Health fallout from Chernobyl less severe than expected

The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power-plant accident has yielded much less harm to human health than initially anticipated. According to a new report prepared for the U.N. by more than 100 experts, Chernobyl will ultimately cause about 4,000 deaths, primarily from cancer — a lot, they concede, but far fewer than the tens of thousands once predicted. No birth defects or impacts on fertility have been detected in exposed populations of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Concentrations of radioactivity in agricultural foods produced in fallout areas are by and large below national and international levels considered action-worthy. The report says that Chernobyl’s most severe impact has been on the mental health of the millions classified as victims, who have become fatalistic and dependent on government entitlements. These people should be given realistic information about the risks they face, says the report, and encouraged to become more self-reliant.