Chernobyl Copes with Fallout, 20 Years Later The residents of Pripyat were evacuated after the catastropic accident at Chernobyl. Officially, they are banned from living in the exclusion zone around the plant. But some residents snuck back into the ghost town and have resisted pressure to leave ever since.

Chernobyl Copes with Fallout, 20 Years Later

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


I'm Robert Siegel, and we continue now with our coverage of this month's 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On April 26th, 1986, a large steam explosion blew open the roof of Chernobyl's reactor Number Four. The explosion and fires released massive radioactive clouds into the atmosphere. NPR's Gregory Feifer traveled to Chernobyl to find out what's happened to the people who still live there.

GREGORY FEIFER: Maria was born in the exclusion zone in her family's isolated house near a large pond. Maria's godmother, 56-year-old Nadezhda Udavenko, says the slow pace of life has been interrupted only by the hordes of journalists recently visiting Chernobyl.


NADEZHDA UDAVENKO: (Speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: It's wonderful living here, she said, before reading poetry about her native town. Udavenko says she doesn't believe the area is contaminated.

UDAVENKO: (Through Translator) So many people now say they're sick and unhappy that they've suffered. They're blaming everything on radiation, but where were they all these years since the accident? My father still lives here, and he's 87 years old.

FEIFER: Now 70 years old, Boyarchuk says she couldn't believe her eyes when she stepped onto her balcony and saw glowing flames at the reactor.

IRINA BOYARCHUK: (Through Translator) We all thought the nuclear power station was the safest kind in existence. The town was built so close because the reactors were supposed to have been so well outfitted. We thought nothing dangerous could happen.

FEIFER: The accident's most prevalent long-term effect was the spread of thyroid cancer, especially among children. Government estimates say a total of just over 100 cases of thyroid cancer among children are directly attributable to Chernobyl. But Luidmilla Kamagortsova, a legislator in Russia's nearby Briansk region, says the real number is actually much higher. Kamagortsova says hundreds more thyroid cancer cases have been registered in her region alone because the government hasn't taken measures to deal with the disaster's longterm effect.

LUIDMILLA KAMAGORTSOVA: (Through Translator) It was an atomic bomb, I can't call it anything else, that spewed radiation over 74,000 acres. And it's all still there, untouched, except for the most minimal measures.

FEIFER: Irina Boyarchuk, who was evacuated from Pripyat and now lives near Kiev, says it's impossible to ignore the disaster's impact, even today.

BOYARCHUK: (Through Translator) There are many invalids. We former residents just aren't the same as we once were. I'm not the same anymore. I haven't been able to work for a long time.

FEIFER: Gregory Feifer, NPR News.

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