One Mom’s Experience with Chernobyl and Reflections on Japan

March 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

No marketing advice today because I have been preoccupied with Japan.  I know a little of what Moms in Japan are currently feeling. Certainly I haven’t experienced the devastation and turmoil of the earthquake and tsunami.  But I know a little about nuclear incidents.  Twenty-five years ago, on the day that Chernobyl experienced meltdown, I was on a trip to the Soviet Union with a group of friends from Texas.  We had been traveling for two weeks and enjoyed our last stop in Kiev, the most European of the Russian cities we visited.  The weather was cool and rainy, much like spring in the U.S., but something strange had happened and in those days of InTourist, we were not privy to the news.

I remember sitting in the Kiev airport, watching the rain hit our luggage for hours, with no real reason for the delay.  Once we boarded a plane in Moscow, we understood.  There in the International Herald, Chernobyl was front page news, not hidden like it was in Russia.  That is when that cold, clammy sense of panic set in.  We had been a mere 60 miles from Chernobyl when the meltdown occurred.  And much like now, the details of radiation sickness were just beginning to be told.

As we landed in Paris, we were met by Today Show reporters greeting the first arrivals from Russia since the radiation had begun to leak out.  There we were – my husband in one of those goofy Russian fur hats and me covered up with souvenirs and an unwanted veil of fear.  What did it all mean?

We immediately contacted the U.S. Embassy who gave us instructions on what to do with our luggage and where to report for a radiation check.  The embassy was tracking the radiation and reassured us that we had been extremely fortunate that the winds had blown the radiation to the north towards Finland.

After some R&R, we made our way home to Nashville, where the kind folks at the radiation lab, checked my clothes and luggage.  That suitcase that sat in the rain and our shoes exhibited traces of radiation.  I was told I had experienced a non-threatening exposure equivalent to 20-30 x-rays.

But here’s the thing.  I went on to become pregnant that next year, give birth to an oversized healthy baby boy who is now a strapping Marine, and went on with my life.  But those who were in the direct path of radiation have experienced critical health issues and died.  The numbers are estimated at 50,000 to 100,000, with another half a million invalids.  But the unseen deaths are the infant deaths. The numbers are unknown but much higher than normal in several European countries.  Added to the tragedy are the thousands born with birth defects.  These are congenital effects that may be passed down for generations.  Just like the scars on the souls of those experiencing the unthinkable.

I pray that Japan’s meltdown will not be as serious as Chernobyl.  I pray for the Moms in Japan whose loss in already staggering, and may go on for years.

Why them and not me?  I don’t know.  I just know that pain is universal, part of the human condition, and different for mothers.






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