 131 52 41 38
Classification as in TNM Atlas 3rd edn, eds Spiessl, B. et al.,
UICC (Springer, Berlin, 1990).
The occurrence of this increase in thyroid cancer in children within
a few years of exposure to radioactive isotopes of iodine is
unexpected, but real. It poses both humanitarian and scientific
problems, and is placing great strains upon the health services of our
new country. It also provides an opportunity, which we hope will not
be repeated, to study the consequences of major exposure of a
population to isotopes of iodine from fallout. We are collaborating
with several international groups and are preparing detailed reports of
various aspects of the problem.
We believe that the only realistic explanation for the increase in
the frequency of thyroid cancer is that it is a direct consequence of
the accident at Chernobyl.
Vasili S. Kazakov
Ministry of Health of Belarus,
House of Government.
220010 Minsk, Belarus
Evgeni P. Demidchik
Thyroid Tumour Centre,
F. Skorinay Avenue 64,
220600 Minsk, Belarus
Larisa N. Astakhova
Radiation Medicine Institute,
Masherov Avenue 23,
220600 Minsk, Belarus
SIR--We have recently visited Belarus under the auspices of the WHO
regional office for Europe and the Swiss government, and have had the
opportunity to see some of the children with thyroid cancer, to study
the pathology of the cases and to examine the relevant data.
We examined 11 children who had had operations for thyroid carcinoma
and were now hospitalized for post-operative management or evaluation
of metastatic disease. We were shown the complete records for these
patients, including X-rays and echograms before and after treatment.
All were diagnosed during the past 3 years, eight having been living in
the Gomel region at the time of the Chernobyl accident and two in the
Brest region. The age at diagnosis of the six females and five males
was between 4 and 13 years of age; the youngest was born two days
after the accident.
We have studied the histological slides from 104 cases of children
from Belarus in whom the diagnosis of thyroid carcinoma had been made
since January 1989. We agree both with the diagnosis of malignancy and
of the type of malignancy in 102 of the cases. We also examined the
data on the incidence of thyroid carcinoma in Belarus. There is a
marked increase in frequency from 1990 onwards over the average for the
years from 1986 to 1990. This increase started only 4 years after the
Chernobyl accident, a surprisingly short time by comparison with
studies of thyroid carcinoma that have followed exposure to external
radiation in infants[1,2]. Of the children with thyroid carcinoma in
Belarus since 1990, the eight youngest at exposure were in utero,
but were more than 3 months of fetal age at the time of Chernobyl. The
fetal thyroid is known to start concentrating iodine at 12-14 weeks of
We do not believe that increased ascertainment of cases could have
played more than a minor role in the recorded incidence of thyroid
carcinoma. The proportion of resected nodules that are malignant is
high and the type of tumour is aggressive. The ratio of thyroid
carcinoma in children to that in adults has increased dramatically,
although there are now signs that the incidence in patients over the
age of 15 is beginning to increase. The rate is greatly in excess of
the reported incidence of this disease in children under 15 years of
age, which is of the order of I per million per year[3-6]. In the
Gomel region (total population about 2.5 million), the region of
Belarus that received the highest fallout from Chernobyl, the incidence
in 1991 and the first part of 1992 is approximately 80 per million
children per year.
It is generally accepted that external radiation to the neck is
associated with an increased incidence of thyroid carcinoma in man, and
there is an increased sensitivity of the infant thyroid to the
carcinogenic effect of radiation. In some animal studies, but not
all[7,8], external radiation is found to be a more effective carcinogen
for the thyroid than iodine-131. Clear evidence that the diagnostic or
therapeutic use of radioiodine in man carries a carcinogenic risk is
lacking[9,10], and iodine-131 has provided a safe and effective
treatment of Graves' disease in adults, although it is rarely used in
The combination of the high level of exposure to radioactive fallout
and the numbers exposed within a short time after its release makes the
Chernobyl accident an unprecedented event. In the Marshall Islands,
although the doses were probably comparable, the number of people
exposed was several orders of magnitude smaller. In the case of
the accident at Windscale (now called Sellafield), the number exposed
was substantial but the doses were smaller, and no adequate study
of any long-term thyroid effects has yet been reported. Other studies
of fallout from weapons and of nuclear accidents (such as on Three Mile
Island) have yielded inconclusive evidence. A close relationship
between radiation dose and the incidence of thyroid carcinoma has been
documented in atomic bomb survivors in Japan, but the radiation
received was mostly external and the contribution from fallout is
We believe that the experience in Belarus suggests that the
consequences to the human thyroid, especially in fetuses and young
children, of the carcinogenic effects of radioactive fallout is much
greater than previously thought. Studies of the Marshall Islanders, of
the atomic bomb survivors and of the effects of external radiation on
the thyroid suggest that the incidence of thyroid cancer in Belarus
will be raised for many years.
