There is a debate on Democracy Now! between Helen Caldicott, the anti-nuclear medic, and George Monbiot.
Basically George takes the broad consensus of the high level scientific community that discounts the effect of internal emitters, and the work of Ukrainian scientists. The latter are set aside because they were not published in the right journals.
So he believes that the deaths from Chernobyl were about 50, not 1,000,000.
He is stuck with the a false analogy between climate change science controversy and the radiobiology controversy.
This is interesting.
The fact is that the scientific community can and does get things wrong. That's how science moves: there is a consensus, new evidence comes along, there is a battle, and the consensus shifts.
With climate change, the consensus was that man-made CO2 cannot affect the climate. Over the last 30 years a huge body of evidence has built up showing that we can. This new view is resisted by politically motivated diehards, who rely on cherry-picking data to support their battered case.
With radiobiology, the old view is that external radiation should only be reckoned with, and internal emitters should be set aside. Predicted effects of a given amount of radiation on populations can be calculated from 50 year old datasets from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and new empirical data that suggest greater damage are discounted.
Nuclear scientists tend to prefer the scholastic to the scientific method.
This means that they estimate the amount of radiation that people have received, go back to tables based on the single dose of gamma radiation received by people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and from that calculate how much disease should have been caused. If there is more disease than their calculations allow for, it is put down to chance. This is scholastic, because it assumes that all truth is already known and written down.
The scientific approach on the other hand looks in detail at the radiation dose given to people affected by Chernobyl fallout, looks at the incidence of disease, compares the disease with levels existent before the disaster, and also makes comparisons with similar populations who were not affected by Chernobyl.
This requires an enormous amount of work. Much data collection was carried out in the Ukraine, but it was not published in Western, English language journals, and ended up being discounted by the UN report.]
The challenge for George Monbiot is to look at the work of Yablokov and be open to the data he has suggested that the effects of Chernobyl are far greater than the models espoused by the nuclear industry predicts.
The other question he needs to answer is whether he accepts that nuclear power should now take out fully comprehensive insurance, instead of the 1% insurance it currently enjoys.
I have tweeted both these questions to George, who has ignored them. If they questions are put to him repeatedly, he will have to address them.
[update 5th April;
A brisk debate has started over this matter. George has attacked Helen Caldicott's evidence. In an effort to get a cool overview, I have gone to the TORCH report commissioned for Green MEPs.
It seems reasonable, stressing the scientific uncertainties, in marked contrast to George, who seems very certain that only 56 or so died.
I think Monbiot's weakness is the difficulty in getting scientific data on epidemiological matters. It takes a massive amount of expensive work. Much work was published in non-English journals, which do not then reach the mainstream "peer-reviewed" journals.
This is going to be a messy and time consuming business. At present my priority is to prevent the escape of Fukushima radiation to the environment.
Estimates of the cancer burden in Europe from radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident.