All Things Considered in the Wake of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident - Siegfried Luebke
From Acres Magazine December 1989
ACRES U.S.A. What happened to your farm when Chernobyl went up in smoke and radioactivity? More important, why were you interested in radiation enough to have detection equipment on hand in the first place?
LUEBKE. To make my answer meaningful, let me give some background information. In my studies of research publications in the field of microbiology, I came across the work of Professor Stoklasa. After 25 years of observations and studies on the dispersion of radioactive materials in the atmosphere, in the lithosphere and the hydrosphere, in the air, in the water and in the soil, and their effect on the biochemical life processes, he summarized his findings in his 1932 book, Biology of Radium and Uranium. Stoklasa lived in the CSSR and was head of the Federal Experimental Laboratories in Prague. He also was a member of the Scientific Committee of the Federal Radiologic Institute in Prague. His institute produced many valuable scientific papers on biochemical processes in the soil, and the orientation in his research did not only correspond with the then up and coming trend of the N-P-K mentality.
He dedicated his research to the history of mining in St. Joachimstal. This city had been well known since the middle ages for
its mining and metallurgy. The geological formations were known for their radioactivity and the Joachimstal has been known since 1901 as the oldest radium spa. Very few people know that the classical papers written 450 years ago by the physician and pharmacist Georg Agricola, the 12 Books About Mining and Metallurgy, were translated into English by the mining metallurgical engineer, Herbert Hoover, who later became president of the United States. It may interest your American readers to know that Joachimstal was the origin of the term for your currency—In the 16th century, the Joachimstal was the center of the major silver mining region where coins were struck. In 1519 the “Thaler” originated. It later became known as the “dollar.” Radium research developed in this area. Henri Bequerel proved that uranium salts independently and spontaneously emit a penetrating radiation. He thus discovered radioactivity in 1896. He instructed Madame Marie Curie, who worked in his laboratory, to investigate the substances which contain radioactivity. Madame Curie wrote her doctoral thesis on this subject: The Radioactivity of Various Substances. Professor Stoklasa reports in his book that in Joachimstal only uranium was separated from the pitchblende (uraninite) and that the alkaline residues remained unused, being considered a ballast substance. These alkaline ore residues—in which the uranium was present in exceedingly small quantities—were being thrown onto waste dumps and into the creek. Monsieur and Madame Curie asked the then president Dr. Euard Suess, to let them have a larger quantity of pitchblende and those alkaline uranium ore residues. The then Austrian Ministry of Agriculture (Ackerbauministerium) sent several freight cars of this “ballast substance” to Paris free of charge. In this “worthless” material Madame Curie succeeded in discovering—among many other elements—radium, for which discovery she received the Nobel prize. Professor Stoklasa also researched the influence of the various radioactive elements on the development, germination and the metabolic processes of the microbes. Our own observations showed that the microbial population in the soil is subject to strong fluctuations. After working through Professor Stoklasa’s books, I acquired a small Geiger counter. This was long before the reactor accident in Chernobyl. With this instrument I started to—initially on a test basis—probe the various forms of terrain. I intended to find which fluctuations could be detected from natural
radiation. For this purpose I scanned the terrain within the radius of approximately 5 km (3.125 miles). Over the course of months it was indeed possible to detect small variations, though these stayed within certain limits. For a more precise reexamination, certainly a highly sensitive instrument would have been required. As with all other experiments and tests, it was my aim to first examine concepts of a certain direction for the usefulness of results and its implications by way of preliminary testing. I tested periodically, and the results started to climb dramatically. I was unable to find an explanation for this rise. Most likely I was the only person who detected these changes in the open field because chance had led me into this direction of research at the time. Every day the radioactivity levels climbed higher, the measuring data being different with each geologic formation. On April 30 and 31 the instrument was at times not capable of recording and measuring data at various points. Sometimes the needle stayed on the highest level continuously and the instrument made noise incessantly. I was lost for an explanation. I expanded my tests over a larger area and came to realize that the measuring data were at the same high level within a wide radius. May 1, 1986 was a Thursday, a holiday in Austria. I wanted to call various government agencies in order to let them know about this
phenomenon. The government offices were closed, of course. On the eve of May 1, TV reported the first information on the reactor catastrophe at Chernobyl. In the wake of this news, total headlessness prevailed everywhere. Chernobyl made us realize that a model was needed for interferences like this in order to be able to take conceptive measures as to what had to be done after a reactor accident. Vegetables grown in the open field were banned from the market, at the same time, milk, meat—in short, all non-storable foods—were
subjected to very strict controls. In no time, all the produce grown and produced before Chernobyl sold out. We were not allowed to sell the sheep cheese we produce and had to destroy it. We received a small compensation from the government for the loss. Milk from sheep is known for assimilating cesium especially fast. Experiments had shown that certain amounts of these substances, after being injected into the aorta, can be detected in the milk within minutes. We had to have the milk tested and we had to wait until the values were lowered to within the officially established limits. Only then were we permitted to resume the sale of milk. The consequences of this disaster were to become obvious much later: there was a high mortality rate for young sheep in the spring of the following year, and the newborn sheep showed malformations. Our losses of sheep were very high. The government office kept working after the general hysteria had subsided. The levels of radioactivity kept diminishing slowly, as recorded with our instrument, but they stayed considerably above the level recorded months
before on the same spot. Only by my accidentally measuring the levels of radioactivity before the reactor accident was I enabled to make comparisons—likely I was the only person in the agricultural field to have done so. Solutions for agriculture were now heard from the experts. Some recommendations were to shave the ground down to 30 cm of its top soil and to store the used-up soil in earth rows. I studied the American recommendations for measures in agriculture after a nuclear accident (Agriculture Handbook Number 395). To store these enormous amounts of soil in earth rows would have been technically impossible. The theory turned into a chimera this way because vast areas in Europe
were contaminated. It would have been necessary to entirely encircle the cities with earth rows. On February 26 another official appeared at our farm and again took samples of the root vegetables still available. The vegetables were to be tested for cesium—Cs 134 and Cs 137—all
in the wake of the Chernobyl accident. We still had potatoes, carrots, black garden radishes and red beets stored, and the official took one sample of each. Three weeks later he returned with the results: the produce from our farm operation planted after the nuclear accident was free of cesium and the official informed us that this constituted an exception. Trying to find an explanation for this test result I passed this
test result on to the head of the Plantphysiological Institute in Vienna, Professor Kinzel. [It follows in part.]
Parenthetically, I would like to add that the government agencies tested for cesium on a broad scale, but the results were not made public. However, from the tests done in February they did inform us about our test results, with the additional comment that our cesium-free produce was the exception. The continual tests done by the government agencies were for residues or for contamination of various different kinds, whereby our produce tested free of these substances time and again. Many tests were run long before the Chernobyl accident, especially at the beginning of our work. The actual values from the cesium free results we only learned from the last test done in February.....
Research publications concerning biodynamics