April 18, 2006

Chernobyl Death toll underestimated says Greenpeace

LONDON -- The death toll from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 20 years ago could be far higher than official estimates, with up to 93,000 extra cancer deaths worldwide, environmental group Greenpeace said on Tuesday.

Based on research by the Balarus National Academy of Sciences, the report said that of the two billion people globally who got touched by the Chernobyl fallout, 270,000 will develop cancers as a result, of which 93,000 will prove fatal.

The International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) estimates that 4,000 people died as a result of the explosion in reactor number four at the power plant in the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl on April 26, 1986.

The explosion sent a plume of radioactive dust across northern and western Europe and as far as the eastern United States.

"It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of the most serious nuclear accident in human history," said Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigner Ivan Blokov.

The Greenpeace report further extrapolates that in total some 200,000 people in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus could have already died as a result of medical conditions -- such as cardiovascular diseases -- attributable to the disaster.

"Our problem is that there is no accepted methodology to calculate the numbers of people who might have died from such diseases," Greenpeace campaigner Jan van de Putte told Reuters.

"The only methodology that is accepted is for calculating fatal cancers," he said.

The report said the incidence of cancer in Belarus jumped 40 percent between 1990 and 2000, with children not even born at the time now showing a massive 88.5-fold increase in thyroid cancers.

Leukemia is also reported to be on the increase, as are cases of intestinal, rectal, breast, bladder, kidney and lung cancers.

Dislocation due to relocation of hundreds of thousands of people as a result of the explosion has put further strains on the population, the report said.

"The Chernobyl accident disrupted whole societies in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia," Greenpeace concluded.

"A complex interaction between factors such as poor health, increased costs of health systems, relocation of people, loss of agricultural territories and contamination of foodstuffs, economic crisis, the costs of remediation to the states, political problems, a weakened workforce ... creates a general crisis."