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Chernobyl 20 Years Later: New Report Finds Death Toll From Nuclear Disaster Close to 100,000

StoryApril 26, 2006
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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. A new report by Greenpeace claims the consequences of the disaster could top one million cancer cases, nearly 100,000 of them fatal, far higher than previous estimates. [includes rush transcript]

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. On April 26th, 1986, two explosions ripped through Chernobyl’s reactor number four tearing off the plant’s roof and releasing more than 90 times the radioactivity of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The radioactive cloud drifted across much of then-USSR and a large swathe of Europe. Its effects were felt from Scandinavia to Greece. The impact was made worse by the fact that the Soviet authorities concealed the extent of what had happened for several days and did not begin to evacuate people from the area until more than a day and half later.

Somber vigils and protests today marked the 20th anniversary of the disaster.

Hundreds of survivors gathered at monuments to those who died cleaning up after the blast, holding flowers and candles at overnight ceremonies in Ukraine where the plant is located. Overnight vigils were held in both the capital Kiev and in Slavutych, the town built to house the Chernobyl plant workers displaced by the accident. At 1:23am–the precise time the alarm was set off 20 years ago–the church bells tolled 20 times.

In neighboring Belarus, where a quarter of the land was contaminated by the released radiation, opposition groups were expected to hold what has become a traditional protest rally in the evening against the government’s handling of the accident and its aftermath.

The extent of human suffering linked to the Chernobyl disaster is almost beyond definition. Estimates of the death toll and health effects linked to nuclear accident vary widely. The International Atomic Energy Agency has maintained that radioactive fallout from Chernobyl caused 4,000 extra cancer deaths. But a new * report* released by Greenpeace claims that is a gross simplification. The report concludes the full consequences of the disaster could top one million cancer cases, nearly 100,000 of them fatal.

  • Ivan Blokov campaign director of Greenpeace Russia. He has been leading research on Chernobyl for Greenpeace International. **
  • - Read Greenpeace report*

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the line right now by the campaign director of Greenpeace Russia, Ivan Blokov. He’s been leading the research on Chernobyl for Greenpeace International. He joins us on the line from the Netherlands. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

IVAN BLOKOV: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So, tell us what you found in this new report, 20 years after the Chernobyl explosion.

IVAN BLOKOV: I would like to be very precise, because this report was not prepared by Greenpeace. It was organized by Greenpeace, but it was done by 52,000 worldwide, and the most recent data which was used in this report predicted it may be 270,000 cancers worldwide, from which something like 100,000 can be fatal cancers.

However, the recent demographic data, which was investigated by one of the scientific boards, National Academy of Sciences, shows that already it is quite possible that 200,000 people already died in the area seriously affected by radiation in the three most affected countries. And that is not caused by cancers only. It’s just the common influence of radiation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ivan Blokov. Today, what is the response to the report?

IVAN BLOKOV: The response is quite serious. For example, W.H.O. spokesperson just recently told to [inaudible] magazines that the studies, which they did together with the International Atomic Agency, was just looking on another group of people, and that was released a few hours ago. At the same time, a few days ago, W.H.O. released their own report based on a very old data from 1996, which predicts now that up to 37 fatal cancers can happen because of radiation in Chernobyl with 95% probability. So, in fact, they’re more or less convinced that there’s very huge uncertainty, and the figure which they came in the press release in September 2005 was based mainly on political things, but not based on the solid science.

AMY GOODMAN: Ivan Blokov, we’ll have to leave it there with Greenpeace, Russia, speaking with us on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

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