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Ukraine: Activists, Experts Dispute UN Report On Chornobyl

What was the extent of the Chornobyl disaster? Environmental activists and researchers in some of the countries most affected by the Chornobyl disaster have rejected a new United Nations report that says the consequences of the 1986 explosion in the Ukrainian nuclear plant were not as dire as predicted. The report prepared by a group of 100 scientists concludes that some 4,000 people are likely to die as a result of the disaster. But activists and experts dismiss those figures as grossly underestimated.

Prague, 7 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Nataliya Preobrazhenska heads the Save The Ukrainian Children from the Chornobyl Catastrophe foundation and is a consultant to the Committee on Radiation Security of the parliament of Ukraine.

She told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service that the 1986 explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant continues to cause serious health and environmental problems for people living in the affected areas. “We must all know that we are not living after [the Chornobyl catastrophe], but [still] during the Chornobyl catastrophe,” she said.

Preobrazhenska was reacting to the new report released by the Chernobyl Forum, a group involving experts from eight UN agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The report found that besides thousands of workers who were exposed to high doses of radiation in the early days of the accident and thousands stricken with thyroid cancer, the impact on the rest of the population was not as severe as feared.

The report concludes that the death toll caused by radiation could reach a total of 4,000, which is much lower than previous estimates. Such a conclusion could affect national and international programs dedicated to helping people in the most affected areas of the disaster in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.

Preobrazhenska believes that the report does not tell the whole story. “It’s horrible, the IAEA statement is criminal!" she said. "I think it’s time for The Hague court to look at our figures and at what the IAEA says.”

Preobrazhenska said that the cancer rate in the region remains high as a result of radiation exposure caused by the accident. She said that only in 2003, more than 150,000 new cases of cancer were registered in Ukraine.
"Has any of those scientists spent an extended period of time in the Homel region studying the condition of children? Only after that can one say whether or not the small radiation factor has any impact on people's condition." - Belarusian academic

Yury Bandazhevski, a prominent Belarusian researcher on the effects of radiation exposure, also does not agree with some of the findings of the UN report. Bandazhevski was conditionally released from prison in early August after having served four years of what had originally been an eight-year sentence. He was convicted of taking bribes in exchange for admitting students while serving as rector of a medical institute in Homel. Bandazhevski denies the charges, saying the Belarusian authorities were taking revenge on him for highlighting the disastrous effects of the Chornobyl accident.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service. Bandazhevski questioned the methods used by the UN scientists and researchers who prepared the report: "Has any of those scientists spent an extended period of time in the Homel region studying the condition of children? Only after that can one say whether or not the small radiation factor has any impact on people's condition. Or did they just make two- or three-day trips, wave their hands and leave? This is why they made such conclusions."

Ivan Nikitchanka, a member of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences and long-time researcher into Chornobyl-related issues, also criticized the report. He told RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service that UN agencies and the Belarusian government are ignoring the impact of the nuclear disaster.

"People are continuing to die as they did before; they are getting sick as they did before. There is no movement -- and no IAEA, no World Health Organization will help us...doesn't even have the intention of helping us," Nikitchanka said. "For them, it's important to stifle our problems so people don't know about them, because this would affect their business. They didn't protect the population from the disaster. And there will be no results from this forum. Why? Because comrade [Belarusian President Alyakandr] Lukashenka said, 'Starting from 2001, there is no longer any Chernobyl problem.' That's it."

The UN report has been also criticized by some environmental groups in Norway and Russia, another affected country.

Vladimir Chuprov, coordinator of Greenpeace Russia, was quoted by AP as saying that the report did not take into account premature deaths caused by the accident.

At yesterday's opening in Vienna of the Chernobyl Forum meeting, which is being held under the aegis of the IAEA, Russia’s representative Nadezka Gerasimova reportedly said that Chornobyl's main fallout was "social" rather than "radiological." She added that the time had come to cut some benefits to people in the affected areas.

Greenpeace International said yesterday that the UN report "whitewashes" the impact of the world’s worst nuclear accident. Bellona, a Norwegian environmental group, said the report reflecs only "a small fraction" of the disaster's real impact.

(RFE/RL’s Belarusian and Ukrainian services/news agencies)

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