Will Women in Japan Wear the “Chernobyl Necklace”?
On the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in northern Ukraine, site of the worst nuclear accident in history, a former liquidator Natalia Manzurova, a then 35-year-old Russian nuclear engineer assigned to the Chernobyl power plant clean-up crew, flags the radiation exposure risks for women near the Japanese nuclear plant catastrophe.
Manzurova was not fully aware, as with many others, despite her training, of the levels of dangers she was in fact facing. Her first visit to Chernobyl shortly after the disaster, found her surrounded by anti-radiation-suited workers, whilst she was dressed only in a short dress and sandals without any idea what she was actually going into.
On April 26, 1986–25 years ago–Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor No. 4 exploded releasing 400 times more radiation than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In the summer of 1987 Manzurova was involved helping clean up the city of Pripyat, whose 50,000 strong population located less than two miles from the reactor was evacuated after the disaster.
She spent 4 ½ years helping bury contaminated houses and conducted experiments on irradiated plants and animals. The radiation exposure’s harmful effects on the liquidators who were effectivly used as guinea pigs in an experiment was monitored and studied by Soviet officials, but the results remained a secret. Neither were they given radiation counters to monitor their own radiation exposure. As a consequence of working in the exclusion zone, Manzurova developed thyroid cancer. She has had operations to remove it leaving her with two scars on her neck known as the “Chernobyl necklace“.
“The left part of my thyroid gland was removed in 1990 when I was still working in Chernobyl. Less than a year ago the gland was operated on and removed entirely because of tumours in the remaining part.”
FORCED ABORTIONS ON WOMEN…
Manzurova’s personal suspicions regarding reports filtering through of women in the area being forced to undergo abortions were aroused whilst she was working on a normal assignment to Pripyat:
“Next to the operation theatre in the gynaecology department, we saw a big can that is usually used in villages to carry milk. I opened the lid of this can and saw that there were foetuses that were from about the seventh to eighth months of pregnancy. …
There was a secret order by the government that all the pregnant women inside the 30-kilometre [18.6 mile] exclusion zone were to undergo either a Caesarean operation or were to be induced so that they would give birth prematurely. Only later the question came to my mind: What happened? Were these [foetuses] still alive when they were put into these big cans? It was evident they were forgotten in haste.”
Manzurov, now aged 59 is the only surviving member from a team of 14 that worked in Chernobyl. They all died from radiation-linked cancers and illnesses.
Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert at the Institute for Policy Studies suggests we are only just beginning to understand radiation damage to humans.
“There’s now growing evidence that radiation can cause widespread damage to the human body because it’s one of the few environmental poisons that can damage your overall immune system.”
Following the 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami that devastated the north eastern shore of Japan on March 11 fears that Japan, who also made the decision to raise the crisis level to 7 matching the Chernobyl disaster, could be up against the same kind of situation. The Fukushima Daiichi crisis places many Japanese, especially women and children at grave risk.
“Women are twice as sensitive to contracting cancer of the thyroid and breast [from ionizing radiation] than men, and of course, you have the offspring. Exposures during that period [pregnancy] are much more serious than they would be for an adult, and you’re looking at the probability for raising the risk of childhood cancer and things like that.”~ Robert Alvarez, nuclear expert.