by Alona Liashenko
KIEV, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Ukrainian scientists are still evaluating Chernobyl-related problems now, 27 years after one of the world's worst nuclear disaster occurred at the power plant.
Environmental and health issues in the contaminated areas still pose a real challenge for Ukraine, they say.
After the No. 4 nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant exploded on April 26, 1986, emissions were more than 15 times higher than the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Japan's Hiroshima and Nagasaki, according to experts.
The disaster has caused thousands of cancer cases among local people as they have eaten milk, vegetables and meat that contained extremely high amounts of radionuclides.
According to official data, a total of 31 people died as an immediate result of the accident and 134 others were diagnosed with acute radiation syndromes.
However, Union-Chernobyl Ukraine, a Kiev-based NGO, said over 780,000 people have died of the radiation impact, with nearly 130,000 of them being clean-up workers.
Some health professionals expect an outbreak of radiation-related illnesses in the next few decades in Ukraine.
According to the National Commission of Radiation Protection, the level of radionuclides exceeds the norm in 60 Ukrainian towns and villages. The long-lasting cesium and strontium locked up in the forests and soil pose potential threats to the health of the local people.
Due to their relatively high biological availability, cesium and strontium, which get into the body with food, may provoke gastric and kidney cancer, cardiovascular diseases and mental problems.
"The nation's health is deteriorating," Mykhailo Kurik, director of the Ukrainian Institute of Ecology, told Xinhua, adding that the nature and environment were damaged even more severely than humans.
"Just after the accident, a huge quantity of radionuclides, including the burning particles, which are extremely dangerous for the environment, were released. These isotopes have very long half-lives, so Ukraine will feel the devastating effects of the catastrophe for decades," Kurik said.
In mid-February, a 600-square-meter section of the roof at the Chernobyl site collapsed, sparking fears of another disaster. The collapse occurred 70 meters above the sarcophagus that contains the radiation from the damaged No. 4 reactor.
Although authorities said the collapse, caused by heavy snowfall, poses no danger to humans as radiation levels remained normal, it intensified concerns about the condition of the non-operational nuclear plant.
The collapse did not affect a new confinement structure under construction. The facility, expected to be finished in 2015, is capable of preventing fuel leakage from the reactor for a century.
According to some estimates, about 190 tons of reactor fuel are still trapped under the existing sarcophagus.
However, Yury Andreev, a former Chernobyl engineer, said the new sarcophagus cannot solve the global problems.
"Since the reactor still has fuel, it is dangerous even under the sarcophagus. To eliminate the possibility of radiation leakage, the sarcophagus should be buried into the ground to prevent the migration of radionuclides," Andreev said.