The Hysteria of Brucerites

by nuclearhistory

“Radiation response a meltdown in reason”, P. Sykes.

published on July 14th, 2011 by Marketing and Communications, Flinders University.

Pam Sykes on : “And the frightening thing is that it’s been estimated that throughout Europe there were over 100,000 wanted pregnancies aborted, and these were people who didn’t live anywhere near Chernobyl.”
end quote

I found relevant papers online. Three of them are listed here.

Biomed Pharmacother. 1991;45(6):225-8.

Incidence of legal abortion in Sweden after the Chernobyl accident.

Odlind V, Ericson A.


Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Uppsala, Academic Hospital, Sweden.


The number of legal abortions in Sweden increased around the time of the Chernobyl accident, particularly in the summer and autumn of 1986. Although there was no recording of reasons for legal abortions, one might have suspected this increase to be a result of fear and anxiety after the accident.

However, seen over a longer time perspective, the increase in the number of abortions started before and continued far beyond the time of the accident. There was also a simultaneous and pronounced increase in the number of births during the years subsequent to the accident.

Therefore, it seems unlikely that fear of the consequences of radioactive fall-out after the Chernobyl accident resulted in any substantial increase of the number of legal abortions in Sweden.


Biomed Pharmacother. 1991;45(6):229-31.

Legally induced abortions in Denmark after Chernobyl.

Knudsen LB.


Danish National Board of Health, Sundhedsstyrelsen, Copenhagen K, Denmark.


During the months following the accident in Chernobyl, Denmark experienced an increasing rate of induced abortion, especially in regions with the largest measured increase in radiation. As the increase in radiation in Denmark was so low that almost no increased risk of birth defects was expected, the public debate and anxiety among the pregnant women and their husbands “caused” more fetal deaths in Denmark than the accident. This underlines the importance of public debate, the role of the mass media and of the way in which National Health authorities participate in this debate.


Reduction of births in Italy after the Chernobyl accident

by Roberto Bertollini, MD, MPH,’ Domenico Di Lallo, MD,’ Pierpaolo Mastroiacovo, MD,2

Carlo A Perucci, MD’

BERTOLLINI R, DI LALLO D, MASTROIACOVO P, PERUCCI CA. Reduction of births in Italy after

the Chernobyl accident. Scand J Work Environ Health 1990;16:96-101.

After the Chernobyl accident serious concern spread throughout Italy about the possible effects of the consequent exposure to radioac-tivity on fetuses. A reduction of births in the first three months of 1987, and particularly in February (7.2070 reduction in the birth rate), was observed throughout Italy. In April-June 1987 a 4.8 % increase in the number of births was observed. The magnitude of both phenomena varied in different areas of the country. The total number of births in the first six months of 1987 was very similar to the expected

(264241 versus 263 659). Induced abortions increased in Lombardia (northern Italy) in June ( + 1.6 %)

and July of 1986 ( +3 . 4 %) and in Campania (southern Italy) in June ( + 12.7 %) and August ( +4 . 3 %) .

No increase in legal abortions was detectedin Lazio (central Italy). Italian data suggest a voluntary decrease in the number of planned pregnancies and the termination of some of them in the first weeks after the accident as a consequence of post disaster stress.” end quote.

The situation varied across the affected areas of Europe.

The IAEA described Chernobyl as a Level 7 Major Accident, defined as an accident in with “widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended ­countermeasures.” The effects and the boundaries of those effects should be at least broadly explained within the definition of the category. IAEA categories should be self sufficient. They should aid certainty. They should not encourage uncertainty. How the IAEA nuclear emergency notification regime contributed to the brief period of “disaster stress” in Italy remains to be seen.
end quotes


Analysis. by Paul Langley

Odlind V, Ericson A., contradict Sykes while Knudsen LB. finds, “anxiety”, not panic or hysteria. No numbers are given. Knudsen provides a finer analysis than Sykes. Bertollini et al provide a sophisticated report of regional variation and a finds overall a deliberate reduction in pregnancies among Italians. Of these pregnancies, “some” were terminated.

