‘Factual errors’ to point out in HBO ‘Chernobyl’

Robert Gayle thank you for joining me you treated many of the people injured or made sick by the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 did that happen that you became involved well I was invited by mr. Gorbachev to come to Moscow just after the accident and bring with me some you know more sophisticated technologies that were not readily available in the Soviet Union at that time and how many people did you and your team treat well slightly more than 200 and that would include obviously the most the most affected by the disaster well these were the actually 204 people that we felt had something called acute radiation syndrome well fast-forward to now before I go back to what you saw we have HBO having a hit TV series Chernobyl it's called a slightly fictionalized account of this disaster the well the effects of which you witnessed firsthand and we've shown horrible wounds baby dying from contamination apparently from the father and it ends with claims of between 4000 and 93 thousand people died as a consequence from what you've seen how much of that HBO series corresponds with what you saw at the time and no subsequently right well you know let me say just on the onset that I think it's you know very very well-done bit of television but tip there are a number of technical errors that I understand screenwriters need to make but to keep people blued in every week but the examples you cite I mean we have for example we know there are about 31 deaths from the accident not not thousands I've written on in some editorials a death why this you know it's very sad that this child died but I think it's it's impossible that it was related to the mother's exposure to radiation and so there are just a number of factual errors that it's important to point out because you know physicians or people will not understand and may make serious errors for example the ignorance of people about the effects of radiation no we estimate ledtube at 1 million unnecessary abortions in the Soviet Union and in your physicians and other people told women well you might have been exposed to radiation you need to have an abortion but we know from the atomic bomb survivors exactly what doses of radiation you know cause fetal abnormalities and no one outside of the nuclear power station could have received such a dose we go one thing I did a story recently again I've written about this sort of thing more than once that the effects of the scare mongering over Chernobyl we're more deadly than the disaster itself and a lot of people seem very angry to hear the truth about that but let me just go through with you bit by bit now as you said about 31 first responders people on the scene at the time died in the blast or shortly afterwards first of all what killed them exactly was a radiation alone what are the effects of the blast as well sure well I mean in these kinds of accidents with rare exception you know we deal with compound injuries so these are firefighters they're they're putting out a fire you know fire that could be a thousand degrees Celsius and they are exposed to chemicals of course and burning graphite and radiation and and all of these things happen to the same individuals the people closest to the fire that they also get the highest radiation dose so it's almost impossible for us to single out exactly the cause I mean I would say that we had about 13 individuals where I would pin the blame on radiation and the rest of the deaths are hard to to pick out the radiation versus these concomitant injuries then after the blast of course over the years there is well we've seen other health effects but really they've been narrowed down to thyroid cancer in children at the time that seems to be the only known long-term health effect how many children do you think died and and how serious is Thorold cancer can be treated for instance yeah well I mean they're they're between six and seven thousand cases of thyroid cancer that that we can confirm you know fortunately it's a very treatable cancer and so estimate that there are less than 10 or 15 deaths so this tragic of course but but it's not what many people have have imagined so with regard to other cancers you know we're in a very dicey situation because we have other things moving many moving parts for example after the collapse of the Soviet Union and amongst these Liquidators for example we know we have very good evidence that these people increase their alcohol consumption and increase their tobacco consumption and those changes in their habits are much more powerful in causing cancer and other health you know defects then they then is the radiation from Chernobyl so it's it's it's somewhere between very very difficult and impossible for us to really know whether any of these if the weather there any increase in other cancers well probably will never really be ascertain about them but you must find it extraordinary as someone who actually knows the science of these things actually treated the patients to sing some of the amazing scare mongering about Chernobyl since I mean just in Australia I don't know about America but in Australia we've seen people like a former Health Environment Minister Peter Garrett say 30,000 people died and we've seen the Australian Conservation Foundation say 250,000 people died and you no doubt know the work of Helen Caldicott she says a million people died how do these amazing exaggerations get said and worse believed do you think well you know people have a very extraordinary fear of radiation and I think we you know we've studied this why is that well you know most risks to our lives so you take a fire or a flood falling off a cliff they are something that that a human can perceive radiation is something which they can't perceive so I mean you and I could be being radiated with the lethal dose as we're speaking and I think it's this fear of the unknown that allows people's imaginations to go wild no in fact if you think about it these kind of green parties and anti-nuclear people well you know they should be strongly nuclear I mean for example if we calculate the danger to produce electricity for a terawatt of electricity but nuclear is about you know ten or a hundred times safer one other thing that I like to point out is that when you burn coal you release radioactive substances into the atmosphere because coal comes from the earth coal contains plutonium and thorium so for every terawatt of electricity we produce we release more radiation from coal than we do from nuclear now you know it's a complex technology and it has to be handled carefully you know a Ferrari is a beautiful bracing machine but you wouldn't put a six-year-old in the driver's seat then it becomes a death weapon so I'm always surprised that greens are anti rather than strongly Pro because if we want to stop global warming in the next few decades nuclear is the only Avenue it seems to me the case it seems also that many of the projections about future deaths were based on mathematical modeling that in turn was based on the supposition that there was no safe dose of radiation that the slightest bit of radiation had to have a negative impact on people's health is that no safe dose theory does that still hold up well you know I have to answer you in two different wearing two different hats you know in one regard as a person who's concerned with you know the safety of the public our safest assumption is that there is no safe dose or that any dose of radiation can cause harm so for example a physician should never order a radiological procedure unless there's a perceived benefit but you know looking at it in other way all of our assumptions are based on a very limited data set mostly the atomic bomb survivors the atomic bomb survivors got very high doses of ionizing radiations in an instant and now we're trying to apply that model to a group of people hundreds of thousands of people who are exposed to radiation over years so you know we have to make a lot of worse-case assumptions about what might happen but I would just point out that there are people in Australia who get 10 times higher dose from natural radiation than people who live in Melbourne or Sydney these are people who live you know in areas where there's a lot of radiation in the soil and we don't really see a difference in cancer rates based on where people live even though these people get 10 times more so yeah we have to be careful with radiation but so far we haven't seen any convincing increase in leukemia for example which was the most increased cancer after the a bombs that occurred about 10 years after the 1945 now we're more than 30 years after Chernobyl and we haven't seen any convincing increase in leukemia and that suggests that a huge wave of cancer is caused by the radiation from Chernobyl is very very unlikely to occur Bravo guys fascinating talking to you thank you so much indeed for your time well thank you

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