Nuclear nightmares

Feature story - 26 April, 2006
Elena was playing outside 20 years ago. Not far away the Chernobyl reactor was melting down. Since then both her and her sister have had brain cancer. Facts and figures, scientists and politicians, can't tell you the terrible consquences of nuclear power gone wrong. Only the victims can.

Sisters Irina and Elena live in an area of Belarus contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster. Both have had brain tumours removed and now have problems with their thyroid gland.

On April 26, 1986 I was five years old. I can't remember this day verywell but it turned out to be a tragedy not only for our family, butalso for thousands of people, from many countries. We don't oftendiscuss that day in our family. But I remember what my mum says aboutit. It was a really nice warm and sunny day.

I was outside with my elder brother

  and my little 13-day-old sister, who was sleeping in a pram under a tree.

Suddenly dark clouds appeared in the sky and a strong wind started to blow. Our mum told us to come into the house

. While we were gathering our toys, she was trying to take the pram inside. It took her a long time. The first

drops of rain fell on my little sister.

  It may have been those few drops that changed our lives. 

Atfirst we were not told anything about the accident. They "didn't wantpeople to panic." But the authorities were afraid that the secondreactor could blow up.  Trains were made ready to evacuate peoplefrom our city.  Gomel is not very far from Chernobyl.

It was only later we found out that the rain was radioactive.

Since then the word radiation has come into our life and dominated itscourse. Chernobyl deprived me of many joys of my childhood: the feelingof warm sun rays on my skin which I liked so much turned to beradioactive rays and we had to stay in the shadow; the water in theriver where we had splashed about was contaminated. Worse of all, I hadto refuse all my favourite treats - mushrooms and berries from theforest. As time passed I got used to these restrictions and began torealise they were for our own sake.

Life took its usualcourse; I grew up and went to school. I studied very well. In 1998 Igraduated from high school with honours and dreamed of entering auniversity. And here again Chernobyl interfered. Instead of aneducational establishment I found myself in a medical one. On the day I was diagnosed with a brain tumour

, my parents were coming back from Minsk where my sister also had just undergone a brain tumour operation.

I didn't know how to tell my mum that we had to go back to Minsk again for another operation straight after my sisters.

This was how Chernobyl poisoned my youth.

It deprived me of my beautiful hair. During the operation they cut my motor nerve so I had to learn to move again.

Mum still remembers that after the operation I was taken to theintensive ward, I had an extensive brain bleeding and it was a matterof life and death. But thanks to the doctors and my parents' care Isurvived

. And I still had the most precious things a person may have -my life and my family. But I learned to appreciate that the hard way.

It was only due to my family's support that I could overcome the ordealand stand on my feet again. Due to that ordeal when I was on the vergebetween life and death I learned to appreciate and love my life. Now Irealize that you should never give up, you should always hope for thebetter and enjoy every moment, as these moments make up our happiness.To understand all this at the age of 25 I had to go through intensetrauma of brain cancer at 17. During the last eight years I had to work hard not to be confined to the wheel chair and to learn how to walk again

, to realise my dream and study at university.

Twentyyears later, it angers me to be told that the nuclear industry isattempting to play down the effects

of the Chernobyl disaster.  Now they even want to dump nuclear waste in my country. 

Forthose people who like to say nuclear power is the future I can onlysuggest they come and spend some time in my home town with people whoare living with radioactive contamination every day. Perhaps then theywill have a different sense of the future?

Nuclear power ruined my life. Don't let it ruin yours.



Did your local newspaper cover the anniversary of the Chernobyl nucleardisaster? Send a Letter to the Editor to say that the nuclear threatcontinues, and the UN should stop promoting this dirty, dangerousindustry. Letter writing tips and suggestions can be found here.

More information

The real face of the nuclear industry: Chernobyl death toll grossly underestimated.

Background: More about the disaster and the dangers of nuclear power.

Remembering Chernobyl

Our statement on the 20th Anniversary of Chernobyl.

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