Keith Baverstock, University of Kupio, Finland

«The IAEA and WHO have totally failed»

Keith Baverstock is lecturer on the effects of ionising radiation at the Department of Environmental Science at the University of Kuopio.  He led the Radiation Protection Programme at the World Health Organization's Regional Office for Europe from 1991 to 2003. He then served on the UK Committee for Radioactive Waste Management but was dismissed after two years because of his criticism of the Committee's unscientific approach and lack of transparency. Today he is engaged in the self-regulation of cells and the effects of low doses of radiation on the living material in cells.

«The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have some noble and highly important duties. You can see them as the psychological and social answer to questions raised by the public, such as legitimate concerns over the environment or the dangers of radioactive radiation. But what have these two organisations done since the Fukushima nuclear disaster? Nothing. They've totally failed. On the third day after the earthquake, when the population had already been evacuated within 20 kilometres of the nuclear reactors, it was said that the IAEA was planning an investigation and researching more information. The evacuation was later mentioned, but there was no word in the statements about the radioactive fallout. During the same time at the WHO, it was believed that there could be problems with the nuclear reactors, but it must have long been clear to any expert by the second day at the latest that it had resulted in a disaster. Later on, the IAEA information dealt mainly with the technical aspects, but there was no effort to communicate with people who understand nothing about nuclear energy to calm them down or warn them. The IAEA continues to do this, as though these aspects have nothing to do with us – though they affect us all. Instead, while it speaks of safety standards, it fails to mention the serious mistakes that were made in Japan after the disaster, including the failure to prevent the hydrogen explosions.  It took until 1.5 years after the disaster for  the WHO to publish an initial estimate on the radiation released, and with it an initial assessment of the health risks involved. But the WHO refrained from commenting on the Japanese government's threshold for evacuating at 20 millisieverts, even though that figure is far higher than the recommendations by the WHO and other organisations. There was also no comment on the Japanese claim that doses below 100 millisieverts, which is a hundred times the permitted annual dose, holds no risk of cancer despite the fact that the Japanese authorities themselves assume that there is basically no such thing as harmless radiation. This total failure is something I have never seen in the forty years that I worked for the WHO. There had been projects in the 1990s to launch emergency planning in order to be able to respond adequately in case of a disaster. In Finland, where I live, the authorities have shown what it means to inform the public after a nuclear disaster. They realised early on there that a meltdown was almost certain to occur and that the wind, which had first blow to sea, had changed direction, and that areas up to 60 kilometres north of the reactor could be contaminated. But in Japan the authorities remained silent, and the people in the affected areas were evacuated too late. In the meantime, the WHO never once followed up with its emergency plans and simply shelved them. The consequence: the WHO, but also the IAEA, left this field uncritically to the nuclear industry, even if it results in a nuclear disaster. Science also participates in this propaganda. This is the key problem, which is why we need above all else a science that is independent of all interest groups."

Read more:

"It's not our business."