Most couples in most countries will conceive within a year of trying. Families in the Ukraine take an average of 2.5 years, according to a new U.S. publication. Why? Radiation discharged from the ill-fated nuclear explosion at nearby Chernobyl in 1986 is the likely culprit. Male infertility is the consequence.
We know that sperm production is exquisitely sensitive to radiation, and we actually know how sensitive it is to this exposure. Believe it or not, this was demonstrated in a series of never-to-be-repeated experiments conducted in the 1960’s right here in America. Recall that this was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and extreme Cold War tension. The Walla Walla experiments in Washington state involved irradiation of 64 prisoners with various dose levels at Washington State Penitentiary to find the dose that would sterilize them. A similar, second set of prisoner experiments were also conducted at Oregon State Penitentiary during the same period. These studies on “volunteers” demonstrated two things: 1) prisoners do not have the free will to be considered for scientific experiments and 2) the testis is very sensitive to radiation.
How sensitive? Let’s use a chest X-ray for comparison (0.1 mSV). When 15 mSV (150 chest X-ray equivalents) of radiation was aimed at the testis, sperm counts fell. When 50 mSV (500 chest X-rays) were used, it caused temporary sterility. And after 500 mSV (5000 chest X-rays) of radiation, permanent sterility resulted.
So, it is not surprising that a nuclear explosion in the Ukraine occurring 24 years ago over a fallout area 1/3 as large as Iceland’s recent Eyjafjallajokull volcano (19,000+ square miles) might have an effect on human fertility in the surrounding area. Those exposed to radiation as children are now grown, have survived their thyroid cancers, and are trying to reproduce.
As a scientist and doctor, teacher, humanitarian and ethicist, I find this world an often frightfully complex place, mainly because of a failure to learn and grow from our mistakes. Haven’t we realized that good planets are hard to find? In the case of Chernobyl, and in the words of Alan Eddison: