U.N. reflects on Chernobyl

By Lauren Mack Apr 27, 2006, 18:47 GMT
UNITED NATIONS, United States (UPI) — On the 20th anniversary of Chernobyl, the United Nations remembered the tragedy and reflected on what is being done to prevent a repeat accident.
Several U.N. agencies honored the emergency workers, victims both living and deceased, and the volunteers who have worked to clean up the affected regions on Wednesday, the 20th anniversary of the world`s worst nuclear accident.
‘Many hard lessons have been learned from Chernobyl, including the importance of providing the public with transparent, timely and credible information in the event of a catastrophe,’ said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
On April 26, 1986, the Unit 4 reactor core at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, was destroyed by explosions which sent a cloud of radio nuclides, or radioactive atoms, over parts of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
An estimated 350,000 workers charged with cleaning up the site were exposed to high levels of radiation, said a World Health Organization report recently released to coincide with the anniversary. More than 330,000 people were displaced from their radiated homelands and faced the stigma of being contaminated.
Today, five million people continue to live in contaminated areas, said a WHO report entitled ‘Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident and Special Health Care Programs.’
Since the disaster there has been an increase in thyroid cancer diagnoses, most of which can be linked directly to the nuclear power plant disaster, said the report. In the days following the accident, high levels of radioactive iodine were released and deposited in nearby pastures where cows grazed. The iodine was concentrated in the cows` milk which was then given to children. A general iodine deficiency in the local diet compounded the problem and caused more iodine to accumulate in the children`s thyroids, the report said.
‘Since radioactive iodine is short lived, if people had stopped giving locally supplied contaminated milk to children for a few months following the accident, it is likely that most of the increase in radiation-induced thyroid cancer would not have resulted,’ said the WHO.
Some 5,000 victims, who were children at the time of the accident, have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer so far.
Two decades later, survivors are not only dealing with health problems but many are still suffering economic hardship from resettlement, economic restrictions imposed after Chernobyl and dislocation following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, said the U.N. Development Program, which has coordinated all Chernobyl related activities for the United Nations since 2004.
The lack of accurate information from the Russian government about the affects of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl accident in the months and years that followed the accident has prompted organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency to call for improved communication after a disaster strikes. The agency marked this year`s anniversary by reminding the global community about the hazards of nuclear activity.
‘We should never forget the lessons we learned regarding nuclear safety and international cooperation. In remembering the Chernobyl accident, we should renew our determination to ensure that such a tragedy will not happen again,’ said IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna.
The U.N. shifted its Chernobyl strategy from emergency relief to long-term recovery and development in 2002.
There is a need for improved international communication and cooperation, safe food production and health care, said the Chernobyl Forum, a group of representatives from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine and eight U.N. agencies formed in 2003. The group was formed to look at the impact of Chernobyl on health and the environment, presenting its findings culled from hundreds of scientists, economists and health experts last September.
Several U.N. agencies have established volunteer programs to help address the lingering economic, environmental and social problems. As part of the Chernobyl Recovery and Development Program, a joint initiative of the Ukrainian government and U.N. agencies, more than 200 community organizations have been set up in 139 villages including one in Kirdany, a Ukrainian village which helped rebuild the fresh water supply system. Other organizations are helping to renovate schools, build new health facilities and create youth centers.
‘By encouraging residents to take fate into their own hands, we are confident we are helping to build sturdy local foundations for a robust democracy,’ said UNDP Regional Director Kalman Mizsei.
‘The secretary-general believes that the best way for the international community to pay homage to those who suffered from Chernobyl is to provide generous support to programs designed to help traumatized communities regain self-sufficiency, and affected families resume normal, healthy lives,’ said Dujarric, Annan`s spokesman.
Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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