Right after Chernobyl blew its top, Edward Teller said on the ABC Evening News in late April 1986, “The chances of a real calamity at a nuclear power station are infinitesimally small. But should it happen, the consequences are impossible to imagine.” The plume from the burning graphite at Chernobyl initially traveled in a northwest direction toward Sweden, Finland and Eastern Europe, exposing the public to levels up to 100 times the normal background radiation.
Hope Burwell wrote, “On my first trip to Chernobyl in November 2000, I spent three days touring schools in Cherikov and the even more contaminated areas of the Mogilev district. Then we traveled to children’s hospitals in Minsk. What I saw there still shows up in nightmares: children with eyes in the sides of their heads, and children with no eyes at all, children with fingers that look like toes and children whose genitals are so poorly formed one can’t determine their sex. Those nightmares are audible with infant wails like the cries of wounded wild animals.”
In her widely read essay Burwell reported that 23% of Belarus was contaminated with Chernobyl’s fallout, 32,592 square miles, more land than six eastern states combined. The average level of contamination on the polluted territories, 37 curies (Ci) per square kilometer, is notated scientifically as 37Ci/km2. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) set the “safe for residency limit” at a maximum of 5Ci/km2. Eighty-eight percent of contaminated Belarus is 111-370 times more contaminated than that.
Western predictions of Chernobyl’s consequences were based on Hiroshima-Nagasaki data, and on the then-current belief that iodine-131 had a low carcinogenic potential. But within a year after the accident, Belarusan scientists reported an increase in a rare childhood thyroid cancer to 5,000 times its spontaneous occurrence in “clean” countries.
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