Conference marks 20th anniversary of Chernobyl disaster

Ukraine today opened a week of commemorations 20 years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster, as international radiation and health experts gathered for a three-day conference to discuss the lessons of the Chernobyl accident.

The April 26, 1986, explosion at Chernobyl’s reactor No.4 spewed radiation across much of northern Europe over a 10-day period.

Death tolls connected to the explosion, which released about 400 times more radiation than the US atom bomb dropped over Hiroshima, remain hotly debated, though at least 31 people died as a direct result of trying to contain the fire.

Thousands have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and the UN health agency said about 9,300 people are likely to die of cancers caused by radiation. Some groups, however, including Greenpeace, have put the numbers 10 times higher.

The conference, which was scheduled to be opened by President Viktor Yushchenko, was being co-hosted by numerous UN agencies, the European Commission and the governments of Russia and Belarus.

Titled “Twenty Years after The Chernobyl Accident. Future Outlook,” the conference was aimed at “reviewing and better using the experience gained from the accident and enabling the world to be better prepared for a future accident of this magnitude,” conference organisers said.

Experts were also expected to discuss enhanced international standards on radiation protection and waste management.

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