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World Reports

Twenty years after Chernobyl

While the Chernobyl disaster has faded into history in the minds of Westerners, it still looms large over the people of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Twenty years after the Chernobyl disaster, the former Soviet Union is still contaminated. Even today no one lives within 30 miles of the nuclear plant.

April 26, 2006 marked the 20th anniversary of the disaster.

“A nuclear accident is never over.”

To commemorate this terrible day, Fran Macy and Enid Schreibman, co-directors of the Center for Safe Energy, joined scientists, NGO leaders, and politicians from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, the UK, and the US for a three-day conference to discuss the lasting effects of the accident.
The conference, which was organized by the Nuclear Information Resource Service in Washington DC and the World Information Service on Energy in Amsterdam, sought to re-examine earlier conclusions about the effects of the disaster.

Speakers at the conference challenged the findings of a UN report published last September that estimated that 4,000 people will have died from the Chernobyl accident, Macy said. The presenters said this was a gross underestimation and proposed that actually 60,000–80,000 people will have died. They estimated that more than half of the radioactive material from the plant ended up outside of the USSR in Europe.
European governments have not acknowledged this contamination, Macy said, perhaps because they fear an erosion of public support for their own nuclear programs.

But regardless of what the European governments are saying, experts at the conference said the numbers speak for themselves. One British scientist who spoke at the conference said that 22,000 Western Europeans have died from exposure to the radioactive material from the Chernobyl disaster. Experts warned that a rise in cancers, especially thyroid cancers, and in cardiac problems should be expected in the coming years.

Children are especially vulnerable to exposure to radioactive materials. “Many children suffer from a weakened immune system from prolonged exposure to low-level radiation from water, food, and soil,” Macy said. He spoke with teachers who said the radiation made their students sluggish and passive. They had trouble concentrating on their work.

He also spoke with parents who struggled to find uncontaminated food for their children. “I sat at a table talking with a Ukrainian mother,” Macy said. “She said to me, ‘I don’t know if I’m giving my daughter clean milk or poison,’ she said with tears in her eyes.”

“A nuclear accident is never over, unlike natural calamities – floods, hurricanes. Radioactivity will continue to be dangerous to humans and other organisms for 240,000 years,” Macy said.

Macy and Schreibman met with members of Ukrainian environmental groups who are working to find alternative energy sources for Ukraine. It’s an uphill battle, though, as the government plans to build 22 new reactors. The Center for Safe Energy is assisting these groups by providing money and information for their alternative energy and energy conservation campaigns.

“I find the people of the environmental movement in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus heroic in their willingness to face such a terrible danger, as they resist government pressure and campaign against the nuclear policies of the government. We feel privileged to call so many of them close friends,” Macy said.

   

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