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Greenpeace Questions Official Chernobyl Casualty Figures

DW staff (sac)April 18, 2006

In a report released Tuesday, environmental organization Greenpeace said the consequences of the Chernobyl reactor disaster are being played down. The number of victims will far surpass official figures, it said.

Children were particularly hit by the high levels of radioactivityImage: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb

The health consequences of the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe 20 years ago are much more extensive than initially assumed, according to environmental group Greenpeace.

"No can say for certain how many people will die as a result of Chernobyl," said Greenpeace's nuclear expert Thomas Breuer. "The effects of the radioactivity are too manifold and the data is insufficient."

The Chernobyl Forum -- a group of specialists, including representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) -- last September presented a report on the health effects of the Chernobyl accident which concluded that 4,000 - 9,000 people died, or will die, from radiogenic cancer.

"Whoever claims that there were 4,000 victims is denying the gravity of this disaster and ignoring the suffering of countless people," Breuer said.

Official figures painted too harmless a picture

In a report Greenpeace released in Berlin, Kiev and Amsterdam on Tuesday, the organization did not disclose casualty figures, which it said was not possible, as the health consequences would not be able to be assessed for a long time yet. However, Greenpeace said the figures cited by the Chernobyl Forum painted too harmless a picture.

The extent of the Chernobyl accident only became clear days laterImage: AP

The Greenpeace report integrates many studies not considered in the West, including ones from the Russian-speaking world. The report shows that the radiation exposure from the catastrophe on April 26, 1986 caused a very wide spectrum of illnesses.

According to Greenpeace, there is a lot of information on the frequency of illnesses, in particular cancer. The IAEA figures represented the lower end of these estimations, the group said.

The latest studies by the Russian Academy of Sciences on the countries Belarus, Ukraine and Russia estimate 270,000 additional cases of cancer, of which 93,000 are likely to end in death. Other studies assumed even worse consequences.

The figures "don't add up"

Greenpeace is not alone in doubting the official figures. Radiobiologist Edmund Lengfelder from the University of Munich estimated the number of dead "liquidators" -- technicians and rescue workers, who cleaned up and safeguarded the area after the explosion -- at 50,000 to 100,000.

Tschernobyl - Liquidatoren
Chernobyl's liquidators were the hardest hitImage: GRS

"The figures declared by world authorities don't add up from start to finish," Lengfelder said. The organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War also estimates casualty figures of this magnitude.

"Even the IAEA assumes in its estimates more deaths than it publicly states," said Greenpeace's Breuer. "You just have to read the fine print in its study. What the authority does there is consciously playing down the worst nuclear accident ever."

This provided the nuclear industry with figures more suited to their sector and the over 440 nuclear power plants worldwide, Breuer said.

Radiation sparked other illnesses, too

For illnesses besides cancer, the Greenpeace study showed a rise in cases in affected areas in comparison to other regions.

It was assumed the radioactivity attacked people's immune systems and also changed their genetic make-up, the group said. The connection to radiation in individual cases could not be proven, but the figures suggested this suspicion.

Greenpeace called for a worldwide phasing out of nuclear energy.