Authorities lied on impact of Chernobyl in Turkey - Greenpeace Report

Turkish authorities have lied to their own people about the impact of the Chernobyl disaster. The disinformation policy has been going on since 26 April 1986. This resulted in tons of contaminated food being consumed by millions of people. 

(452.4467) WISE Amsterdam - Officials, including ministers and scientists, systematically suppressed information about Turkish areas and food contaminated by the radioactive fallout from Chernobyl. This is the conclusion of a Greenpeace report called "The impact of the Chernobyl disaster on Turkey."

The report quoted confidential memos from Turkish officials and the few credible Turkish scientific studies on the impact of Chernobyl in Turkey. There are hardly any comprehensive studies or scientific data at any official or academic institution in Turkey on this issue.

"Turkish ministers and other officials downplayed the impact of Chernobyl," said Melda Keskin of the Greenpeace Mediterranean Office in Istanbul. "They forbade scientists to carry out independent studies, allowed only a handful of politicians to make public statements on the issue and allowed contaminated food to be sold."

Critical comments in Turkish dailies by a group of scientists challenging the government's figures on contamination met with a firm response from Turkish Minister of Industry and Trade, Aral, on 24 June 1986: "Anyone claiming that radiation (from Chernobyl) has affected Turkey is an atheist and a traitor. Why sabotage our tourism and trade in this way?" The mainstream media was cowed into silence but the UK sent back its imported Turkish tea after discovering radiation counts well above the norm. In September, Germany and the Netherlands followed suit with the hazel nut crop.

Ensuing months saw a wicked farce played out with the collusion of the Turkish press. Political leaders from the President and Prime Minister down posed on its pages drinking tea alongside headlines such as "A little radiation does you good". "I drink seven or eight cups of tea a day. Even 20 is harmless ... We never dispatched any contaminated tea for sale ... Even my wife drinks tea daily,' said Acit Aral. "Radioactive tea is more delicious, more tasty," urged Turgut Ozal. The tabloids went even further: "Does a certain level of radiation have an aphrodisiac function?"

Disturbed by the supine compliance of most of their colleagues, some journalists like Sukran Ketenci of the leading daily Cumhuriyet and scientists like Dr. Inci Gokmen, assistant professor at the Faculty of Chemistry in the Middle East Technical University (ODTU) in Ankara, eventually got to grips with unearthing and publicizing the facts concealed by government and press. The political monthly Bilim ve Sanat (Science and Art) devoted a special issue to the impact of Chernobyl in Turkey. It included pieces by the dissident professor of nuclear energy Tolga Yarman and the journalist and academic Haluk Gerger. Gerger called on the government to recognize the "right of people to access to information on the effect of Chernobyl on Turkey". Meanwhile, Dr. Gokmen leaked the results of the counter-analysis by dissident scientists showing the radiation levels in tea, milk, hazel nuts and other commodities to be much higher than those given by official sources.

Scientific studies proved that Chernobyl cesium isotope levels in water at new Black Sea sediment were about two orders higher than bomb fallout levels. The Black Sea received large amounts of river input, mostly from the Danube and Dnjepr Rivers. Both these rivers drained watersheds heavily impacted by Chernobyl fallout, including freshwater coming directly from the Chernobyl site itself.

Turkish scientist Dr. Yuksel Atakan, who lives in Germany, published in 1990 a study showing that tea from Turkey was heavily contaminated. Results of measurements in Germany of tea bought in Turkey in June 1987 varied from dangerous levels of 6,000 to 30,000 Bq/kg.

By the end of 1992, Mr. Aral, Turkish Minister of Industry and Trade, confessed: "The government has indeed hidden the facts and figures on the impact of Chernobyl in Turkey." He justified this policy with the following argument: "We did take our revenge on the Soviet Union for the nightmare of Chernobyl by exporting contaminated hazel nuts to Russia." Mr. Aral confirmed that the same hazel nuts were given for free to Turkish soldiers. Hazel nuts were also distributed in primary schools in Turkey.

"Today, the very same people who tried to suppress information about the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster are promoting nuclear power in Turkey," said Keskin. "Ten years after Chernobyl, its tragic consequences are just beginning to emerge. Greenpeace fears that pro-government scientists will try again to downplay the worst industrial accident in history." The Turkish authorities should allow intensive and independent scientific research on the impact of Chernobyl in Turkey. The full consequences on peoples' health and on the environment must be assessed. All information on this issue should be made public, and the plans to construct a nuclear power plant in Akkuyu near Mersin should be scrapped.

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