Letters: Health effects of Chernobyl

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The Independent Online

The health effects of Chernobyl's low-level radiation are serious

Sir: So, a little radiation every day is just what the doctor ordered, if Dominic Lawson is to be believed ("Listen to the birds of Chernobyl", 7 April). Mr Lawson quotes selectively from the article by Andrew Osborn.

Maria Sharapenkos' quote, "In fact nothing is wrong here. It's just that people have been scared off by the radiation" was followed in Mr Osborn's article by, "But a few doors away, Roman Yush-chenko, an old man riddled with cancer, is turning black beside a chamber pot of his own blood-red urine". Mr Yushchenko added: "Chernobyl may have turned into a sanctuary for flora and fauna. For human beings it remains less welcoming."

Animals seldom live long enough to be affected by low-level radiation. Natural selection allows them to flourish, especially with few humans and no hunting.

To claim that "scientific opinion favours Maria's case" is wrong. The Chernobyl Forum report of September last year, predicted at least 4,000 excess cancer deaths. This body is headed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose chief role is the promotion of nuclear power, so this report is widely believed to have downplayed the effects. A report by the Greens in the European Parliament puts the figure between 30,000 and 60,000.

Mr Lawson's argument that a revival of nuclear power is necessary if western leaders "do not want the lights to go out" is spurious. At present, 25 per cent of our energy needs are met by electricity, less than a quarter of this generated by nuclear power. If Britain were to build 20 nuclear stations, this would reduce our total carbon emissions by 8 per cent.

A far greater contribution to our Kyoto commitment could be made through energy conservation and renewable energy which would not provide terrorist targets or cause a waste-disposal problem lasting thousands of years.

It is not possible to say with certainty the extent of the health effects from Chernobyl. Apart from the well-documented explosion in thyroid cancer, there are no reliable statistics about other cancers, genetic defects, heart disease, blood disorders and diabetes. But there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to indicate there may have been a significant rise in these disorders.

The Chernobyl charities in Britain have combined to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the disaster and launched an appeal for independent research into the health effects caused by low-level radiation in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.



Killing of Britons not isolated incidents

Sir: Because they were British citizens, the deliberate killing of Tom Hurndall and James Miller by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) is receiving full media attention. They are far from being isolated incidents.

Israelis propagate the myth that they are the main victims of violence. In fact, more than three times as many Palestinians have been killed during the second Intifada as Israelis: 3,241 Palestinians killed (1,722 civilians and 1,519 combatants) compared with 967 Israelis killed (658 civilians and 309 military). These figures given by the Israeli Human Rights group, B'Tselem.

Shamefully, few of these Palestinian deaths are reported, and if Israeli violence is mentioned, it is glossed over as "a reprisal. This is a distortion, since Israeli violence against Palestinians is more or less continuous.

Last weekend, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that five Palestinians were killed by extra-judicial execution in Rafah on Friday 7 April, eight on the Saturday in Gaza City and Khan Younis, and one on Sunday morning as a result of the Israeli artillery shelling on the northern Gaza Strip.

Another constant Israeli spin is that the Palestinian victims are all "terrorists caught in the act", but the figures from B'Tselem show that most are civilians. There is a culture in the IDF of snipers shooting at anyone who causes a nuisance to the Israeli occupation, even stone-throwing children.

This is in addition to extra-judicial assassinations, missile strikes on buildings and vehicles by helicopter gunships, shelling of residential areas, bulldozing of homes, destruction of orchards, attacks on medical personnel, prevention of medical help from reaching wounded civilians and mistreatment of prisoners.The cause of all this violence is that Israel is not satisfied with the 78 per cent of Palestine taken between 1948 and 1967, and it is trying to crush all resistance out of the Palestinians.



Sir: The article on Tom Hurndall's inquest (11 April) states that his family felt it did not receive support from either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary.

Since Tom's tragic death, the Foreign Office has provided consular assistance to his family. The Government, including the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, has raised Tom's case frequently with the Israeli authorities. We have demanded repeatedly a full and transparent investigation and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

Tom Hurndall's family have had a number of meetings at the Foreign Office including with the Foreign Secretary. I met Tom's family most recently in July of last year, following the conviction of an Israeli Defence Force soldier for the manslaughter of their son. This was the first time an IDF soldier had been prosecuted for the killing of a foreign national since the second intifada. We remain in close contact with the family and continue to support the family's request for compensation.

I would again like to express Her Majesty's Government's deepest condolences to the Hurndall family for their loss.



Sir: We have now had two verdicts of unlawful killing by the Israeli Defence Force of British civilians. The IDF also continues its illegal practice of targeted assassinations of Palestinians; a recent incident resulted in the death of a child.

The Israelis continue to occupy the West Bank contrary to international law. The huge wall they are constructing in occupied land has been declared unlawful by the International Court of Justice. These actions amount to deliberate lawbreaking that, in other Middle Eastern states, would give rise at least to international sanctions and confer on such a state pariah status.

Can anyone explain why Israel is permitted to flout international law with impunity?



Child's ailment is not harmful

Sir: I was appalled to read the article by Emily Hohler ("If the hat fits", 4 April). Plagiocephaly is common. There are probably multiple causes, though a dominant factor appears to be the position of the baby's head in the pelvis before birth.

