New study reveals death toll of Chernobyl enormously underestimated

Press release - April 18, 2006
Kiev, Ukraine — A new Greenpeace report, with input from 52 scientists from around the world, reveals that official estimates of the health impact from the Chernobyl catastrophe have been hugely under estimated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). (1)

The report, "Chernobyl Catastrophe Consequences on Human Health", is published in the run up to the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Although large uncertainties remain on the full consequences of Chernobyl, results of recent studies (included in the report) featured in the report estimate that over 250,000 cancers and nearly 100,000 fatal cancers will be caused by the accident. The report challenges the IAEA Chernobyl Forum report's prediction of 4,000 additional deaths attributable to the accident as a "gross simplification of the breadth of human suffering" (2).

"It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of the most serious nuclear accident in human history" said Ivan Blokov of Greenpeace. "Denying the real implications is not only insulting to the thousands of victims, but it also leads to dangerous recommendations and the relocation of people in contaminated areas. The IAEA cannot remain as the world's nuclear watchdog if it cannot at least admit that nuclear power is responsible for the impact on those whose life it scarred forever".

The data, based on Belarus national cancer statistics, predicts approximately 270,000 cancers and 93,000 fatal cancer cases will be caused by Chernobyl (3). The report also concludes that on the basis of demographic data, during last 15 years, 60,000 people have died additionally in Russia because of the Chernobyl accident, and estimates of the total death toll for Ukraine and Belarus could be another 140,000 (4).

These conclusions contrast sharply with the misleading claims of the IAEA. By not specifying that the 4,000 fatal cancers were only referring to the specific and relatively small group of 600,000 people, who included the so-called 'liquidators' (people sent in to 'clean up' after the accident) and those relocated after the accident, the IAEA release hid the true scale of human impact of Chernobyl. In fact, at least 2 billion people have been subjected to the radioactive fallout of the accident. The IAEA report also omitted non-cancer impacts and tried to explain many illnesses as 'radiophobia' whereas clear medical evidence exists of the direct psychological impact of radiation exposure (on e.g. the thyroid gland which has a direct relation to psychological well-being).

Solid evidence also exists that the accident had an immensely disruptive impact on the health of millions of people across a large area of the world. Apart from the direct impact of the radiation, the health of those in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were also seriously impacted by a complex set of socio-economic disruptions following the loss of agricultural land, the forced relocation of some 300,000 people, an economic crisis, lack of adequate information and political factors.

The ongoing health impact from Chernobyl is also tackled in the report and concludes that radiation from the disaster has had a devastating effect on survivors; damaging immune and endocrine systems, leading to accelerated ageing, cardiovascular and blood illnesses, psychological illnesses, chromosomal aberrations and an increase of deformities in foetuses and children.

The impacts of Chernobyl and other nuclear disasters are featured in a new photography exhibition, which opens in thirty cities worldwide (5). The exhibition features poignant portraits of individuals and families, and the stories of their life's struggle because of Chernobyl and other nuclear disasters.

"These images are a timely reminder that human life is more than just a number. For each statistic there is a person paying the ultimate price. Anyone who has a doubt about the dangers of nuclear power should visit the exhibition and see for themselves the reasons Greenpeace opposes nuclear power. Twenty years on and the threat of a new Chernobyl lies within every nuclear power plant " concluded Blokov (6).

Other contacts:

Omer Elnaiem, Greenpeace International Communications, +31 646 162 020
Ivan Blokov, Greenpeace Russia Campaign Director, +31 646 177 536
Jan van de Putte, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaign + 32 496 161 584

VVPR info:

Photo and Video: Franca Michienzi: Greenpeace International Photo desk: +31 6 53819255 Michael Nagasaka: Greenpeace International Video desk:
+31 6 4616 6309


(1) The Chernobyl Catastrophe Consequences on Human Health report can be downloaded from:
(2) The IAEA Chernobyl Forum report can downloaded from:
(3) Joint institute of Power and nuclear research National Academy of sciences of Belarus, Dr. Michail V.Malko, leading research worker
(4) Centre of the Independent Environment Assessment of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dr.Veniamin V.Khudoley (and others)
(5) A full list of the exhibition venues can be found at:
(6). Greenpeace is an independent, global, environmental organisation. Greenpeace opposes nuclear power because it is dangerous, polluting, generates nuclear waste for which there is no solution, proliferates nuclear weapons and it is expensive. Therefore, nuclear power should be phased
out and replaced by modern technologies of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, which are, not only clean but can also be developed faster and cheaper than nuclear power.
(7) Main conclusions of the Report:

· Cancer has increased sharply in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Between 1990 and 2000, there was a 40% increase in all cancers in Belarus and a 52% increase in the Gomel region. In Ukraine, there was a 12% increase and in the Zhytomir region morbidity increased almost 3-fold. In the Russian Bryansk region, cancer increased 2.7 times.

· In Belarus only, some 7,000 excessive thyroid cancers have been identified till 2004. A recent study reported that thyroid cancer in children increased 88.5 times, in adolescents 12.9 times and in adults 4.6 times. Predictions for Belarus range from 14 000 to 31 400 extra thyroid cancers over 70 years.

· For the Ukraine as a whole, some 24 000 thyroid cancers are expected, of which 2 400 are expected to be fatal.

· These dramatic increases of thyroid cancer are far more than expected. After the accident, only a minor increase was predicted. Furthermore, the cancers are highly aggressive with a short latency period and a extrathyroid spread of tumour in almost 50% of patients, forcing surgeons to conduct repeated operations to remove residual metastases.

· Leukaemia started to increase significantly in the most exposed populations some 5 years after the accident. It has been estimated that the people of Belarus could suffer as many as 2 800 extra cases of leukaemia between 1986 and 2056, up to 1 880 being fatal.

· A significant increase of intestinal, rectal, breast, urinary bladder, kidney, lung and other cancers were observed. During 1987?1999, approximately 26 000 cases of radiation-induced cancers were registered in Belarus, of which skin cancer accounted for 18.7% of cases, lung cancer 10.5% and stomach cancer 9.5%.

· Illnesses of the blood circulation and lymphatic systems increased in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. In Belarus, diseases of the blood circulation system had increased 5.5 times ten years after the accident. In Ukraine, blood and blood circulation diseases increased by a factor of 10.8-15.4 among those living in contaminated areas.

· Radiation impacts on the reproductive system. Accumulation of radionuclides in a woman’s body leads to increased production of the male hormone testosterone, which causes expression of male attributes. Conversely, impotence became more common in men of 25-30 living in the radiationpolluted regions. Children from the polluted territories suffer from retardation of sexual development. Mothers suffer from the later occurrence and disturbances of periods and more frequent gynaecological problems, anaemia during and after pregnancy, anomalies in the commencement of labour and untimely breaking of waters.

· The Chernobyl accident disrupted whole societies in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. A complex interaction between factors such as poor health increased costs of the health system, relocation of people, loss of agricultural territories and contamination of foodstuffs, economic crisis, the costs of remediation to the states, political problems, a weakened workforce etc, creates a general crisis.