Fallout The Legacy of Chernobyl
BBC Radio 4 26 April 2011 20.00 - 20.40
"Listen again"
Transcript with LLRC commentary

We don't know how many complaints about bias and inaccuracy the BBC received. The programme's producer, Brian King, of Above the Title sent stereotyped answers to many people claiming that it
was scrupulously researched with the objective of identifying the scientific truth about the health impact of the Chernobyl radiation leak, and to dispel some of the widespread myth and distortion surrounding the accident.
Since Brian King hasn't answered specific criticisms the second stage of the complaints process has begun. The next stage is to refer your complaint to the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit. (We note that Brian King's early responses included advice about the ECU stage and even gave the addresses. Later he stopped being so helpful, which suggests he's feeling the heat.)
If you have received a response make sure you quote the reference number when writing to ECU. Also include your postal address, as ECU only sends written replies.
The Editorial Complaints Unit's address is
Room 5170
White City
BBC Media Village
201 Wood Lane
London W12 7TS
The programme in fact added to the myths and distortion. It expressed the view of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organisation. IAEA's primary purpose is to promote nuclear power; WHO is subject to an IAEA veto on research. They claim that Chernobyl has had no observable impact on health except for thyroid cancers caused by a failure to distribute stable iodine, and a few deaths and illness among highly irradiated firemen.
It featured "experts" who made factually incorrect statements all of which diminished the true scale of the effects. Here are some examples.
  • The presenter, Nick Ross of "Crimewatch" fame, said the area contaminated by Chernobyl fallout was 400 times smaller than it actually is.
    He said the Chernobyl accident and the explosion at Fukushima reactor 3 were hydrogen explosions, whereas some experts contend that they were both prompt criticality detonations.
  • Professor Gerry Thomas of Imperial College, London. Through the Fukushima emergency she has been the BBC's favourite expert on radiation and health. She said the UK wasn't exposed to the radiation from Chernobyl, although data from many official sources proves her wrong.
  • Vadim Chumak, a Ukrainian radiation dosimetry expert, tried to compare exposure to Chernobyl fallout with high natural background areas of India where, he claimed (wrongly), no-one has health problems associated with radiation. He gave Nick Ross a plausible measurement for natural background in Kiev but every other factual statement he made was wrong - by a factor of 1000 where he confused milliSieverts with microSieverts, and by 8760 in the case where he gave a dose per hour which (when you look into it) is really a dose per year. The detail is in the LLRC commentary, together with literature sources to prove who's right. Mr. Chumak didn't seem to realise that if people in parts of Kerala really were getting a dose of 50 milliSieverts an hour (which is what he said) then they'd be getting 21,900 times as much dose as the internationally recognised dose limit for adult workers in the nuclear industry. In fact, the actual mean doses in the high background parts of Kerala are 6.5 milliSieverts a year - not 50. Frighteningly, LLRC has found out that Chumak is a member of a new World Health Organisation "expert group" on radiation and health research priorities.
  • Britain's former chief scientific officer, Professor Sir David King, tried to down-play radiation exposures in Japan since Fukushima by comparing the doses with cosmic rays on a flight from London to New York. He said the 8-hour flight would give you "many, many times" as much as walking around Fukushima. Fallout in Japan is very uneven but in many places you'd be likely to get many times more dose, even if we overlook the hard-to-detect alpha emitters.
The largest collection of Chernobyl data so far published anywhere - Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature - was ignored. This is a compendium of evidence including the challenging total of 985,000 deaths between 1986 and 2005 attributable to Chernobyl. Published in 2009 by the New York Academy of Sciences it is now, fortunately, a free download. (
Help with downloading it is here. )

LLRC has submitted a detailed complaint about Fallout: The Legacy of Chernobyl to the BBC.

Transcript with LLRC commentary

The programme failed to meet BBC editorial standards on accuracy and impartiality.

The BBC claims to aim to achieve accuracy by:

"In practice, the BBC's commitment to impartiality means:
  • we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented.
  • we exercise our editorial freedom to produce content about any subject, at any point on the spectrum of debate as long as there are good editorial reasons for doing so.
  • we can explore or report on a specific aspect of an issue or provide an opportunity for a single view to be expressed, but in doing so we do not misrepresent opposing views. They may also require a right of reply.
  • we must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects."
how to complain to the BBC here.

3rd June 2011

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