Greenpeace accuses a WHO report of underestimating the extent of the nuclear disaster's effect.

Twenty years after the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant turned areas of Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine into apocalyptic wastelands, disagreements over the disaster’s long-term death toll continue to make it difficult to put a human value on the catastrophe.

“Complete evaluation of the human health consequences of the Chernobyl accident is…likely to remain an almost impossible task, such that the true extent of morbidity and mortality resulting may never be fully appreciated,” reads a report published this month by Greenpeace International.

The Greenpeace report, issued to rebut a World Health Organization (WHO) report, also published this month, claims that 4,000 people are currently afflicted with thyroid cancer caused by the Chernobyl meltdown and that 9,000 will eventually succumb to the illness brought on by radiation poisoning. Greenpeace alleges that the WHO report and a second report released by the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAAE) underestimate the mortality resulting from the meltdown. The Greenpeace document offers a death-count of at least 93,000 and possibly far higher, an estimate derived from Russian and Belarusian research.

According to Greenpeace campaigner Ivan Blokov, the narrow focus of the WHO and IAEA reports reveal a lack of sensitivity to the problem, as well as a self-serving desire to underplay the dangers of nuclear power.

“An outcome [of underreporting casualty data] is that people can feel that nuclear energy is safe,” Blokov said. “However, nuclear energy is not safe, and an accident similar to Chernobyl can happen at any moment. It’s not a question of whether it happens or not, it’s a question of when it happens and where.”

Greenpeace cites several other problems with the WHO and IAEA reports. For one, the environmental group says, the WHO and IAEA reports only include data from papers published in English and in peer-reviewed journals. Secondly, Greenpeace claims those reports did not take into account the 20-year latency period for thyroid cancer, the biggest radiation-induced killer in the areas affected by Chernobyl, and therefore the number of potential future deaths were underreported by a large degree. The difficulty of tracking other fatal conditions such as immune system disorders and cardiovascular illnesses also put the WHO statistics into question, according to Greenpeace.

Lastly, Greenpeace’s attack claims the WHO report focuses on people living in very close proximity to the disaster, while the report emphasizes the broad scope of the fallout, looking at research from across Europe.

A spokesman for the WHO, Gregory Hartl, said in a press statement that the two sets of data simply provide answers to two different questions and are not comparable.

“The Greenpeace report is looking at all of Europe, whereas our report looks at only the most affected areas of the three most affected countries,” he said. “The WHO felt it had recourse to the best national and international scientific evidence and studies when it came up with its estimates of [up to] 9,000 excess deaths for the most affected areas. We feel they’re very sound.”

Originally published April 25, 2006

Tags

Share this Stumbleupon Reddit Email + More

Now on SEEDMAGAZINE.COM

  • Ideas

    I Tried Almost Everything Else

    John Rinn, snowboarder, skateboarder, and “genomic origamist,” on why we should dumpster-dive in our genomes and the inspiration of a middle-distance runner.

  • Ideas

    Going, Going, Gone

    The second most common element in the universe is increasingly rare on Earth—except, for now, in America.

  • Ideas

    Earth-like Planets Aren’t Rare

    Renowned planetary scientist James Kasting on the odds of finding another Earth-like planet and the power of science fiction.

The Seed Salon

Video: conversations with leading scientists and thinkers on fundamental issues and ideas at the edge of science and culture.

Are We Beyond the Two Cultures?

Video: Seed revisits the questions C.P. Snow raised about science and the humanities 50 years by asking six great thinkers, Where are we now?

Saved by Science

Audio slideshow: Justine Cooper's large-format photographs of the collections behind the walls of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Universe in 2009

In 2009, we are celebrating curiosity and creativity with a dynamic look at the very best ideas that give us reason for optimism.

Revolutionary Minds
The Interpreters

In this installment of Revolutionary Minds, five people who use the new tools of science to educate, illuminate, and engage.

The Seed Design Series

Leading scientists, designers, and architects on ideas like the personal genome, brain visualization, generative architecture, and collective design.

The Seed State of Science

Seed examines the radical changes within science itself by assessing the evolving role of scientists and the shifting dimensions of scientific practice.

A Place for Science

On the trail of the haunts, homes, and posts of knowledge, from the laboratory to the field.

Portfolio

Witness the science. Stunning photographic portfolios from the pages of Seed magazine.

SEEDMAGAZINE.COM by Seed Media Group. ©2005-2015 Seed Media Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Sites by Seed Media Group: Seed Media Group | ScienceBlogs | Research Blogging | SEEDMAGAZINE.COM