Chernobyl scientist says nuclear disaster produced 'invisible enemy'

The State (Columbia, S.C.)March 29, 2011 

The horrors of the world’s worst nuclear accident greeted Natalia Manzurova when she arrived in the Ukraine after the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl.

Assigned by the Soviet government to study the accident’s fallout, Manzurova visited an abandoned nursery school and found a bony dog sleeping on a child’s cot. Its sagging, bleeding skin showed evidence of radiation burns. Through clouded eyes, the dog looked sadly at her.

“It loved children so much, that even when they had been evacuated, it stayed in a child’s bed,’’ Manzurova said during a visit to USC Monday to remember the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.

The sight of the sickened dog is one she can’t forget, but one example of how a nuclear power accident can affect life, she said. And it’s why the world should take care to avoid another Chernobyl, Manzurova said.

Speaking at the University of South Carolina at a time of increasing debate about nuclear power, the Russian scientist likened an atomic energy disaster to that of a war, with one major distinction. In war, the enemy is known immediately, she said. But with a nuclear accident, “We have an invisible enemy that can kill you many years later,’’ she said, referring to the long-term health effects of radiation exposure.

In the case of the sickened dog, it had survived more than a year after the Chernobyl explosion and radiation leak sent area residents fleeing. But the animal had begun to succumb by the time Manzurova arrived in late 1987 to study the area. Many people who worked with her at Chernobyl died years later.

Manzurova, who was working at a secret Russian nuclear facility before Chernobyl, spent more than four years studying and helping with cleanup at the Chernobyl site. She was known as a “liquidator,’’ one of thousands of people assigned by the Soviet Union to work at Chernobyl following the accident. Critics say liquidators were used by the Soviet Union to help cover up the embarrassing evidence.

Manzurova, through an interpreter, made her remarks at USC during a U.S. tour to raise awareness of nuclear safety issues and remember Chernobyl. Manzurova’s talk Tuesday not only recalled the April 26, 1986, Chernobyl accident, but it also occurred on the 32nd anniversary of the Three-Mile Island meltdown in Pennsylvania. She was accompanied by Russian anti-nuclear activist Natalia Miranova.

The tour, which included stops in Georgia last weekend, comes at a time of increasing discussion about nuclear plant safety in the aftermath of this month’s reactor breakdown and radiation leaks in Japan. Despite assurances from the nuclear industry that it is safe, the U.S. and the world should be careful about building more nuclear power plants, she said after the session at USC.

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