Children of Turkey caught in the shadow of Chernobyl

PICTURES of balding children with leukaemia have been filling newspapers in Turkey, their angry parents accusing the government of letting their loved ones fall victim to radioactive rain from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

As headlines, such as 'Chernobyl has really exploded now', invade front pages, lawyers are writing columns advising people how to sue for damages, rival politicians are up in arms and several cases have already been filed against officials in the government of President Turgut Ozal, then the prime minister. The worried atmosphere is a far cry from the weeks after the accident in 1986 when Turkish officials followed each other on to television to sip tea from Turkey's Black Sea coast and assure the public that Chernobyl was nothing to worry about.

What happened, the press now asks, to the ton of contaminated tea that was supposed to be buried but mysteriously disappeared from depots? Was it true that Turkey deliberately sold radioactive tea to take revenge on the old Soviet Union, or that radioactive Turkish hazelnuts contaminated chocolates all over the world? Much of this is speculation, even if one official admitted that mildly radioactive tea had been mixed with uncontaminated stock to bring its becquerel reading down to safe levels.

But the scare is not all smoke without fire, according to the new government of the Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel. His Health Minister, Yildirim Aktuna, has offered to pay for leukaemia treatments and to investigate an apparent increase in cancer cases among children in the northern parts of Turkey most exposed to Chernobyl radiation; he emphasised, however, that there was no reason to believe there would be a great increase in cancer cases, and that the many worried parents in northern Turkey should relax.

The figures of those affected by the nuclear explosion 700 miles north of Turkey are still confused. Most of the radioactive cloud was blown away from Turkey at the time, but an early report said 100,000 Turks might have been in areas of radioactive rainfall. The governor of the Black Sea province of Trabzon said cancer cases had risen from 19 in 1987 to 232 in 1992, and the number of children with cancer had risen from none to six a year.

Other specialists say cancer statistics are hard to interpret in this developing country of 60 million people. But there was an unexplained increase in child cases of leukaemia three years after the Chernobyl explosion, a time delay similar to that observed after the atom bomb exploded in Hiroshima in 1945.

'Before Chernobyl, we treated 45 to 55 cases (of child leukaemia) a year. There was no rise until 1989, when we treated 94 cases, and 1990, when there were 72. Now the level is back to normal,' said Gunduz Gedikoglu, president of the Children's Leukaemia Foundation. The proportion of cases from the northern coast had, however, stayed constant at about 4 per cent in Dr Gedikoglu's hospital.

The affair has been put to political use in a variety of ways. The government loves to blacken every act of Mr Demirel's main rival, Mr Ozal. The alleged scandal is also a wonderful stick for academics to beat the hated Higher Education Board, set up by the leaders of Turkey's 1980 military coup. The board had banned all scientists from commenting on Chernobyl. Turkish journalists even say the scare is useful in raising health consciousness in a country where many Turkish men still seem to believe that Turks are immune to Aids.

Specialists say the calm reaction of Mr Ozal's government, even his famous alleged statement that a little radiation is good for you, may in the end be technically vindicated, but that he was wrong to stifle all independent warnings of radiation dangers.

'Panic is being created because of a wish to take revenge on the thick-headed approach of the previous period,' said Turkan Akyol, a state minister in Mr Demirel's government. 'This is as dangerous as the radiation . . . think of the feelings of pregnant mothers on the Black Sea.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer / Web Designer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in the e-cigarette ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in the e-cigarette ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future