New Reports Find Effects of Chernobyl Disaster Underestimated

* New Reports Find Effects of Chernobyl Disaster Underestimated

Twenty years ago on April 26, 1986 the fourth block of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor underwent catastrophic containment failure. After two explosions, the reactor core began to burn. The release of radiation continued even after the fire was smothered, lasting for approximately ten days. Immediately after the accident, 90,000 or more people from nearby towns and villages were evacuated. Many more from the surrounding area soon followed them. Much of the evacuated area became what is called the Exclusion Zone and remains deserted to this day.

Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant run by the Soviet Union, located in what is now the Ukraine. Chernobyl sits at the head of the Dnieper river basin, which serves as the main potable water supply for the greater part of the national population. It is surrounded by former farmlands, which are abandoned due to the contamination. After the accident, restrictions were placed on the consumption of food and water that came from this region in an attempt to reduce exposure.

The Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are the most severely effected regions. However, the impacts extended over a far greater area, dangerously contaminating much of Europe and spreading throughout the entire northern hemisphere.

The full health effects of the accident cannot be known because reactions to radioactivity are often delayed. However, recent reports released by the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) and Greenpeace show that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), among others continue to downplay the extent of the effects. The ECRR states that national and international bodies "have glossed over, marginalized, ignored or denied the existence of the terrible consequences of the Chernobyl fallout."

The Greenpeace report, titled "The Chernobyl Catastrophe - Consequences on Human Health," used a 2005 IAEA and WHO report as an example. The IAEA and WHO report concluded that 4,000 to 9,000 deaths due to radiological cancer were caused by the accident. In contrast, recent figures published by the Russian Academy of the Sciences indicate that between 1990 and 2004, the accident resulted in an estimated 200,000 additional deaths in Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine alone. The discrepancy in the numbers is more than a twenty fold increase.

The Greenpeace report indicates that one source for the difference in numbers is that the IAEA and WHO did not consider either non-terminal cases or illnesses other than cancer. While the levels of cancer have increased significantly, cancer is only one aspect of the range of health impacts which have resulted. Non-cancer illnesses include chronic bronchitis and emphysema, digestive disorders, malignant blood and lymphatic diseases, jaundice in newborns, thyroid dysfunction, genetic abnormalities, and a variety of symptoms related to the reproductive system including sterility and inhibited fetus development.

The Greenpeace report concludes that the destructive nature of nuclear power should not be ignored. It states, "it has become clear that one nuclear reactor can contaminate half of the Earth and that no longer, not in one single country, could citizens be assured that the state will have the forethought and wisdom to protect them from nuclear misfortunes."

Back to News Index