More than 1.5 million Russians live in areas contaminated by radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 20 years ago, health officials said yesterday, and some regularly consume irradiated foods.
Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's chief public health official, said in a statement that about 4,300 towns and villages in 14 Russian provinces are located in areas irradiated from the nuclear accident on April 26, 1986.
While food products are safe in most of those provinces, tests indicated exceptional radiation levels in about 13 per cent of the livestock and vegetables from private farms in the western Bryansk and Kaluga regions, he said.
The explosion at Chernobyl's reactor No 4 spewed radiation across northern Ukraine, western Russia, Belarus and much of northern Europe over a 10-day period. Death tolls connected to the explosion, which released about 400 times more radiation than the US atom bomb dropped over Hiroshima, remain hotly debated, though at least 31 people died as a direct result of trying to contain the fire.
Thousands have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and the UN health agency said that about 9,300 people are likely to die of cancers caused by radiation. Some groups, however, including Greenpeace, have put the numbers 10 times higher.
Meanwhile, activists of a Chernobyl victims group called on the government to pay off millions of dollars in compensation to cleanup workers and restore long-time benefits, such as free health care.
Vladimir Demidov, a Health Ministry official charged with Chernobyl matters, said between 7,000 and 8,000 Russians died as a result of the accident, and some 60,000 have been declared disabled because of the sustained damage to their health.
Vyacheslav Grishin, head of Russia's Chernobyl Union, disputed the figures. He said the estimated 30,000 Russian cleanup workers who have died since the accident perished as a result of physical and psychological ailments. He urged government officials to pay Chernobyl cleanup workers 2 billion rubles (US$73 million) in compensation, to which he said courts have ruled they are entitled.
Source: China Daily