How long will new Chernobyl-related illness continue?

One of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen in my life is a February 2006 episode of PBS’s Frontline, entitled “Sex Slaves.”

Even now, eighteen months after the broadcast, I still think about it. Needless to say, it was an incredibly powerful show about a very real and widespread problem that hardly seems to be taken seriously by authorities in Eastern Europe.

As maddening as that is, one of the stories left me with questions.

Tania, a Ukrainian, was one of the lucky ones who escaped her captors… only to voluntarily go back to them! She needed money for her younger brother’s operation, due to a sickness that stemmed from Chernobyl (it was for naught; he died).

Now, as far as I can tell from PBS’s site, none of this was filmed before 2004, and the poor kid looked to be about eight-years-old in the footage. That means he was born a full decade after the disaster! What’s going on here, and how long will it continue to go on?

I mean, I could understand this if the family lived in the forbidden Zone of Exclusion, but no mention of that was made by the PBS crew. I think they’d have said something if they were filming in Prypiat, don’t you?

So what’s the Dope on this one?

I saw this BBC program recently, and it looks like things are still pretty dire. There’s a dangerous level of radiation in food grown and gathered in the area. Shockingly (or not), locals are still eating the local produce. They figure it hasn’t killed them yet…

Thanks for the link (interesting stuff!), but the family depicted in the program I watched was apparently not illegally living within the 30km radius of the Zone. Is this problem more widespread than Ukrainian (formerly Soviet - yeah, I’d trust them!) experts would have the world believe?

Mentioning Chernobyl might have been for effect or just a reflection of the general perception of things. Ionizing radiation causes cancer. There’s a lot of non-Chernobyl related radiological problems in ex-USSR and even more non-radiological cancers, but that doesn’t mean patients and doctors don’t just explain things with what’s in front of them.

It’s not like it’s easy to tell in most cases unless somebody has actual radiation burns. My father died of cancer that was most likely caused by unsafe exposure to radioactivity, but I’ll never know for sure. The medical system is different over there – doctors aren’t really into disclosure and explanations and such, and when they do explain it’s usually with an attempt to minimize feelings of hopelessness. If it’s not obvious you have cancer they might not tell you, if it is, then they might tell you that you have some cancer with a much better prognosis, etc.

I just read the transcript of the show in question (available here ) and it mentions that they lived near Chernobyl. Now, it’s not like Chernobyl is just a radiation hot spot, people all over were affected and still are. The more time passes the murkier the link gets but the effect is evident from statistics even if it can’t be determined in any particular case.

From here

In North Wales special precautions have to be taken regarding sheep and lambs who graze on grass contaminated by the fall-out from the explosion. Before the animals can be sold for meat they have to be taken to a non-contaminated location and allowed to graze on “clean” grass for a few weeks, to allow the radiation to be “flushed out” from their bodies.