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Published:April 27th, 2006 02:57 EST
A day trip to Chernobyl

A day trip to Chernobyl

By Juliet Maruru

Yesterday, April 26, 2006, Ukraine observed the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  One source describes the accident in the following words, The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power facility was unprecedented.  One of the four reactors at the site experienced a catastrophic meltdown.  After most disasters, synthetic or natural, it is still possible to clean up and rebuild.  Yet, this accident left behind contamination that has long time ill effects. "

A report by Lionel Beehner on The Council of Foreign Relations website, Chernobyl is associated in most minds with the devastating health effects caused by nuclear fallout.  Experts may disagree over casualties "estimates of how many will die from radiation-related cancers range from 4,000 to more than 90,000 "but few deny the Chernobyl accident irreparably damaged many lives in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. " 

An article in The New York Times states, The word Chernobyl long ago became a dreary, shopworn joke, shorthand for contaminated wasteland.  However, Chernobylinterinform, the zone`s information agency, says its chaperoned tours do not carry health risks.  This is because, the agency says, radiation levels here have always been uneven.  And most of the zone is far cleaner than it was in 1986, when radiation levels were strong enough in places to kill even trees. " 

The town of Chernobyl, about 15 kilometers from the nuclear facility, has for some years been open for annual visits from its former residents.  Here is a brief description of what they would see.  

Leaving Kiev, Ukraine`s capital city, on a two-lane road leading north, the visitors pass through small towns where houses line the road, garden plants adorning front yards and in between towns, fields of corn, wheat and sunflowers stretch with beauty into the horizon.  
Then an invisible boundary is crossed at some point, marked by eerie silence over towns along the way.  Homes once full of life, now just deteriorating shells with broken windows, padlocked doors, and overgrown gardens line the road.  The visitors are now in the exclusion zone roughly 30 kilometers from the reactors.  Here the radiation levels are very high.  More than 150,000 people from dozens of towns had to be moved to new homes out of this zone.
Traveling on, the visitors arrive at another zone with barbed wire fence separating it from the rest of the world.  Guards in a wooden station monitor all traffic, checking identification documents and registering vehicles before opening the gates.  This is the restricted zone. 

Trees with new green leaves form a canopy over the road, belying the utter devastation that wrecked this region.  Where residents once bustled about, going on about their daily lives, there is silence.  Where children laughed and played about, or escaped the afternoon heat to watch the latest films, there was nothing.  Homes here are destroyed. 
In September 2005, a scientific report commissioned by the United Nations reevaluated the tragedy, reporting that initially the accident killed 56 people and predicted that only 4000 deaths would be attributed directly to radiation sickness.  Several environmental groups attacked that report as a biased attempt to whitewash the potential dangers of nuclear power.  
Whatever the case, there is no doubt that that accident caused death and much suffering to those that survived.


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