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April 21, 2000
KIEV (Reuters) -- Fourteen years after the world's worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl power plant is still reaping a harvest of deaths, Ukraine's Health Ministry said Friday.
Some 3.5 million people, over a third of them children, have suffered illness as a result of the contamination and the incidence of some cancers is 10 times the national average.
"The health of people affected by the Chernobyl accident is getting worse and worse every year," Deputy Health Minister Olha Bobyleva told a news conference.
"We are very disturbed by these data."
Chernobyl's number four reactor exploded in the early hours of April 26, 1986, spreading a poisonous radioactive cloud over much of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and parts of Western Europe.
Soviet officials, who initially tried to hush up the tragedy, acknowledged in the end that the accident had killed 31 people and affected thousands more.
Scale of Tragedy Greater Than Thought
But the real scale of the catastrophe, which displaced hundreds of thousands of people and turned bustling villages and towns into ghost communities populated only by stray dogs and crows, has turned out to be far greater than once thought.
Official data show that the health of some 3.5 million people, including 1.26 million children, was affected in this impoverished nation of 50 million.
Children and also emergency workers sent in to clean up the contaminated areas are among the worst affected.
The death rate among those living in contaminated areas is 18.28 percent per 1,000, compared to a national average of 14.8 percent.
Bobyleva said high radiation had led to an outbreak of diseases of the nervous, blood and respiratory systems. She said the number of these diseases among children affected by the accident was 17 percent higher than the national average.
The rate of thyroid cancer remains 10 times higher than normal among Ukrainian children. The ministry reported 1,400 cases of thyroid cancer between 1986 and 2000, while no cases were registered between 1981 and 1985.
Bobyleva said the ministry was particularly worried by an increase in deaths of emergency workers, popularly called `'liquidators," most of whom are still under 50. The death rate in the group is double the national average.
She said the consumption of radioactive food produced in the country's most contaminated northern and central regions of Kiev, Chernihiv, Zhytomyr, Cherkassy and Rivne posed another danger for public health.
A lack of cash and other economic problems have further complicated the situation. Cash-strapped Ukraine has spent $1.4 billion to date to fight the consequences of the accident.
Ukraine has promised it will close Chernobyl's last operational reactor by the end of this year.