INRS-Energie, CP 1020
Varennes, PQ, Canada
March 15, 1991
American Institute of Physics
500 Sunnyside Blvd.
Woodbury, NY 11797
Jovan Jovanovich in his letter titled "Is Chernobyl News Contaminated?" (December, 1990, page 91) attacks the credibility of William Sweet concerning his article (July, 1990, page 62) titled "Chernobyl Aftermath to be Assessed by International Expert Team". There are four specific points which I would like to raise with Jovanovich.
(1) He states: "Thanks to glasnost, the Soviet mass (nonprofessional) media abound today with all kinds of information...highly suspect...". Is Jovanovich suggesting that for the past 70 years the professional (KGB controlled) media in the Soviet Union was highly reliable? Surely, it is now obvious to the whole world that the "nonprofessional" reports of concentration camps, genocide and starvation were far more reliable than the official denials of the Bolshevik bureaucracy.
(2) Jovanovich notes that the governments of Byelorussia and Ukraine have reported that several million inhabitants live in contaminated areas and then suggests that because these "republics have strong independence movements" they "are exaggerating Chernobyl's consequences to further their political aims". He then notices that "it is mainly (only?) Byelorussian and Ukrainian government officials making these statements while Soviet (federal) officials and professionals are not".
First of all, we agree that the "professionals" in the Moscow bureaucracy have been ignoring and downplaying the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster for the past five years. Any last vestige of credibility of the Soviet nuclear bureaucracy was shattered by the April 27, 1988 death of Valerii Legasov, who, as a leading proponent of nuclear energy, had been the main Soviet spokesperson at the IAEA meeting in Vienna in August, 1986. Realizing that he was fighting a losing battle to bring responsibility and restraint to the Soviet nuclear program, he committed suicide after writing a stinging condemnation of the bureaucracy and the basic failure of the industry to learn the lessons of Chernobyl.
Secondly, it is true that there are strong independence movements in Ukraine and Byelorussia. Indeed, all 15 republics comprising the Soviet Union have declared their sovereignty or independence. All favour a dissolution of the Bolshevik Empire as it now exists. And the inept handling of the Chernobyl disaster by the central authorities has been a major impetus to these movements. The people are fully aware that the central authorities never have been and never will be concerned with their welfare.
Finally, let me assure Jovanovich that, of the hundreds of visitors from Ukraine, Byelorussia and the Baltic republics passing through Montreal during the past five years not a single one has expressed approval of the handling of the crisis by the central authorities. Many have expressed grave concerns: "They tell us nothing" or "We don't believe what they tell us any more". Their fears may be misplaced or exaggerated, but, nonetheless, their fears are real.
(3) Jovanovich is correct in believing that the pending IAEA report assessing the Chernobyl situation will be received with scepticism throughout the world. For example, the World Health Organisation contributing to this report has recently made the absurd recommendation that an international centre for radiation-induced health problems for the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster be located in Obninsk near Moscow, rather than near the region of contamination in Ukraine and Byelorussia. Such a recommendation can only further compromise the credibility of the IAEA. Radiation victims in Byelorussia and Ukraine will view it as another cynical attempt of the Moscow bureaucracy to seize control of the situation and prevent them from obtaining the medical treatment they require.
(4) Jovanovich is also correct in suggesting that the physics of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion has not been adequately studied. The initial knee-jerk reaction of the nuclear establishment in the West was to label the RBMK-1000 reactor design as being unsafe and claim that such an explosion could not occur in Western-designed reactors. The official Soviet report on the accident at the August 25-29, 1986 IAEA meeting in Vienna clearly blamed the accident on operator error. Thereafter, Western scientists simply accepted the boundary conditions supplied by the Soviets and repeated their calculations indicating that the explosion occurred 4 seconds after the AZ-5 scram button attempting to shut down the reactor was pushed at 1:26:40 hours, April 26, 1986. Discrepancies with eyewitness testimony indicating the emission of two flares preceding the explosion and the existence of two or more explosions were simply ignored. Unfortunately, all debriefings of plant personnel and interviews of eyewitnesses remain classified, such that it is not possible to ascertain the validity of the accident scenario as presented by the Soviets. Declassification of this material, as well as transcripts of the July 1987 trial convicting six plant personnel of responsibility for the accident is absolutely necessary.
The most glaring discrepancies have been noted by Grigorii Medvedev in his 106 page article in Novy Mir, June, 1989 (in Russian) as well as his recent English language book "The Truth About Chernobyl", Basic Books, NY (1991). Particularly disconcerting is his assertion that the explosion occurred at least 18 seconds after the AZ-5 button was pushed, not 4 seconds as heretofore assumed. If such was indeed the case then all previous neutronic calculations cannot possibly be an accurate description of the explosion.
In conclusion, by trivializing the consequences of Chernobyl, Jovanovich performs a disservice to both the nuclear industry as well as humanity as a whole.
William W. Zuzak
CHORN_91.C15 = Letter to APS
Copyright © 1991 Dr. W. Zuzak