How Many Did Chernobyl Kill?

June 14, 2007

A report in the Globe and Mail says the Canadian federal government is supporting the plan to bury nuclear waste. The most interesting statement comes from Gord Edwards who is the director of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

“In the face of a growing nuclear industry or even a static nuclear industry, this is not really a solution to the catastrophe problem at the surface,” Mr. Edwards said. He said any kind of major explosion – such as a terrorist attack – at a surface storage site would release radioactive clouds as deadly as those at the Chernobyl reactor that melted down in the former Soviet Union in 1986.

So how many people died due to the Chernobyl accident? Would you believe less than 50? No really, less than 50. No playing with numbers, the long term death toll due to Chernobyl is less than 50. The U.N. released a report two years ago that said the most harmful long-term impact is the “paralyzing fatalism” that grips the population. Here is a summary from the Washington Post.

The 600-page report found that as of the middle of this year [20 years after the accident – RAD], the accident had caused fewer than 50 deaths directly attributable to radiation, most of them among emergency workers who died in the first months after the accident. In the wake of the world’s largest nuclear disaster, there were numerous predictions of mass fatalities from radiation.

The report said that nine children had died of thyroid cancer, but that the survival rate among the 4,000 children in the region who had developed thyroid cancer has been 99 percent. An expected spike in fertility problems and birth defects also failed to materialize, the study found.

Chernobyl was a horrible accident that scared the wits out of us. Ironically, the fear may have more of a long term health impact than the radiation. Who knew.


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