Nuclear disaster witness to address Environment Seminar
11 December 2006
An environmental scientist who survived the Chernobyl nuclear explosion as a teenager will address an environmental seminar in London on Wednesday 13 December.
Dr Alex Orlov - now an academic at Cambridge University's King's College - will speak at the Science and the Environment Seminar, jointly organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and the Institute of Physics (IOP).
The seminar takes place at the Kohn Centre, The Royal Society, Carlton Terrace House, beginning at 5.30pm. It will examine the latest that science and technology can offer to prevent and mitigate the effects of a wide range of environmental problems.
Dr Orlov was just 13 when Chernobyl's Unit Four reactor exploded on 28 April 1986. He was living 50 miles away in Kiev at the time.
He said: "For a couple of weeks after the explosion, there was no information - no one knew what was going on, and children were allowed to play outside as normal.
"And a few days later the authorities went ahead with the traditional May Day Parade in Kiev, and many people attended when they should have been inside."
The young Dr Orlov then faced the distress of being moved away from Kiev with other children in the city. Meanwhile his mother - a doctor - was posted to a special hospital within the 30-kilometre zone to treat the firefighters and police who were trying to make the reactor safe.
Dr Orlov said: "I think my mother got a heavy radiation dose. Although she has no major illnesses, this means she can retire ten years early.
"Some of those firefighters who tackled the disaster are still her patients today."
Dr Orlov's experiences inspired him to a career in environmental science, and after completing his first degree in the Ukraine he completed a PhD under Professor Richard Lambert at Cambridge University.
Dr Alex Orlov was just 50 miles from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant when one of its reactors exploded on 28 April 1986
One of the major focuses of his current work is developing materials to clean up contaminated air and water. He recently helped design an underground catalytic reactor, which uses light and catalysts to treat polluted groundwater at a site in Canada.
His experiences of Chernobyl have not turned him completely against nuclear power. He said: "The Chernobyl reactor was not the safest type, and I think a similar accident is unlikely in more advanced reactors.
"The biggest problem with nuclear power is disposing of waste safely and inexpensively."
He added: "Environmental issues are of growing prominence and science, together with changes in consumer behaviour, is the key component to save the environment.
"Unfortunately, the importance of environmental chemistry is still underappreciated by the general public. I hope that this RSC/IOP event can help to change this."
Other speakers include Dr Claire Barlow - also based at the University of Cambridge. She will focus on current waste management strategies in the UK and Europe, in particular recycling and incineration and their respective pros and cons.
Professor Roy Harrison OBE, from Birmingham University's School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, will speak on air quality.
Despite huge improvements in air quality in UK cities since the 1990s, the improvements have been negligible since the year 2000.
Prof Harrison said: "It is estimated that life expectancy in the United Kingdom is reduced by about eight months per person on average due to exposure to fine particles."
And Professor Clive Thompson, chief scientist for ALcontrol Laboratories, based in Rotherham, will talk about the importance of "fit for purpose" analysis techniques in tackling various environmental issues.
ALcontrol employs more than 1,000 scientists across Europe, and are experts in a wide spectrum of analytical techniques - including testing water quality for than seven million UK water customers.
Dr Rachel Brazil, science policy communications manager at the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "This seminar is a unique opportunity for scientists to communicate how chemistry, physics and other scientific disciplines are helping to improve our environment and, ultimately, our quality of life."
Science and the Environment: Solutions for mitigating pollution
A joint RSC and IoP organised seminar to look at how science and technology can help prevent and mitigate the effects of environmental problems. Royal Society 13 December 2006
Contact and Further Information
Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BA
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7440 3322 or +44 (0) 7770 431013