FACTBOX-Long-term Chernobyl effects lower than feared

Wed Sep 22, 2010 12:20pm GMT

LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Much of the debate over whether or not countries should invest in nuclear technology for power production revolves around the potential danger of radiation leaks or even a reactor meltdown.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) has seven categories, with one resembling an anomaly and seven representing a major accident.

On this scale, there has only ever been one category seven event, which was the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident on 26 April, 1986.

The accident was a result of a violation in safety regulation, rather than a technical error, and the incident was not a full meltdown.

The accident at Chernobyl happened when the facility operators, in violation of safety regulations, switched off important control systems and allowed the reactor to reach unstable, low-power conditions, according to a United Nations report.

Although research continues, the first reports about long-term radiation damage have been published, and the results are that the radiation did less damage than initially feared.

"There is a tendency to attribute increases in the rates of all cancers over time to the Chernobyl accident, but it should be noted that increases were also observed before the accident in the affected areas," the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said in its summer 2010 assessments of the radiation effects in Chernobyl.

"Moreover, a general increase in mortality has been reported in recent years in most areas of the former Soviet Union, and this must be taken into account when interpreting the results of Chernobyl-related studies," the report said.

The World Health Organization's (WHO) and Chernobyl Forum reports from 20 years after the accident in 2006 came to similar conclusions.   Continued...

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