Nearly 20 years ago, on April 25 1986, the world’s worst ever nuclear accident began in Chernobyl, Ukraine, when reactor number four in the city’s nuclear power plant blew up. Panic spread rapidly in the then Soviet republic, and then beyond its frontiers into western Europe and elsewhere.
It was only later that it was revealed weather patterns had carried a huge radioactive cloud as far as Britain’s east coast, contaminating 200 thousand square kilometres through a swathe of Europe. In Ukraine itself more than 600 thousand people were exposed to radiation, of which a third were soldiers and emergency workers sent to control the disaster, plant employees, and civilians from the zone immediately around the reactor. According to the World Health Organisation’s latest projections, the number of deaths from cancers triggered by the accident’s radiation leak may be 4,000Of that total 47 have already died, all emergency workers who succumbed to the intense doses they received while fighting the fire, and nine children from thyroid cancers. That leaves 3945 who may die from cancer in the coming years. The WHO report claims there is no conclusive evidence that cancers have risen as a result of Chernobyl, and adds disinformation at the time had a negative effect as people believed they were doomed to see their community decimated by cancers, which simply has not happened. Instead, says the WHO’s Dr. Fred Mettler, there was an epidemic of fatalism: “The psychologists and psychiatrists on the groups described it as ‘paralysing fatalism’, that was one of the words they used. Another was a lack of confidence, lack of control over their futures, which is a fatalistic issue”. Greenpeace, among others, contests the WHO findings. The environmental activists say research has been ignored, and when scientific opinion has been unclear, the report has opted to conclude the impact has been non-existant. Greenpeace also regrets data from the rest of Europe has not been included.