Reaction time

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.’

Villa Park, Sofia Bulgaria

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…


About sozofia
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4 Responses to Reaction time

  1. vpandeliev says:

    A wonderfully informative post, leading very nicely into exploring a crucially important topic: nuclear energy. While I agree that nuclear energy has its downsides, we should note that a correctly operating nuclear plant potentially generates less pollution and risk than burning fossil fuels, which countries without nuclear power are largely dependent on. Bulgaria’s sole power plant, NPP Kozloduy, generates 30% of the nation’s power, could export energy to neighbouring Greece and Romania until recently, and has never had an incident with even the slightest risk of a meltdown.

    Out of approximately 500 nuclear reactors in operation in the world, there have only been two INSE Level 7 (Major) Accidents: Chernobyl in 1986 (which narrowly followed my birth in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv), resulting from the deliberate bypassing of several levels of operational failsafes, and Fukushima Daiichi (2011), caused by an earthquake-triggered tsunami. A critical failure rate of 0.4% is significantly lower than that of space launches (~ 2%) and airline fatalities (~ 2.4%). That said, the consequences of a nuclear failure are far more severe…

    The important direction for the future of human energy is a significant push to alternative sources, safer than nuclear and less destructive than oil, coal or gas.

  2. Mentioning alternative sources reminds me of two very good talks on one about renewable energies ( and one about climate change (, both by university professors (i think :)).

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