Speaking today at USC, a Russian engineer who helped oversee cleanup activities at the Chernobyl nuclear site likened an atomic energy disaster to that of a war, with one major distinction.
In war, the enemy is known immediately, Natalia Manzurova said. But with a nuclear accident, "We have an invisible enemy that can kill you many years later,'' she said, referring to the long-term health effects of radiation exposure.
Manzurova, speaking through an interpreter, made her remarks during a U.S. tour to raise awareness of nuclear safety issues 25 years after the explosion at Chernobyl, a part of the Ukraine. The tour comes at a time of increasing discussion about nuclear plant safety in the aftermath of this month's reactor breakdown and radiation leaks in Japan.
Manzurova said the people of Japan will feel the pain of the recent tsunami-spawned nuclear disaster in that country. The impact on the environment not only could affect peoples' health, but she said it could also impact the Japanese economy. Rice from Japan could be harder to sell because of the threat of radiation, she said.
Manzurova, who was working at a secret Russian nuclear facility before Chernobyl, spent more than four years studying the site and helping to clean up the mess left by the devastating 1986 nuclear disaster, considered the world's most serious.
The U.S. and the world should be careful about building up their reliance on nuclear power, she said after the session at USC. Manzurova said she knows the fallout of a radiation leak first hand.
During her time at Chernobyl, cleanup workers buried animals and everyday items that had been inundated with radiation. Entire homes were buried in the soil near the nuclear plant to minimize radiation risks.
When she and others arrived at the site in 1987, they found a nearby town intact, but without anyone living there. All had been evacuated.
"People who were evacuated had to leave everything in their houses, their pets -- everything,'' she said.
Today, the effects of radiation are still seen on the landscape surrounding Chernobyl, in the Ukraine.
Manzurova, 59, said she never was told by the government in Russia what amount of radiation she was exposed to but said doctors later determined radiation as the cause of thyroid problems she developed. She bears a scar today on her neck from a thyroid operation. Radiation sickness also made her weak after working at the site, she said.
Manzurova's talk Tuesday was to remember Chernobyl, but it also occurred on the 32nd anniversary of another major nuclear accident, the Three-Mile Island meltdown in Pennsylvania.