[Images: Timm Suess]
A month after the accident, my grandfather got sick and the doctors determined that it was hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid produces too many hormones. Exposure to radiation is one of the known causes, but to this day, my family has no idea whether it was a result of Chernobyl.
Not long after that, my mother found out that she was pregnant with me. According to scientists, pregnant women, fetuses, infants and children are at the highest risk of developing thyroid cancer as a result of radiation. She had to make a decision, but there was no one who could answer her questions. She called a doctor friend in Bulgaria and asked if she should keep her baby. The friend said yes, having a child sooner was better than later. My mother decided to keep me.
Driving up to the atomic station I saw the destroyed unit, and for the first time in my life I understood the meaning of the phrase “hair standing on end”. Chernobyl is in me forever, and nothing will wash it out. The destruction was so great, it seemed to me it had to be a mass grave, that most of the night shift must have died. It was unclear to me why they had brought me there, what could possibly be done.
Olexiy Breus, former operator at Chernobyl reactor number four, which ruptured 25 years ago today.
The 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is next month. On April 26, 1986, a series of explosions destroyed Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 station and several hundred staff and firefighters tackled a blaze that burned for 10 days and sent a plume of radiation around the world in the worst-ever civil nuclear disaster. More than 50 reactor and emergency workers were killed at the time. Assessing the larger impact on human health remains a difficult task, with estimates of related deaths from cancer ranging from 4,000 to over 200,000. The government of Ukraine indicated early this year that it will lift restrictions on tourism around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, formally opening the scene to visitors. It’s expected, meanwhile, that a 20,000-ton steel case called the New Safe Confinement (NSC), designed as a permanent containment structure for the whole plant, will be completed in 2013.
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[Image: Efrem Lukatsky/AP]