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IAEA deliberately downplays Chernobyl death toll

IAEA deliberately downplays Chernobyl death toll to pave way for nuclear renaissance

Geneva, Switzerland, 7 September 2005 - Greenpeace, today, accused the International Atomic Energy Agency of deliberately trying to down play the death toll of the Chernobyl accident as part of the nuclear industry's continued attempt to portray itself as an acceptable future energy source.

During a two-day conference in Vienna, the Agency presented a report claiming that ultimately some 4,000 deaths can be expected as a result of the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986. According to the IAEA "fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster," to date. The IAEA study does not cover all of the populations affected by Chernobyl fall-out but merely considers those who received a high radiation dose in the immediate wake of the accident - namely those 'liquidators' drafted in to carry out the immediate clean up of the site.

However, at the IAEA hosted conference another UN body, The World Health Organisation (WHO), produced its own report, showing that the death toll would be over 8,000 if the local population around the stricken reactor where included. WHO also estimates from a study of some 76,000 'liquidators' that 216, and not 50, died by 1998.

Neither UN body takes into account the hundreds of millions of Europeans exposed to low doses of radioactivity as a result of the cloud of contamination which spread throughout Europe from Chernobyl.

Statements from the IAEA that many of the illnesses previously ascribed to Chernobyl fall out in earlier scientific studies can not be attributed to radiation exposure but are simply the consequence of 'stress and irrational fear' are highly misleading and unjustified the international environmental organisation said.

"It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of one of the most serious industrial accident in human history. It is a deliberate attempt to minimize the risks of nuclear power in order to free the way for new reactor construction," said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner.

The IAEA stated at the conference that previous researchers who have estimated the number of deaths in the range of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands have exaggerated the impacts. When questioned about the confusing figures presented at the conference, Mr. Bennet - chair of the Chernobyl Forum - confirmed that "the 4,000 figure was up in the air and was a very rough scoping estimate". The WHO report on which he contributed also confirms that "the actual number of deaths caused by this accident is unlikely to ever be precisely known"

"As we approach the 20th anniversary of the world worst nuclear accident, the victims of Chernobyl deserve more than this shoddy, incomplete and contradictory science. What they need is real science and real solutions to the continued suffering and ill-health brought about by the Chernobyl disaster," said Jan Vande Putte.

It is clear from the papers presented at the IAEA conference that not all affected populations have been included in the studies or the estimated death tolls. Greenpeace calls upon the UN and the international community to rectify these omissions as a matter of urgency and responsibility should be removed from the pro-nuclear IAEA.

Notes to Editor:

WHO correctly refers in its report to 2 different approaches to assess the health impacts of radiation:
The first - and the most accepted approach by nuclear regulators worldwide - is based on the standards set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and which assumes that there is a linear relationship between radiation dose and effect, without a threshold. This means that if a very large population is subjected to a very low dose, the collective impact can still be very serious. In the case of the Chernobyl accident, this leads to estimates in the range of tens to hundreds of thousands of casualties. (Euratom: Directive 96/29/Euratom)

The other approach is based on epidemiology and tries to report the actual number of casualties and use statistical methods to estimate the total number of casualties for a population. This approach is valuable in well controlled situations, but can become very problematic in complex situations such as in Europe, where it will be absolutely impossible to relate individual cases of cancer e.g. in Belgium or France, to the Chernobyl fallout. (WHO, Low doses of radiation linked to small increase in cancer risk.

The figures presented by the IAEA were later issued in a joint press release from the IAEA, WHO and UNDP.

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