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Report Says Chernobyl Will Cause 1,000 Deaths Over 50 Years

March 25, 1987

LONDON (AP) _ About 1,000 people in the European Economic Community will die from cancer over the next 50 years because of radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, according to a British study released today.

One of the authors of the study said about 2,000 non-fatal thyroid cancers would occur in the 12-nation bloc because of Chernobyl fallout.

The study by Britain’s state-funded National Radiological Protection Board said most of the 1,000 deaths will be concentrated in southern West Germany, Greece and northern Italy.

But the study, conducted for the Brussels-based executive commission of the EEC, said that over the same 50-year period about 30 million people in the community will die from cancer caused by other sources.

It said it will be impossible to determine which cancer deaths were caused by radiactivity released during last April’s fire and explosion at the Chernobyl power station in the Soviet Ukraine.

The board said the report is the first complete assessment of the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on the 320 million residents of the EEC, also known as the Common Market.

An explosion inside a reactor at Chernobyl killed 31 people in the Soviet Union and sent clouds of radioactive cesium-134, iodine-131 and strontium into the atmosphere. The radioactive pollution was carried by the wind across the Ukraine, Western Europe and eventually around the world.

Doses generally grew weaker the further the pollution was carried from the striken plant.

The report said people in the southern part of West Germany were exposed to the highest average Chernobyl radiation doses in the EEC, with each adult receiving an average of 380 microsieverts of radiation from Chernobyl since the disaster.

The report said that figure compared with average doses of 300 microsieverts in Greece, 200 in northern Italy and 50 in Britain.

A microsievert is a measure of radioactivity. The average dose of radioactivity over a year from rocks and other ordinary sources is 1,000 to 2,000 microsieverts, the report said.

It said most of the 1,000 predicted Chernobyl-linked cancer deaths in the EEC - about 750 - would occur in West Germany and Italy.

It said people who spent a lot of time outdoors or ate above average amounts of contaminated food may have received as much as 1,900 microsieverts of radiation from Chernobyl in southern Germany, 1,300 in Greece, 1,100 in northern Italy, 970 in eastern France, 840 in western Britain and 520 in Northern Ireland.

One of the authors of the report, Mary Morrey, said over British Broadcasting Corp. radio that the variation in the doses is ″due to the different weather conditions experience in each country as the (radioactive) cloud passed overhead.″

″In particular, where it rained heavily, doses are higher, for example parts of southern Germany, northern Italy, and Greece,″ she said.

Asked how many non-fatal cancer cases could result from Chernobyl radiation in the EEC in the next 50 years, she said: ″For this study, we considered only non-fatal thyroid cancers and we estimate about 2,000 of these cancers would occur.″

Several EEC countries prohibited the sale of fresh vegetables, milk and other contaminated foods for varying periods after the accident to reduce the risk of ingesting fallout. Ms. Morrey said these measures helped protect people.

″For example, we estimate that in Italy and Greece the counter-measures taken probably reduced the doses by about half,″ she said. ″The collective dose for the whole EEC population was also reduced but not by such a great amount, perhaps by one-twentieth. However, even this might have prevented a few tens of cancer deaths.″

The British environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth said the board’s figure of 1,000 cancer deaths was a significant underestimate.

It said the board used the lowest radiation risk estimates currently available, and claimed there was a scientific consensus that at least 2,000 deaths would result.

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