WHO Says 9,300 Likely to Die from Chernobyl Effects, Greenpeace Says More than 90,000
KIEV, Ukraine The United Nations health agency said Tuesday that about 9,300 people are likely to die of cancers caused by radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, while a report from Greenpeace put the potential toll 10 times higher.
The radically differing conclusions underline the contentious uncertainties that remain about the health effects of the world's worst nuclear accident as its 20th anniversary approaches.
A reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded on April 26, 1986, spewing radioactive clouds over much of Europe. The fallout was particularly severe in the northern reaches of Ukraine, western Russia and Belarus.
Areas immediately around the now-inoperative plant remain off-limits, but people in other areas that received significant fallout are anxious about their health.
The World Health Organization issued a study Tuesday estimating the affected areas would suffer approximately 9,335 deaths over the decades attributable to contamination from the disaster. It said 405 of those deaths took place in the first decade after the explosion.
The report stressed the numbers were not precise predictions, because "considerable uncertainty surrounds such estimates, as the radiation doses are mostly inadequately quantified."
But WHO added that the study's findings "do not substantiate earlier claims that tens or evens hundreds of thousands of deaths will be caused by radiation exposures from the Chernobyl accident."
Another U.N. study last year -- done by the International Atomic Energy Agency and several other U.N. groups -- came to a similar conclusion, predicting that the disaster would cause about 9,000 deaths.
Before WHO's study was released, Greenpeace harshly disagreed with last year's report, suggesting it was deliberately misleading. Citing data from the former Soviet republics of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, the environmental group predicted 93,000 excess deaths.
"It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of the most serious nuclear accident in human history," Ivan Blokov of Greenpeace's Russia office said in a statement. "Denying the real implications is not only insulting to the thousands of victims but it also leads to dangerous recommendations and the relocation of people in contaminated areas."
The Chernobyl Forum report suggested many of the health problems and complaints in the regions around Chernobyl were connected with unhealthy lifestyles, including heavy drinking and smoking, and with a culture of victimization. The WHO report also noted the region has a higher mortality rate than most Western nations.
Volodymyr Bebeshko, a professor at the Ukrainian Center for Radiation Medicine, said he participated in the Chernobyl Forum study but refused to endorse the findings.
"They are very clearly trying to minimize the consequences," he told The Associated Press.
Bebeshko said studies have found increases in not only thyroid cancer, but also breast cancer in the wives of men who cleaned up after the explosion and big increases in leukemia and other blood disorders.
Greenpeace cited a report by the Center for Independent Environmental Assessment of the Russian Academy of Sciences that found a sharply increased mortality in western Russia over the past 15 years, suggesting the rise was due to Chernobyl radiation.
"On the basis of demographic data, during the last 15 years, 60,000 people have died additionally in Russia because of the Chernobyl accident and estimates of the total death toll for Ukraine and Belarus could be another 140,000," Greenpeace said in a statement.
Source: Associated Press