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Chernobyl's 25th Anniversary Comes in Shadow of Japan Crisis

By April 17, 2011

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This week begin remembrances for the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (view photos of Chernobyl here), put into fresh light by the earthquake and tsunami that caused radiation leaks and nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan -- a crisis that has raised new concerns about the safety of nuclear energy.

On April 26, 1986, an explosion and fire at the Soviet Chernobyl plant, located in what is now Ukraine, released large amounts of nuclear fallout and is considered the worst nuclear power disaster ever, spreading 400 times more radioactive material than the Hiroshima bombing. About 135,000 were evacuated from the area, and an exclusion zone remains around Chernobyl today. More on the impending anniversary from Agence France-Presse:

"One worker at the plant was killed immediately in the explosion and another died shortly afterwards in hospital. In the subsequent weeks, 28 plant staff and rescue workers sent to the scene died of Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS).

But agreement on the numbers ends there. In 2005, several UN agencies including the World Health Organisation, said in a report a total of 4,000 people could eventually die as a result of the radiation exposure.

But the UN Scientific Committee on Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) says only 19 ARS survivors had died by 2006 for various reasons not usually associated with radiation exposure.

In its latest February 2011 report it said there were 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer that were due to children drinking contaminated milk at the time of which 15 had proved fatal by 2005.

...But environmental campaign group Greenpeace in 2006 accused the UN agencies of grossly underestimating the toll, saying there would be an estimated 93,000 fatal cancer cases caused by Chernobyl.

A quarter-century after the disaster, concern remains over preventing the ruins of the reactor from wreaking further damage on the environment.

The Soviet authorities rapidly put up a supposedly temporary concrete shelter, dubbed the sarcophagus, to protect the destroyed reactor but there have long been worries about its durability and the highly radioactive material still embedded within.

A new sarcophagus is being built nearby and is scheduled to be erected over the reactor in the next years.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is running the project, has received almost $1 billion in donations but still needs another $600 million and is hoping for pledges at a Kiev conference this week."

Thousands rallied in Kiev today against government cuts in the pensions and health benefits of Chernobyl cleanup workers. Officials from some 50 countries will gather in Kiev on Tuesday to begin marking the somber anniversary.

Don't miss the After Chernobyl gallery of photographer Michael Forster Rothbart, and the accompanying Associated Press story.

(Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

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