Last year, my wife Suzanne caught the HBO movie Chernobyl Heart. Brief synopsis: The worst nuclear accident in nuclear history occurred April 26, 1986. Roughly 10,800 square miles are still contaminated by dangerours levels of caesium-137 radiation. The country most affected by the accident is Balarus, just north of the Chernobyl reactor in the Ukraine. Chernobyl Heart tells the tale of contining effects of radiation on the children of Belarus.
After the movie aired, the Chernobyl Children’s Project International (CCPI) received a few thousand offers to help with their mission, including one from Suzanne. Her experience with compassionate touch and its positive effects on growth and development in children was intriguing enough that she was invited to join the group on their next trip to the children’s asylum in Vesnova.
Like so many others, I remember when the Chernonbyl Accident happened back in 1986, and have not given it much thought since then — until now. I don’t recall any details from the reports of the incident as it was happening, mainly because the seriousness of the tragedy was not fully discolsed. From the Wikipedia article:
Chernobyl was a secret disaster at first. The initial evidence that a major nuclear accident had occurred came not from Soviet sources, but from Sweden, where on April 27 workers at the Forsmark nuclear power plant (approximately 1100 km from the Chernobyl site) were found to have radioactive particles on their clothes. It was Sweden’s search for the source of radioactivity, after they had determined there was no leak at the Swedish plant, that led to the first hint of a serious nuclear problem in the Western Soviet Union.
Since the seriousness of the accident was not disclosed, I’m sure the event was quickly eclipsed by some other news event in the following days or weeks, and the significance of the accident was quickly lost on most of the general world population. After the accident, it is estimated that 60% of the radioactive fallout landed to the north of Chernobyl in Belarus.
Today in Belarus, there is an increase in the rates of cancer, particularly thyroid cancer and particularly in children, as well as increased rates of Lukemia and other diseases. Although there is some debate on how much of the increased rate of disease can be attributed to radiation from the Chernobyl accident, there is no question that the known radiation effects combined with the general poverty of the area have resulted in many health problems, especially in children.
Suzanne will be traveling to the Vesnova children’s asylum in Belarus around October 15, 2005. The first leg of the journey will take her to Ireland, where she will join a group from Chernobyl Children’s Project Ireland. From there, they fly to Minsk, Belarus (see map) and complete the trip to Vesnova via bus.
Are we concerned about exposure to radiation? Sure, but the radiation risk is minimal. She will be taking all her own food and water, and as long as the exposure is kept to a short period of time (she will be there one week), there is little, if any, risk of long term radiation effects. We also cannot ignore the fact that the risks, however minimal, are far outweighed by the benefits of introducing compassionate touch to the staff and orphaned children of the asylum.