Statement at the Kyiv Summit on safe and innovative use of nuclear energy

19 April 2011, Kyiv, Ukraine

distinguished guests,
ladies and gentlemen,

I am deeply honoured to have the opportunity to address you today on the occasion of this important Summit and to represent WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who unfortunately cannot be here today.

As the United Nations specialized agency for health, WHO continues to examine the scientific evidence on the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation so that policy decisions and action can be taken based on sound data and science.

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986, whose 25th anniversary we are here to commemorate, was a human tragedy resulting in death, large-scale displacement of populations, the contamination of vast areas of land and the loss of livelihoods.

I stand here to pay tribute and express the deepest sympathy and respect on behalf of all WHO staff to all victims and affected people: the 600 000 rescue workers whose generous efforts in the immediate aftermath of the accident and in building a confinement shelter around the damaged reactor spared millions of other people even more severe effects from the massive release of radioactive material; the 6000 children and adolescents who got thyroid cancer; the more than 330 000 people who had to be evacuated from their local towns and villages; and the many others who suffered direct and indirect consequences from the accident.

During the last 25 years, many studies have been conducted on Chernobyl-affected populations. These have greatly improved our understanding of the health effects of the accident and of exposure to ionizing radiation in more general terms. However, further research and widening and sharing our knowledge base would provide additional information that should be used in policy-making and for protecting the health of citizens.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the consequent radiation emergency in the area surrounding the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant reaffirm the necessity and importance of complying with the highest standards of safety when dealing with nuclear power to protect the health of populations. This also explicitly highlights the need to further enhance national capacity to prepare for and effectively respond to possible accidents, both in countries with nuclear power plants and in other countries. Nuclear accidents and disasters do not know borders, and we should make the fullest use of the instruments we have jointly developed to address events with transboundary health effects.

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

Thank you for your attention.


Note: Owing to time constraints, the statement was submitted to the Summit Secretariat in writing.