THE number of people killed by radiation as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, the world's worst nuclear accident, is so far 56, far lower than was previously thought, the United Nations has said.
A report compiled by the Chernobyl Forum, which includes eight UN agencies, said that the final death toll was expected to reach about 4,000 - much lower than previous estimates - and that the greatest damage to human health caused by the incident was psychological.
The disaster occurred on 26 April 1986, when an explosion at Reactor Four of the Ukrainian power plant spewed a cloud of radioactivity over Europe and the Soviet Union, contaminating large areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Over the years, reports have put the death toll as high as 15,000.
"The mental-health impact of Chernobyl is the largest public health problem unleashed by the accident to date," said the Chernobyl Forum report.
The forum includes the International Atomic Energy Agency, World Health Organisation, World Bank and UN Development Programme, and the governments of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
UN officials said that to date the death toll was 47 emergency workers and nine children who died of thyroid cancer.
About 4,000 people developed thyroid cancer as a result of the accident, most of them children and adolescents in 1986. The survival rate, however, had been almost 99 per cent, the report said.