Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Measuring Chernobyl's Long Run Health Impact

The New York Times today reports "Nearly 20 years after the huge accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, a new scientific report has found that its aftereffects on health and the environment have not proved as dire as scientists had predicted." The report was prepared by a panel of more than 100 experts convened by United Nations agencies.

It says huge compensation programs for people in the Chernobyl region have become "a major barrier to the region's recovery," both by creating a culture of dependency and by soaking up a high percentage of the region's resources. It recommends that the compensation programs be cut back.

The report, "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts," says 4,000 deaths will probably be attributable to the accident ultimately - compared with the tens of thousands predicted at the time of the accident.

Only 50 deaths - all among the reactor staff and emergency workers - can be directly attributed to acute radiation exposure after Chernobyl's Reactor No. 4 exploded in April 1986, the panel found. The rest will be from cancer at a higher rate than would otherwise be expected in people exposed to radiation near Chernobyl in the wake of the accident.

But for millions of people who were subjected to low levels of radioactive particles spread by the wind, health effects have proved generally minimal, the report found."

I KNOW NOTHING about the Ukraine's housing market (especially under communism in the 1980s) but I would like to know the following;

1. In the aftermath of the disaster, were people allowed to migrate away to form a "moat" around the damaged Reactor?

2. How is one's health affected by radiation exposure? Does it depend on peak exposure or also on the duration of exposure? If I'm more likely to be sick if I'm exposed longer to radiation then this makes point #1 even more important.

Did the government urge people to migrate away or did they "cover up" the problem? Obviously, if people are not informed about risks they will not respond to them and take self-protective actions.

3. How much cheaper are land prices near Chernobyl relative to similar land plots that have not been exposed to contamination. This is called a compensating differential that economists measure using hedonic regressions. If there is a steep price discount for living there, have "risk lovers" chosen to live there? Who are the set of people who have lived there once capitalism came to this region? It would interest me if anybody has surveyed these folks to learn about their risk perception and their taste for gambling.

The New York Times has an intriguing 2nd paragraph concerning the unintended consequences of compensating victims. Could the same thing happen in New Orleans now? Hopefully poor people in New Orleans will get jobs in construction as people rebuild (but this assumes there is the demand for such new structures).