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Death, Environmental Toll From Chernobyl Less Than Feared: Report

File aerial photo of Chernobyl after the accident.
by Michael Adler
Vienna (AFP) Sep 05 2005
Some 4,000 people may eventually die from radiation exposure as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster nearly two decades ago, but this toll is much lower than feared, a panel of UN experts told reporters Monday.

Michael Repacholi of the World Health Organization (WHO) said there had been "speculation (of) tens of thousands of deaths, lots of cancers," but that the "likely deaths that could occur, using good solid background of radiation research ever since the (World War II atomic) bombing in Japan, (would be) approximately 4,000 people ... from cancer over their lifetime."

Kalman Mizsei of the UN Development Program (UNDP) said the death toll from the accident in 1986 so far was 56 - 47 rescue workers who received high doses of radiation and nine children who contracted thyroid cancer.

The panel was presenting results from a 600-page report, "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts," to be presented at a conference Tuesday and Wednesday in Vienna bringing together nuclear, health and development experts from eight UN agencies, meeting under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the Chernobyl Forum meeting "is a fascinating story as there is finally a consensus on the health and environmental consequences" of the explosion on April 26, 1986, of the number four reactor at Chernobyl in the then Soviet Union (now Ukraine), sending a radioactive cloud across Europe.

It was the worst nuclear accident in history.

A press release on the report said: "The 4,000 figure is not far different from estimates made in 1986 by Soviet scientists."

In all, out of more than 600,000 people who suffered the most exposure from the accident - reactor staff, emergency and recovery personnel in 1986-87 and residents of the nearby areas - an estimated 3,940 are expected to die from radiation-induced cancer and leukemia.

Burton Bennett, who will chair the meeting, said this figure was not at all exact and stressed the extent to which authorities have "overplayed the health consequences" of the accident.

Mizsei said the Chernobyl Forum urged science to be "on the side of hope rather than gloom" and encouraged a "dialogue based on science rather than mythology."

The experts all said that misinformation was responsible for a range of psychological problems as people in the region of Chernobyl thought they were doomed to get cancer, when in fact their exposure to radiation had been relatively low.

Mizsei said an "industry has been built on this unfortunate event," with 22 percent of the national budget of Belarus in 1991 being dedicated to Chernobyl relief, a figure that has since dropped to six percent.

In Ukraine, the portion of the national budget devoted to benefits for Chernobyl survivors and other measures has risen from five to seven percent during the same period, a UNDP expert said.

Since the accident, some 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been recorded among affected people, most of whom were either children or adolescents at the time of the explosion, but "the survival rate among such cancer victims, judging from experience in Belarus, has been almost 99 percent," the press release said.

"International experts found no evidence for any increase in the incidence of leukemia and cancer among affected residents," Repacholi said.

The report said "the mental health impact of Chernobyl is the largest public health problem created by the accident."

This includes victims' "negative self-assessments of their health and well-being, coupled with an exaggerated sense of the danger to their health from radiation exposure and a belief in a shorter life expectancy," the release said.

On the environmental front, "the reports are also reassuring, for the scientific assessments show that, except for the still closed, highly contaminated 30-kilometer (18-mile) area surrounding the reactor, and some closed lakes and restricted forests, radiation levels have mostly returned to acceptable levels," the release said.

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South China Province Picks Likely Site For Fourth Nuclear Plant
Beijing (AFP) Aug 16, 2005
The southern Chinese province of Guangdong has picked the city of Lufeng as the preferred location for its fourth nuclear power plant, state media said Tuesday.

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