I got lost on the way home last night. Cycling down a road that I’d not seen before, I passed a restaurant called ‘Villa Park: Balkan Mix Grill.’
Given that I’m in Bulgaria and Aston Villa are based in England (and as far as I am aware, not famed for their Balkan grills), the name came as a surprise to me, which shows my lack of football knowledge as it turns out that Aston Villa’s captain Stiliyan Petrov is a Bulgarian.
Stiliyan Petrov has been in the news recently because of two things – his 33rd birthday this week, and the fact that the Bulgarian national team doctor has said that he believes that the leukaemia that Petrov is currently battling was caused by exposure to the radiation caused by the Chernobyl disaster.
Bulgaria is around 600 miles to the south of Chernobyl, but around 4,800km2 of land in the country was contaminated with Chernobyl fall-out after the nuclear accident occurred in April 1986. From April 30 until May 2, radioactivity in Bulgaria was at 1000 times above normal. On May 7, deputy health minister Lyubomir Shindarov announced on Bulgarian National Television that there was no danger in Bulgaria from radiation – such a severe misjudgement that in 1991 he was found guilty of criminal negligence in misleading the public and sentenced to two years in jail.
Given the scale of the disaster, it’s unsurprising that it’s not just Stilyan Petrov whose health has purportedly been affected. A conversation with some of my Bulgarian friends the other day revealed that a few of them had abnormalities with their hormone levels that were likely to have been caused by the effects of the Chernobyl disaster. A GreenPeace study into the consequences on human health of the Chernobyl catastrophe notes a number of ill-effects including:
- A large scale increase in cancers, including a dramatic increase in thyroid cancer (because of the release of large quantities of radioactive iodine), particularly in children who were, like me, between the ages of 0-4 at the time of exposure.
- Non-cancer illnesses including respiratory problems (particularly amongst evacuees from within a 30km radius), digestive system disorders and blood diseases.
- Effects on hormones/endocrine systems – more than 40% of children surveyed in a region of Belarus had enlarged thyroid glands, while occurrence of endocrine system diseases in contaminated parts of Russia increased five-fold by 2002.
- Effects on reproductive system – there was a 35% chance of inhibited foetal development in radiation risk group women. A study in the Pleven region of Bulgaria showed that there was an increase in the number of congenital malformations in the hearts and central nervous systems of children who were exposed before birth.
According to the Greenpeace study, the most recent estimates indicate that in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine alone, the accident resulted in an estimated 200,000 additional deaths between 1990 and 2004. It also notes that, given that the half-life of Caesium-137 – the major radioactive element released – is around 30 years, it is likely that radiological consequences will continue to be experienced for many years to come.
And yet nuclear power plants continue to be constructed across the world. Astonishing…