Whitewashing the Whirlwind

John LaForge

The April 1986 reactor explosion and 40-day-long graphite fire at Chernobyl in Ukraine dispersed half its radioactive fallout to every corner of the Northern Hemisphere. Half the fallout fell on the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
The April 1986 reactor explosion and 40-day-long graphite fire at Chernobyl in Ukraine dispersed half its radioactive fallout to every corner of the Northern Hemisphere. Half the fallout fell on the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

The breadth and depth of radioactive contamination caused by the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, 30 years ago this month, is often forgotten, ignored or minimized, in part because major news services trivialize, contradict, or ignore what’s been reported.

In his April 18, 2016 report in the Philadelphia Inquirer online, David O’Reilly, acknowledged merely that “… Chernobyl spewed radioactive gases for miles around…” This is not an untrue statement, but…

The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation repeated at least five times in its 1988 report to the General Assembly, “Sources, Effects and Risks of Ionizing Radiation,” that Chernobyl resulted in radioactive material being dispersed and deposited “throughout the northern hemisphere.”

When it comes to Chernobyl’s radiation in the environment, a review of public news accounts, books, and easily accessible studies shows that commercial news reporting is grossly sanitized and irresponsible.

A compilation of common understatements of Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout dispersal, followed by factual reports illustrates.

“…smoke then spread over Europe and the western Soviet Union.”  — Chloe Riley, “For Polish Artist, Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Hits Close to Home,” WTTW/Chicago Public Television, April 18, 2016
“… Chernobyl caused significant contamination in countries neighboring Ukraine, such as Belarus and Russia…. It reached the whole of Europe in some form, except Portugal.” — Natalia Liubchenkova, “Chernobyl and Fukushima: lessons not learned,” EuroNews.com, April 20, 2016

“April 26 marks 30 years since the Chernobyl disaster which affected 4.1 million people in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.” — Linda Low, “600,000 kilometers for Chernobyl,” IFRC, Int’l Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, April 20, 2016

“… the Chernobyl nuclear power plant’s reactor No. 4 exploded during a pre-dawn test on April 26, 1986, spewing radioactive clouds over much of western Soviet Union and Northern Europe.”
 — Associated Press, Mansur Mirovalev, “Russian wildfires kindle concern on Chernobyl dust,” Boston Globe, Aug. 12, 2010

“The disaster occurred on April 26, 1986 at 1:23 a.m., when one of the reactors exploded — contaminating the Soviet states of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus with the fallout also spreading to other parts of Europe.”
— “Ukraine marks Chernobyl’s 23rd anniversary,” Agence France-Presse, April 26, 2009

“Radioactive material continued to be released for another 10 days, spreading across Europe.”
— Peter Finn, “Chernobyl’s Harm Was Far Less Than Predicted, UN Report Says,” Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2005

“Winds carried fallout into Belarus, as well as Russia, Poland, the Baltic region and Scandinavia.”
— Sunday Patriot News (Harrison, Penn.), February 29, 2004

Chernobyl’s reactor no. 4 exploded in 1986, “spewing radiation over much of Europe.”
— Associated Press, “Last Working Chernobyl Reactor is Restarted,” New York Times, Nov. 27, 1999

“A soviet-designed reactor exploded April 26, 1986, spreading a poisonous radioactive cloud north of Kiev.”
— New York Times, Reuters, April 23, 1998

“During those days, with the world unaware, a plume of toxic gases and dust, laced with plutonium, iodine-131, strontium-90 and cesium-137, some of the most deadly elements in the universe, spread across the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.” — Philip Taubman, “Chernobyl Reconsidered,” New York Times, Apr. 26, 1996

“The world’s worst nuclear disaster spewed tons of radioactive material over more than 10,000 square miles. Traces were found as far away as Scotland and Wales.” — Associated Press, Milwaukee Journal, March 27, 1995

“Radiation from the plant spread over a wide area surrounding the plant.”
— Associated Press, “196 Chernobyl Children Go To Israel,” St. Louis Post Dispatch, August 5, 1990

“As radioactive poisons spread into Western Europe, it is time to ask some questions of our own nuclear power program.”
— Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, “Chernobyl disaster offers lesson to U.S.,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 2, 1986

Chernobyl’s actual dispersal

“… the April 26, 1986 meltdown of reactor number four at the nearby Chernobyl plant, … that spewed radioactive fallout across the globe and is considered the world’s worst civilian nuclear accident.”
— The Weather Channel, April 15, 2016

 “In a similar way, radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 spread around the globe and reached the West Coast of the United States in 10 days….”
? “Radiation Plume Could Reach Southern California by Friday,” Huffington Post, March 17, 2011
“Throughout the Northern Hemisphere radioactivity covered most living spaces and became a source of potential harm for all living things. … Chernobyl fallout covered the entire Northern Hemisphere.”
— Alexey Yablokov, et al, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 1181, Boston, 2009, pp. vii, & 1

“… Chernobyl’s nuclide emissions were dispersed across many parts of Europe, and later across the entire northern hemisphere. For example, relatively high concentrations of nuclides from the Chernobyl plume were measured at Hiroshima Japan, over 8,000 km from Chernobyl.”
— Ian Fairlie & David Sumner, “TORCH: The Other Report on Chernobyl,” April 2006, p. 30