The accident and its impact on Belarus poses a challenge to the
international community to help, both in dealing with the extensive
present and future public health consequences, and in promoting
research for the understanding of the basic processes underlying the
phenomenon. Understanding the consequences of Chernobyl will provide
an important basis for preventive action in future.
WHO European Centre for Environment and Health,
00156 Rome, Italy
Pathology Institute, Kantonspital,
Institute of Endocrinology,
University of Pisa, 56100 Pisa, Italy
Pathology Institute, University of Berne,
3010 Berne, Switzerland
Department of Pathology,
University of Wales College of Medicine,
Cardiff CF4 4XN, UK
- Shore, R. E. et al. J. natn. Cancer Inst. 74,
- Ron, E. et al. Radiat. Res. 120, 516-531 (1989).
- Brown, P. D. et al. Int. J. Epidem. 18, 546-555 (1989).
- McWhiner, W. R. & Petroeschevsy, A. L. Int. J. Cancer
45, 1002-1005 (1990).
- Young, J. L., Ries, L. G., Silverberg, E., Horm, J. W. & Miller, R. W.
Cancer 58, 598-602 (1986).
- Muir, C., Waterhouse, J., Mack, T., Powell, J. & Whelan, S. IARC Sci.
Publ. no. 88, Vol. 5 (International Agency for Research on Cancer,
- National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements NCRP
report no. 80 (Washington DC, 1985).
- Lee, W., Chiacchierini, R. P., Shleien, B. & Telles, N. C. Radiat.
Res. 92, 307-319 (1982).
- Holm, L. E., Dahiqvist, I., Israelsson, A. & Lundell, G. New Engl.
J. Med. 303, 188-191 (1980).
- Holm, L. E. et al. J. natn. Cancer Inst. 80,
- Conard, R. A. in Radiation Carcinogenesis Epidemiology and Biological
Significance, Boice, J. D. & Fraumeni, J. F. eds (Raven, New York,
- Baverstock, K. F. & Vennart, J. Health Phys. 30, 339-344 (1976).
- Ezaki, H., Ishimaru, T., Hayashi, Y. & Takeichi, N. GANN Monogr.
Cancer Res. 32, 129-142 (1986).
. . . the number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones,
with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem
statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards, but
this is not a natural health hazard--and it is not a statistical issue. The
loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby--who may
be born long after we are gone--should be of concern to us all. Our
children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be
-- President Kennedy, June, 1963
Thyroid cancer 10 times higher in Chernobyl kids
Wednesday, June 30, 1999
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The rate of thyroid cancer remains 10
times higher than normal among young Ukrainian children 13 years
after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,
researchers said Wednesday.
They reported 577 cases of thyroid cancer in Ukrainian children
between 1986, when the accident occurred, and 1997, compared to
59 cases in the same age group from 1981 to 1985.
The reactor at Chernobyl caught fire in the early hours of April
26, 1986, spreading a radioactive cloud over much of Ukraine,
Russia, Belarus and other parts of Europe. It killed 31 people
and affected thousands more.
In Belarus, where 70 percent of the radiation was deposited, the
World Health Organization says thyroid cancer rates among
children are 100 times pre-accident levels.
"Children constitute the most vulnerable group of exposed
individuals, because their thyroid sensitivity to radiation is
high, and there is a longer life span to manifest its effects,"
Dr. Virginia LiVolsi of the University of Pennsylvania Medical
Center in Philadelphia, said in a statement.
"These factors make it necessary to follow thyroid function in
exposed subjects for decades."
Reporting in the journal cancer, LiVolsi said her team found that
64 percent of all Ukrainian thyroid cancer patients aged 15 or
younger lived in the most contaminated regions -- the provinces
of Kiev, Chernigov, Zhitomir, Cherkassy and Rovno.
More than 40 percent of patients were children 4 or younger at
the time of the accident.
"The group at maximum risk is those exposed to high radiation
levels when they were younger than 5 years," LiVolsi said. "This
is the age when the thyroid gland is most sensitive to ionizing
The American Cancer Society predicts that more than 18,000 adults
in the United States will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in
1999. About 1,200 will die.
There is a way to help prevent thyroid cancer caused because of
exposure to radioactivity. In Poland, where potassium iodide was
given to 97 percent of children, there has been no similar
increase in thyroid cancer although the country was also exposed
to radioactive clouds from Chernobyl.
Last week the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed that
potassium iodide be stockpiled to protect the public from a major
release of radiation during a nuclear power plant accident.