By Audrey McCollum
Many favor the development of nuclear power as a major source of energy. Yet the risks involved in its production, distribution and disposal are not fully understood. Since the owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant are seeking renewal of their license to operate the plant beyond 2012, we may be subject to danger.
In a timely public presentation, Winfrid Eisenberg, M.D. will explore the question “Is Nuclear Power Dangerous To Your Health?” His discussion will take place at the Montshire Museum in Norwich, VT on Tuesday, February 24th at 7 p.m. Admission is free.
Born in 1937, a father of four and grandfather of six, Dr. Eisenberg is a German pediatrician who specialized in the care of newborns and infants. Before completing his training in this specialty, he served as a mission doctor in Tanzania for three years, perhaps expressing the zeal that has permeated his work not only as a clinician but also as an advocate for the care of refugees, human rights, and for nuclear disarmament.
Dr. Eisenberg was working as Medical Director of a Peri-/Neonatal Center in northwestern Germany when the catastrophic nuclear explosion took place in Chernobyl in 1986. Eight tons of radioactive material escaped into the atmosphere, soil and groundwater supplies within a 20-mile radius of the plant were severely contaminated, 135,000 people had to be evacuated, and thousands of cancer deaths were expected to develop from the radiation.
I learned a little about Dr. Eisenberg’s responses to this disaster through a three-way e-mail “conversation” between him, Eric Bachman, a trainer for non-violent conflict resolution and consultant for non-profits who coordinated Dr. Eisenberg’s tour, and myself.
“The Chernobyl disaster had a large effect on Germany,” said Dr. Eisenberg. “The parents of young children or parents expecting a child asked me what to do. In order to find answers for them, I had to investigate the consequences of Chernobyl.”
Beginning in ’87, he was among a group who invited children living in contaminated areas of Belarus to vacation for three or more weeks in Germany. During that time, he and another pediatrician offered them medical examinations and care. He noted that the children much enjoyed the freedom to play where they wanted and eat healthy food. “It usually took one week until they overcame their sadness and warmed up to the German children,” he said. (Then, of course, they had to return to their poisoned homeland in Belarus.)
In ’98, Dr. Eisenberg journeyed to Mozyr in Belarus to obtain first-hand information from hospital physicians and a physicist about the health consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe.
But before that, “In southern Germany (up to 900 miles away from Chernobyl) the perinatal death rate and the rate of congenital malformation increased significantly eight to nine months after the Chernobyl disaster. Children in Germany felt imprisoned because they were not allowed to play outside….” he added. Their homeland, too, was poisoned, and Dr. Eisenberg gave many talks in many venues about the dangers of radiation.
Yet there had actually been earlier observations of leukemia clusters around nuclear power plants in Germany, according to Mr. Bachman. A limited number of studies had been done, producing controversial results. There was strong governmental resistance to the large-scale epidemiological study that was needed. Nonetheless, it was carried out, and Dr. Eisenberg is likely to discuss it on February 24th.
We should all hear his message.
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Published in the Connecticut Valley Spectator, February 19, 2009.