Gale, who worked for UCLA at the time of the accident, says that the firefighters who suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome were not contagious, as they are portrayed as by HBO's "Chernobyl. Radiation sickness results from the chemical and physical distribution the high energy practices are causing to your cells. But the majority of these survived and lived a long life after that. Our truly unique finding was that radiation exposure can cause many types of leukemia, not just a select few. Radiation sickness is damage to your body caused by a large dose of radiation often received over a short period of time (acute). He toured the Chernobyl plant and the exclusion zone around it in 2014. Here's why watching HBO's 'Chernobyl' is difficult for her. A solar power project is expected to transform the exclusion zone. The very same doctors whose advice encouraged one million women to seek abortions are also behind the claims by groups ranging from Greenpeace to Helen Caldicott to MIT historian Kate Brown that many more people died from Chernobyl radiation than experts, the World Health Organization and the United Nations, found. Exactly as much as a broken leg is contagious. “About 15,000 people reportedly die mining coal every year, although the true number may be much higher, and this figure does not consider morbidity from occupational hazards such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung disease). People at Chernobyl were exposed to and contaminated with copious amounts of radioactive dust and could transfer it to people around them with simple touch. The Emmy-nominated HBO mini-series Chernobyl, which is a dramatized account of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster, has rekindled conversation about the accident, its subsequent cleanup and the long-term impacts on people living near the power plant.. UC San Francisco’s Lydia Zablotska, MD, PhD, grew up in Ukraine, trained as physician in Belarus, and … The firefighters weren’t contagious. “I spent the next two years mostly in the Soviet Union working with my colleagues at the Institute for Biophysics and Clinical Hospital 6 dealing with a bit more than 200 persons with acute radiation exposures,” Gale writes. According to the International Nuclear Event Scale, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station received the maximal 7 points as a record amount of radioactive substances released into the … Within the first few days the symptoms are usually nausea, … Gale used a novel treatment method, which he tested on himself. The first responders, including firefighters and nuclear workers who tried to put out the multiple fires and prevent the explosion of other reactors at the nuclear power plant, were exposed to large doses of gamma radiation. Similarly, long term exposure to ionising radiation at high levels may cause permanent damage to the body. Sadly, 29 died but we could rescue 175 (86 percent). “We estimate incorrect advice from physicians regarding the relationship between maternal radiation exposure from Chernobyl and birth defects,” writes Gale, “resulted in more than one million unnecessary abortions in the Soviet Union and Europe. As a result of decay, packets of electromagnetic radiation, which consist of high-energy photons, are emitted and could penetrate body tissues and cause damage to cells and their genetic material. Subsequently, DNA mutations could lead to the development of cancer. “The radiation would have killed the mother,” says HBO's fictional scientist-hero played by Emily Watson, “but the baby absorbed it instead.”. “Chernobyl” suggests strongly that the event actually occurred, I noted in my last column, to which a number of readers emailed or tweeted to claim that the event did, in fact, occur. Radiation can cause cancer and non-cancer outcomes, but it does not cause every type of cancer and non-cancer outcome and small doses of radiation have not been associated with an appreciable increase in risk. This caused an estimated 9,000 to 16,000 deaths across Europe plus 3.5 million radiation-exposure-attributed cancers, birth defects, and other serious maladies just in … More importantly, we have the study of atomic bomb survivors in Japan, which tracked a very large group of people over a long time. There are types of radiation where human bodies could retain radioactive particles and remain radioactive over time, but this is not the type that was seen at Chernobyl. One of the most contaminated products was milk from pastured cows, mostly consumed by children. Yet, ARS is not contagious. Radiation exposure is a part of everyday life. Such a release could expose people and contaminate their … Such false logic was used to isolate, terrify, and stigmatize people not only in Chernobyl, but also in places like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and more recently in Fukushima. In his article, Gale takes issue with the portrayal of Soviet authorities as reluctant to seek outside help. © 2021 The Regents of The University of California, University Development & Alumni Relations, Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital and Clinics, The Real Chernobyl: Q&A With a Radiation Exposure Expert, COVID-19 Variant First Found in Other Countries and States Now Seen More Frequently in California. “About 1 million Egyptians are estimated to have become blind from trachoma because of construction of the Aswan High Dam. The biggest misconception is that radiation is the cause of all adverse health effects. One of the more frustrating aspects for doctors and scientist is the depiction of the people with radiation sickness in Chernobyl… If the person is contaminated with radioactive dust, yes. A visitor takes a picture of a dosimeter near the covered fourth reactor at the Chernobyl … We talked with her about the real-life health impacts from the disaster portrayed in the HBO miniseries. After the accident, Gale reached out to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who asked Gale to come “immediately.”. “For example, amongst the several hundred pregnant women exposed to high-dose radiation from the A-bombs, there were only 29 children with attributable developmental defects. Gale criticizes the portrayal in “Chernobyl” of a baby’s death supposedly from “absorbing” deadly amounts of radiation from her dying father, a firefighter who helped put out the blaze. "I see rather little difference between the initial U.S. government reaction to the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident, the initial Japan government reaction to the Fukushima-Daiichi accident, and the Soviet response to Chernobyl. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. “Another error [in HBO’s “Chernobyl”] was to portray the victims as being dangerously radioactive,” UCLA’s Robert Gale wrote in “The Cancer Letter,” a subscription-based newsletter. The latest report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation found 134 first responders who were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome (ARS) after the Chernobyl accident. In reality, writes Gale, there were “synchronous injuries” that “make people more susceptible to radiation damage [and] can kill people even if you successfully reverse the radiation-induced damage.”. Patients with ARS could develop a bone marrow syndrome, which suppresses their immunity, or a gastrointestinal syndrome, which could lead to damage to the lining of the intestines and associated infection, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance. A top US medical doctor who treated radiation victims in Chernobyl has criticized HBO’s depiction of the accident and radiation’s health effects as inaccurate and “dangerous.”. “The problem was the Soviets didn’t want the Chernobyl victims to be the first humans to receive a new therapy. “Our scorecard treating the 204 victims was reasonably good. This is followed by a few … The miniseries implying that radiation is contagious like a virus is essentially zombie logic, that anyone who suffers from radiation poisoning is therefore poisonous themselves. “I’m amazed the producers didn’t get technical advice from a health physicist or radiobiologist rather than basing much of their screenplay on a novel (Voices of Chernobyl),” write Gale. How did they know? There are published reports on the effects of exposure in utero on their thyroid glands but findings are not statistically significant, and there are no additional scientific data for other harmful effects. "Anyone looking at the destroyed reactor building, mass of firefighting equipment, and personnel streaming into the reactor complex—the smoke from the fire clearly visible from Pripyat about 4 km away etc.—I cannot imagine anyone would try to cover this up. The Emmy-winning HBO mini-series “Chernobyl,” which is a dramatized account of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster, has rekindled conversation about the accident, its subsequent cleanup and the long-term impacts on people living near the power plant. And whilst in Moscow, we were free to expropriate supplies and equipment from many Russian medical centers.”, “Even more extraordinary, when I requested the Soviets allow me to bring in an Israeli scientist to help (there were no diplomatic relations with Israel at the time), they agreed, albeit with some arm-twisting.”, Gale says the accident was impossible to cover-up, as portrayed by HBO. Radiation effects may appear following exposure to high doses in a short time, just as a bad dose of sunburn results from too much exposure to sunlight too quickly. 1. ARS is the damage done to your body by radiation exposure, and is no more contagious than, say, a gunshot wound. Be mindful of the risks but don't worry too much about radiation poisoning. We brought it into the Soviet Union from Switzerland—hidden in a passenger’s checked luggage with the permission of a Politburo Chernobyl commission,” Gale writes. Why, it was described in a book, Voices From Chernobyl. The following answers have been edited for length and clarity. It would be like standing in lower Manhattan after destruction of the Twin Towers and pretending there was no problem. If the dosage is from 0 to 5 rem with a short period of exposure or long-term exposure, it is generally considered harmless and you may not show any negative health symptoms. Children’s thyroid glands are very active and act as a sponge for iodine, because our body needs iodine. How Worried Should You Be About the New Coronavirus Variant. How does radiation exposure relate to thyroid conditions? We know what the toxicities are and we are reasonably effective in mitigating them.”, As I noted last month, HBO’s “Chernobyl” misrepresents radiation exposure as the main or only factor behind the deaths of 29 firefighters. CLL was not increased in the study of atomic bomb survivors, but as our group at UCSF reported in a later study, CLL is very rare in Japan, so this finding could have been missed. There were no cases of ARS among the general public living in cities and villages around the Chernobyl power plant. Why, it was described in a book, The very same doctors whose advice encouraged one million women to seek abortions are also behind the claims by groups ranging from Greenpeace to Helen Caldicott to, “I’m amazed the producers didn’t get technical advice from a health physicist or radiobiologist rather than basing much of their screenplay on a novel (, America's Top Givers: The 25 Most Philanthropic Billionaires, EY & Citi On The Importance Of Resilience And Innovation, Impact 50: Investors Seeking Profit — And Pushing For Change, Guyana’s Election Controversy Threatens Its Energy Future, Chesapeake Energy Finally Succumbs With Chapter 11 Filing, Deloitte: COVID-19 Fallout Demands That U.S. Shale Completely Transform Its Operations, The Oil And Gas Situation: The E&P Sector Faces A Reckoning. UC San Francisco’s Lydia Zablotska, MD, PhD, grew up in Ukraine, trained as physician in Belarus, and has studied the long-term health impacts of radiation exposure on the Chernobyl cleanup workers, local children and others in the region. Gale has been a world-renowned expert on bone marrow transplantation, which is used to treat radiation victims, since before the Chernobyl accident. It takes far more than what you might get from any medical treatment to cause it. This is how Belarus, which was in the path of winds in the first days after the accident, got really large doses. Acute radiation syndrome, also known as radiation sickness or radiation poisoning, is a collection of health effects due to exposure to high amounts of ionizing radiation over a short period of time. Then, a couple days later, the circulatory system collapses so people start having blood volume issues and so forth. ", “Most radiation contamination was superficial and relatively easily managed by routine procedures. “Another error [in HBO’s “Chernobyl”] was to portray the victims as being dangerously radioactive,” UCLA’s Robert Gale. in “The Cancer Letter,” a subscription-based newsletter. Despite the warning that the "suicide squad" would die within a week of entering the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, two of the three are still alive. The symptoms of ARS can start within the hour of exposure, and can last for several months. This is actually on us, as scientists, that we didn’t explain scientific findings properly to the public both immediately after the accident and in the years since. Studies suggest that the biggest effect of Chernobyl was the effect on the public – the psychosocial effect – which was exacerbated by the collapse of the Soviet Union, shortages of food and lack of proper medical care and medications. 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