“Radioactivity carried by the wind appeared in reindeer meat in Sweden and in rain in America’s Pacific Northwest. The hard-hit regions of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine can expect to be contaminated for decades.”
— Chicago Tribune, and Omaha World Herald, Apr. 26, 2006

“The releases of radioactive materials were such that contamination of the ground was found to some extent in every country in the Northern Hemisphere.”
— Maureen Hatch, et al, The Chernobyl Disaster: Cancer following the Accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Oxford Journals, Epidemiologic Reviews, Oxford University Press, Vol. 27, Issue 1, March 30, 2005, pp. 56-66

Chernobyl “… was the largest accidental release of radioactive materials to the environment and caused contamination in most countries in the northern hemisphere.”
— Chris Busby, Ed., ECRR: Recommendations of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, Green Audit Press, 2003, p. 109

“There were measurable amounts throughout the Northern Hemisphere. For example, an increase of 6,574 picocuries per liter of rainwater recorded on May 12 in Washington State was more than 140 times the background level measured immediately before the Chernobyl cloud reached the USA.”
— J. Donald Hughes, “Bryansk: the Impact of Chernobyl,” in An Environmental History of the World, Routledge, London, 2002

“Radioactive contamination of the ground was found to some extent in practically every country of the northern hemisphere.”
— French Nuclear Energy Agency, “Chernobyl: Assessment of Radiological and Health Impact: The release, dispersion and deposition of radionuclides,” April 2002

“… radiation contamination was detectable over the entire Northern Hemisphere.”
— Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 1996, p. 38

“…a giant plume containing millions of curies of deadly radioactive aerosol … within a few days had reached nearly every country in the northern hemisphere.” — Zhores Medvedev, The Legacy of Chernobyl, Norton & Co., 1990, p. ix

“Chernobyl, once home to 10,000 people, was evacuated in April 1986 after a fire at the power plant with the same name spewed radiation worldwide.” — Associated Press, “Soviets raze town of Chernobyl,” Duluth News Tribune, October 9, 1988

“The accident at the Chernobyl … resulted in radioactive material becoming widely dispersed and deposited in European countries and throughout the northern hemisphere.”
— UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, “Sources, Effects and Risks of Ionizing Radiation: 1988 Report to General Assembly,” p. 29. Also p. 310: “…throughout the northern hemisphere”; p. 311: “…throughout the northern hemisphere”; and, p. 315: “throughout the northern hemisphere.”

“Over ten days clouds traveled northwest from Chernobyl, then south and east. … Presently, they caused a tiny increase in radioactivity in California. … The initial cloud rapidly split, with one arm extending over Europe and the other over Asia, with subsequent movement across the Gulf of Alaska to the west coast of North America.”
— Mike Edwards, “Chernobyl - One Year After,” National Geographic, May 1987, pp. 634, 641

“About 800 tons of clay and sand were dropped as well. The core was then insulated, and there was no natural circulation. Decay heat caused the core temperature to increase, and the amount of radioactivity released also increased. The rise in radionuclide release from days 6 through 9 involved particularly volatile species. This rise provides an explanation for some reports that perhaps a second accident had occurred, because radionuclide measurements outside the Soviet Union suddenly increased.”
— Science, Vol. 236, May 8, 1987, p. 676

“For the second time since the [Chernobyl disaster] last month, a slightly elevated level of radioactive iodine has been found in a Minnesota milk sample, state health officials said. … The amount of iodine-131 in the air also increased slightly [May 19] after several days of decline, health officials said.”
— “Slight rise in radioactivity found again in state milk,” Duluth News-Tribune & Herald, May 22, 1986

“In Minnesota, meanwhile, tiny amounts of radioactive material thought to have come from the Soviet disaster have been found in a milk sample, the state Health Department said Friday [May 16, 1986]. The amount of radioactive gas in Minnesota’s air began to decline after two days of increasing levels, the department said. Both the air and milk levels were very small and not believed to be harmful, the department said.”
— Associated Press, “Radiation kills Chernobyl firemen,” St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch, May 17, 1986

 “… low levels of radiation have been discovered in a sample of raw milk from a Minnesota dairy, state health officials said [May 16]. … Since radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident began floating over Minnesota last week …”
— Kate Parry, “Low radiation dose found in area milk,” Minneapolis StarTribune, May 17, 1986

“Airborne radioactivity from the Chernobyl nuclear accident is now so widespread that it is likely to fall to the ground wherever it rains in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency said.” — Associated Press, Duluth Herald, May 15, 1986

“State authorities in Oregon have warned residents dependent solely on rainwater for drinking that they should arrange other supplies for the time being.” — Associated Press, May 15, 1986

Vladimir Lomeiko, the Soviet Foreign Ministry’s chief spokesman, said that the Common Market ban on fresh food imports from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe until May 31 was “totally unjustified.” He said the World Health Organization had determined that Soviet food not grown in the immediate Chernobyl area is safe to eat.
— Knight-Ridder, “Soviet report 8 dead in Chernobyl,” Duluth News Tribune, May 13, 1986

“Meanwhile, U.S. officials said that some radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster passed over the United States and Canada yesterday [May 5] and probably fell in rain on the Pacific Coast and in the Midwest.”
— Associated Press, “Soviets detail explosion, radiation spread,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, May 6, 1986

Credits