April 19, 2006

WHO Must Study Chernobyl’s Effect on Europe: Report

BRUSSELS -- The World Health Organization (WHO) should study how the Chernobyl nuclear disaster affected nations other than Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, a report said on Wednesday, citing a lack of data especially for western Europe.

"Although areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were heavily contaminated, most of Chernobyl's fallout was deposited outside these countries," said the report, which was carried out by independent researchers and commissioned by Rebecca Harms, a German member of the Greens party in the European Parliament.

"Fallout from Chernobyl contaminated about 40 percent of Europe's surface area," the report said, adding that populations outside the three countries faced "twice as many predicted excess cancer deaths."

The study predicted roughly 30,000 to 60,000 cancer deaths by the end of this century related to Chernobyl, which it said was significantly higher than estimates by the WHO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The report echoed findings by environmental group Greenpeace, which said on Tuesday the death toll from the disaster 20 years ago could be far higher than official estimates, with up to 93,000 extra cancer deaths worldwide.

The WHO predicts roughly 9,000 extra deaths in the hardest-hit and less-contaminated zones of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia as a result of the explosion in reactor number four at the power plant in the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl on April 26, 1986.

"Radiation is no respecter of national boundaries," Ian Fairlie, one of the authors of the report, told a news conference, adding the report was based on already-available data.

He called on the WHO to commission a new study separate from the IAEA on the fallout from Chernobyl.