Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and other best sellers, gave a lecture on 6th November with the text now ‘doing the rounds’ on the internet. Titled, ‘Fear, Complexity and Environmental Management in the 21st Century‘ it is a bit of a ramble covering issues as diverse as management of Yellowstone National Park and deaths at Chernobyl, click here for the entire speech with some powerpoint slides.
In the speech Michael Crichton claims that the BBC and New York Times reported 15,000-30,000 dead from Chernobyl when the actual number was 56. Crichton claims:
Chernobyl was a tragic event, but nothing remotely close to the global catastrophe I imagined. About 50 people had died in Chernobyl, roughly the number of Americans that die every day in traffic accidents. I don’t mean to be gruesome, but it was a setback for me. You can’t write a novel about a global disaster in which only 50 people die.
Crichton claims CNN estimated there would be 3.5 million future deaths when in reality there were less than 4,000.
In the speech Crichton claims:
But the shock that I had experienced reverberated within me for a while. Because what I had been led to believe about Chernobyl was not merely wrong-it was astonishingly wrong. Let’s review the data.
The initial reports in 1986 claimed 2,000 dead, and an unknown number of future deaths and deformities occurring in a wide swath extending from Sweden to the Black Sea. As the years passed, the size of the disaster increased; by 2000, the BBC and New York Times estimated 15,000-30,000 dead, and so on …
Now, to report that 15,000-30,000 people have died, when the actual number is 56, represents a big error. Let’s try to get some idea of how big. Suppose we line up all the victims in a row. If 56 people are each represented by one foot of space, then 56 feet is roughly the distance from me to the fourth row of the auditorium. Fifteen thousand people is three miles away. It seems difficult to make a mistake of that scale.
But, of course, you think, we’re talking about radiation: what about long-term consequences? Unfortunately here the media reports are even less accurate.
The chart shows estimates as high as 3.5 million, or 500,000 deaths, when the actual number of delayed deaths is less than 4,000. That’s the number of Americans who die of adverse drug reactions every six weeks. Again, a huge error.
But most troubling of all, according to the UN report in 2005, is that “the largest public health problem created by the accident” is the “damaging psychological impact [due] to a lack of accurate information … [manifesting] as negative self-assessments of health, belief in a shortened life expectancy, lack of initiative, and dependency on assistance from the state.”end of quote
Is this true? How many really died from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl?