|• Suspected infant mortality rise difficult to prove
• Predicted deaths range from 4,000 to half a million
* John Vidal, environment editor
At the children's cancer hospital in Minsk,
Belarus, and at the Vilne hospital for radiological protection in the east
of Ukraine, specialist doctors are in no doubt they are seeing highly unusual
rates of cancers, mutations and blood diseases linked to the Chernobyl
nuclear accident 24 years ago.
The mismatches in figures arise because there have been no comprehensive, co-ordinated studies of the health consequences of the accident. This is in contrast to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where official research showed that the main rise in most types of cancer and non-cancer diseases only became apparent years after the atomic bombs fell.
With Chernobyl there have been difficulties in gathering reliable data from areas left in administrative chaos after the accident. Hundreds of thousands of people were moved away from the affected areas, and the break-up of the Soviet Union led to records being lost.
Controversy rages over the agendas of the IAEA, which has promoted civil nuclear power over the past 30 years, and the WHO. The UN accepts only peer-reviewed scientific studies written in certain journals in English, a rule said to exclude dozens of other studies.
Four years ago, an IAEA spokesman said he was confident the WHO figures were correct. And Michael Repacholi, director of the UN Chernobyl forum until 2006, has claimed that even 4,000 eventual deaths could be too high. The main negative health impacts of Chernobyl were not caused by the radiation but by the fear of it, he claimed.
But today Linda Walker, of the UK Chernobyl Children's Project, which funds Belarus and Ukraine orphanages and holidays for affected children, called for a determined effort to learn about the effects of the disaster. "Parents are giving birth to babies with disabilities or genetic disorders … but, as far as we know, no research is being conducted."