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A case for a closer look at Chernobyl

As the debate over the lasting health effects of the Chernobyl disaster continues, NBC's Preston Mendenhall speaks with Dr. Alexandre Perepletchikov, a medical expert in Belarus' contaminated zone, who disagrees with the 2005 U.N. report that downplayed the lasting effects of the disaster.
/ Source: NBC News

Dr. Alexandre Perepletchikov is a former acting director of the Pathology Department at the Gomel Institute, a medical training and research center in Belarus’ contaminated zone.

Perepletchikov, and other medical experts, have raised questions about the U.N. report on Chernobyl.

Although the Gomel Institute conducted extensive research on the effects of low-level radiation among contaminated populations, Perepletchikov tells NBC’s Preston Mendenhall he was not consulted for the U.N. report.

Preston Mendenhall: What is your analysis of the U.N. report, which says the long-term health effects of Chernobyl are not as dire as many have predicted?

Alexandre Perepletchikov: I agree with the general conception of the report. But I disagreed on some points regarding the medical consequences of Chernobyl.

The report has no basis on which to state that exposure to radiation will not affect the health of children. Our research shows that all organs (among children) are affected by radiation.

In general, there is very little information about the effect of chronic, constant radiation exposure on body tissues. All literature and studies have been about acute radiation exposure. Chronic exposure to low-level radiation is a relatively unknown phenomenon.

Did the U.N. report include your research?
We were leading center of Chernobyl research in the area. Nobody contacted me.

We had very valuable, first hand information, because we lived in the center of the contaminated zone. We had all materials from actual autopsies. It’s incredibly valuable material.

You cannot repeat these kinds of natural, environmental experiments from people with chronic exposure to radiation, people who consumed radiation from soil, from milk, from everywhere. And we had these materials in our hands.

How did you conduct your experiments?
We took samples from a random population in the fallout region. And then we analyzed the functional capabilities of organs. We found that when the dose of radiation reached a certain threshold, organs become dysfunctional. And we confirmed that with clinical data.

Concurrently, we did an experimental model on mice and rats. We fed them radioactive materials. We analyzed their tissues microscopically. We found a similar effect on skeletal tissues, the heart and kidneys, which couldn’t excrete radionuclides accumulate din the body.

The U.N. report states that it is impossible to attribute so many illnesses to low doses of radiation?
That could be true, but there has not been enough study to say for sure. For example, nobody has done a dosage dependent evaluation of radiation (among the population living in the fallout area).

At time we did our research we did not have equipment to measure precise doses of radiation. Further evaluation obviously needs to be done in the heart of the contaminated zone. But I don’t know who will sponsor this research.

How optimistic are you that further research will be done?
I strongly believe more research has to be done. We are missing a unique opportunity to gain knowledge of the potential long-term effects of chronic radiation exposure on human health. We will regret it later when the material is no longer available.