Chernobyl, 25 years on: WHO/Europe renews support for the people affected and builds on the lessons learned

WHO/Konstantin Voznjuk

An international scientific conference will mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, which affected large areas in Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation and caused national and worldwide alarm. The conference (25 Years After the Chernobyl Accident: Safety for the Future) is taking place in Kyiv, Ukraine on 20–22 April 2011.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, will join many other leaders from around the world to commemorate the Chernobyl accident, considered the most severe civilian nuclear accident in human history, and to review the reconstruction and development of the affected communities.

A summit on the safe and innovative use of nuclear energy took place in Kyiv, Ukraine today, where high-level officials and scientists discussed lessons learnt from the disaster.

WHO assessed the health effects of the accident and the results are summarized in two landmark reports. The first was published by WHO in the framework of the United Nations Chernobyl Forum in 2006, and the second, by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) in 2011. The UNSCEAR report reviewed the latest available information.

WHO is an external adviser to the Agenda for Research on Chernobyl Health (ARCH), coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and has actively contributed to the International Chernobyl Research and Information Network (ICRIN). Drawing on the findings of the United Nations Chernobyl Forum, ICRIN has disseminated scientific information in language that can be understood by non-specialists, while several projects and activities are geared towards supporting the affected communities.

Unfortunately, the Chernobyl disaster was not the only civil nuclear crisis. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the resulting accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant re-emphasize the crucial importance of nuclear safety. Inevitably, this has also triggered a renewed political debate about energy in many countries.

WHO will continue supporting its Member States by providing scientific evidence and health impact assessments and facilitating the monitoring and exchange of knowledge and experience to protect and promote the health of populations.