Premature babies, who have particularly soft skull bones, tend to develop dolichocephaly. These conditions are harmless and self-limiting, that is to say the head gradually remoulds over the early years and nearly all of these children have normal-shaped heads by the time they go to school.

Describing Ms Hohler's baby as having a "significant deformity" is pandering to her anxieties instead of trying to relieve them, and the statement that it can also cause problems with eyes, ears, jaw and migraines is unjustified scaremongering.

Putting the rapidly growing head of a child into a rigid helmet for months is, in my view, a form of child abuse. Who can say this form of enforced remoulding isn't more damaging than having plagiocephaly for a time?



Island should star in coffee brand

Sir: Your report "Mind the Gap? US resort bans nation's favourite retailers" (8 April), with reference to the Starbucks coffee chain "being kindly invited to stay on the mainland" by the authorities in Nantucket, touches on an interesting part of the island's history.

An original settler on the island, visiting first in 1659, was an Edward Starbuck from Leicester, who had arrived in America only 15 years after the Pilgrim Fathers. He was responsible for negotiating the early land treaties on the island with the native American Indians, becoming one of the settlement's five "Selectmen" in 1673.

It is also a tribute to the detail of Herman Melville's local research that the first mate of Captain Ahab's ship was Starbuck. Indeed, there is evidence that the coffee enterprise took his name as a brand.

Perhaps the Nantucketers should look harder at their island's history. However tenuous the link, and however much they wish to gentrify, the resort appears to be missing a good promotional opportunity.

In the open and honest manner inspired by our political leaders, I have to declare an interest.



Theatre of the absurd

Sir: There is a hearty ho-ho theatre story about me that is spreading like green room poison. As the story reappeared in "The Royal Hunt of the Sun returns to the National" (6 April), I'd like to put it into perspective.

The article quotes something the director John Dexter said to me during rehearsals of one of my plays. "Arnold," he said, "if you don't shut up, I'll direct this play the way you wrote it." John was witty and scathing, but he often pinched other people's lines. This one had been thrown to another playwright years earlier by Tyrone Guthrie.

I was not upset, partly because it was indeed funny and partly because having worked with him on four or five of my plays I knew that the opposite was true. When he directed the plays as I wrote them they worked, when he went wild they didn't.

But what I foolishly did - confident in the soundness of my playwriting skills - was tell the story to one of the biggest gossips in the theatre, John Osborne, who then told everyone he met. It has been bandied around ever since for an easy laugh. There is a moral here: never tell a story against yourself. The ho-ho crowd will flog you to death with it.



Subsidies give us cheap air fares

Sir: While I can identify with the pride and enthusiasm of Sean Maffett for the achievements of the British aviation industry (Letters, 10 April), he needs to look further before widening such praise to include Airbus. The reason we are able to fly from Luton to Rome for £2.89 today is due to the massive amount of European taxpayers' money that subsidised Airbus in its competition with Boeing. The US taxpayer has similarly supported Boeing.

So we have ended up with European and American aircraft bought at a fraction of their true commercial cost. The severe impact on the environment of the surge in aircraft emissions will be borne by future generations,not something any of us can be proud of.



Why do we pay for political parties

Sir: Tony Blair and David Cameron have "accepted in principle that taxpayers will have to stump up more money for [political] parties" ("The week in politics", 8 April). Those who wish to support to a political party will make a contribution. Most, like me, have chosen not to. Is it legal for taxpayers' money to be used to fund private organisations against the wishes of the majority?



1,000 years old

Sir: I cannot imagine where Thomas Sutcliffe got the idea that most of the Coronation Service was "invented by the Victorians" (10 April). Its core goes back more than 1,000 years, and the general form of the last one was much the same as that described in the 14th-century Liber Regalis in Westminster Abbey.



Dental torture

Sir: Stone Age man may have been adept at drilling holes in teeth, but it is a large leap of faith to assume it was done for the benefit of the patients ("Neolithic crowns", 6 April). It may have been done to let the evil spirit causing toothache to escape, but it seems more likely it was done as a form of punishment. A flint drill in a tooth would have been excruciating, yet it wouldn't have reduced the ability of the victim to work for his master, as other punishments would have



Fool's paradise

Sir: Having read your article on Pete Doherty ("The last rock star", 8 April), I now understand what the philosopher Bertrand Russell meant when he wrote: "Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool's paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness" (A Liberal Decalogue, 1951).



Not Twerton's time

Sir: I grew up in Twerton, an unfashionable area near Bath which has never been given the cultural recognition it deserves. When I saw that Henry Fielding, the author of Tom Jones, was featured on your Literary Map of Britain (11April) I thought Twerton's time had finally come. After all, Fielding lived in Twerton and did some writing there. But no: Milford, Derbyshire is identified as the literary site for Fielding's work. Perhaps Twerton sounds too plebian?



Grim warning

Sir: So the MoD have said: "Persistent activity by protesters places them at risk of being mistaken for terrorists" (6 April). Well, we can't say we haven't been warned. I wonder when they'll start shooting us.



Single and idle

Sir: A further suggestion for David Blunkett's book title (Briefly, 11 April) could be Beds, Beards and Bunkum. The publishers may seize on this idea for a trilogy.



Sir: ... or even (with apologies to the late television comedy star Bernard Braden), Bedtime with Blunkett?