The report was prepared by a panel of more than 100 experts convened by U.N. agencies.
It says huge compensation programs for people in the Chernobyl region have become “a major barrier to the region's recovery,” both by creating a culture of dependency and by soaking up a high percentage of the region's resources. It recommends that the compensation programs be cut back.
The report, “Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts,” says 4,000 deaths will probably be attributable to the accident ultimately — compared with the tens of thousands predicted at the time of the accident.
Only 50 deaths — all among the reactor staff and emergency workers — can be directly attributed to acute radiation exposure after Chernobyl's Reactor No. 4 exploded in April 1986, the panel found. The rest will be from cancer at a higher rate than would otherwise be expected in people exposed to radiation near Chernobyl in the wake of the accident.
But for millions of people who were subjected to low levels of radioactive particles spread by the wind, health effects have proved generally minimal, the report found.
The powerful explosion that rocked Chernobyl sent chunks of the reactor core into the surrounding fields and clouds of radioactive particles into the air. The fire burned for 10 days and released radioactive particles that were carried by the wind to large rural swaths of what was then the Soviet Union. The particles settled in human bodies and homes, forests and livestock.
The report acknowledged that there was a core of people, probably 100,000 to 200,000, who continued to be severely affected by the disaster.
But 7 million people in what are now Russia, Ukraine and Belarus still receive some kind of Chernobyl benefits, from monthly stipends to university entrance preference to therapeutic annual vacations. In Ukraine, the number of people designated as permanently disabled by the Chernobyl accident (and their children) increased from 200 in 1991 to 64,500 in 1997 and 91,219 in 2001 — even though the effects of radiation decline over time, the report noted. Both Ukraine and Belarus still spend about 5 percent of their annual budgets on Chernobyl victims.
Indeed, the report concludes that “the largest public health problem unleashed by the accident” is “the mental health impact.” Residents of the region, who view themselves as victims of a tragedy they poorly understand, are still haunted by anxiety that has prevented many from restarting their lives.
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