In all three cases, the woman’s and the family’s right to act in a democracy is highlighted. In the case of Denmark, an historic event may have left a social imprint.

In Dec 1957 Danish health authorities attributed an increase in radioactivity over Denmark to the Windscale graphite core reactor fire in England. Memory of that event, and any impacts of it, may have been passed down from mother to daughter. Appendix A below indicates that this certainly might have been the case in England itself. The paper indicates that Downs Syndrome becomes much more likely where the mother is in a vulnerable age range and is additionally subject to low levels of ionising radiation during pregnancy. The nation of Denmark considered the Windscale fallout to be a serious matter in 1957.

The medical record shows that there is an increasing risk of birth defects as Paternal age increases. (For instance, Epidemiology. 1995 May;6(3):282-8.Paternal age and the risk of birth defects in offspring.
McIntosh GC, Olshan AF, Baird PA. School of Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA.)

The risk of Downs Syndrome increases rapidly after Maternal age advances through the third decade of life.

It could be that the regional variation across Europe in regard to termination of pregnancy in the wake of Chernobyl reflects the age related risks self determining people are well aware of.

The “slight” additional risk contributed by the Chernobyl disaster presented older women with an additonal unplanned uncertainty, no matter how small.

Sykes has not considered risk weighting by older mothers (ie older than 34) as a factor in terminations in the aftermath of Chernobyl.

Such risk assessments and responses by families is actually a tragic and deliberate task rather than the hysterical one Sykes seems to think it is.

Many such older mothers may have sought qualified medical advice prior to deciding whether to proceed or to terminate their pregnancies. Sykes does not provide any analysis of such considerations. See Appendix A.

Sykes does not give the number of women who terminated pregancy on the basis of sound medical advice. Yet such women cannot be considered to be doing anything other than following doctors’ advice.

Perhaps the problem was that the Chernobyl reactor did in fact blow up. That fact caused widespread panic within the nuclear industry and its promotional organisations. Controlling public perceptions of the consequences of that event apparently remains a priority for nuclear authorities.

Appendix A:

J Epidemiol Community Health. 1995 April; 49(2): 164–170.

PMCID: PMC1060102

Copyright notice

Down’s syndrome: prevalence and ionising radiation in an area of north west England 1957-91.

J P Bound, B J Francis, and P W Harvey

Department of Paediatrics, Victoria Hospital, Blackpool.

This article has been cited by other articles in PMC.


OBJECTIVE–To analyse the prevalence of Down’s syndrome in a specific, geographical area and seek to explain variations with particular reference to ionising radiation. DESIGN–Cases were ascertained by one paediatrician as part of a prospective survey of major congenital malformations in children born to residents of an area of Lancashire between 1957 and 1991. Temporal changes in prevalence rates were detected by a grid search technique using Poisson log linear models. These models were also used to determine the association between prevalence and ionising radiation from atomic fall out. SETTING–The Fylde district of Lancashire in the north west of England. PATIENTS–There were 167 cases, including five stillbirths and eight terminations, among 124,015 total births in a population which increased from about 250,000 to over 300,000 during the study period. MAIN RESULTS–There was significant increase in the prevalence of all cases conceived in 1963 and 1964, and a lesser peak in 1958 which did not quite reach statistical significance. There was no evidence that the increased prevalence in 1963-64 was a result of changes in the maternal age distribution in the population. Babies of mothers aged 35 years and over accounted for more of the variation, especially in 1958 when their increase was significant. There was a highly significant association between prevalence and radiation from fallout produced by atmospheric testing of atomic weapons. The 1963-64 peak coincided with the maximum estimated radiation dose. The lesser peak in 1958 also coincided with increased exposure to radiation from fallout, possibly enhanced by ground deposits after a fire at the Windscale reactor in October 1957. CONCLUSION–This study provides further support for low dose ionising radiation as one aetiological factor in Down’s syndrome.end quote