On the 15th anniversary of Chernobyl, Pope John Paul II will meet children who developed radiation sickness after the nuclear accident. An estimated 3.5 million people were affected when a reactor in the aged power station blew up, on 26 April 1986, spreading a toxic cloud that reached as far as Poland and Scandinavia. One million victims were children, who now have weak immune systems and a huge range of illnesses, many of them incurable. Another 600,000 people, directly involved in the clean-up after explosion, today need special medical and social care. Respiratory problems, blood and intestinal ailments, and cancers are very common. Cases of thyroid tumours have been ten times more than normal, especially among children. Since the explosion, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children have been taken in by Italian families, religious community centres and charities. Although the nuclear plant was finally closed on 15 December 2000, Chernobyl continues to claim thousands of victims, in an "invisible death," the Vatican said.
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