San Francisco BayView, April 27, 2011
by Janette D. Sherman, M.D., and Alexey V. Yablokov, Ph.D.
Editor’s note: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists asked Dr. Sherman, recognized worldwide for her expertise on Chernobyl, to write this article last year, then rejected it just before deadline, probably considering it too alarming. In it, she reports the widespread expectation of another nuclear power plant failure and the catastrophic consequences. Now, a few months later, the world commemorates the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl while watching the Fukushima meltdown.
For more than 50 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have abided by an agreement that in essence allows them to cover each other’s back – sometimes at the expense of public health. It’s a delicate balance between cooperation and collusion.
Signed on May 28, 1959, at the 12th World Health Assembly, the agreement states:
“Whenever either organization proposes to initiate a programme or activity on a subject in which the other organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement,” and continues: The IAEA and the WHO “recognize that they may find it necessary to apply certain limitations for the safeguarding of confidential information furnished to them. They therefore agree that nothing in this agreement shall be construed as requiring either of them to furnish such information as would, in the judgment of the other party possessing the information, interfere with the orderly conduct of its operation.”
The WHO mandate is to look after the health on our planet, while the IAEA is to promote nuclear energy. In light of recent industrial failures involving nuclear power plants, many prominent scientists and public health officials have criticized WHO’s non-competing relationship with IEAE that has stymied efforts to address effects and disseminate information about the 1986 Chernobyl accident, so that current harm may be documented and future harm prevented.