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1986: Remembering Another Nuclear Disaster and Troubles with Libya

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Now France is leading the way as more and more nations stand behind the decision to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. Twenty five years ago France refused (under Mitterrand) to let the US fly over. The bombs in the metro, on the Champs Elysees that year (I had two close calls in a number of days) and the threat of more violence that spring meant that many of my fellow American junior year abroad friends left France and went back home. I had worked and saved up my money to come and I sure as heck was not going to bail, even if it meant nervous weeks observing fellow passengers in the metro and any suspicious bag.

President Reagan approved the go ahead for the bombing of Libya in April. By may another bigger disaster was looming. While down near Nice on a boat for several days, I celebrated my twentieth birthday with friends, enjoying myself in the sun which I had not been informed, was shining through Chernobyl's nuclear cloud.

Somehow the cloud had miraculously stopped at the French border and news on the event within France was difficult to come by. I recall programs which resembled weather reports and the odd photograph from the disaster, which seemed much further away than it was.

The world has changed. The world has remained the same. We have learned absolutely nothing.

Up in Norway where I traveled soon after the Chernobyl disaster, the news was much more out in the open and people were told not to bring small children to the beaches as they might eat contaminated sand. The government had all the reindeer, the mainstay livelihood of the Saami people up North, killed and the meat destroyed as the cloud had hung around the Nordic countries for a god bit before heading down to France and Italy.

Three and a half years later, I became very sick, my immune system an absolute mess. The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me, was it Lupus that a cousin had had and my great grandmother had died from? Negative. I moved to Seattle to go to grad school, and slowly became better. It took over a year to begin to feel normal. The doctor at the University medical center told me I had decontaminated myself through eating only organic, moving to what was then a clean part of the US, doing yoga, etc. You can decontaminate yourself. You can rebuild your immune system. I wondered if my immune system had been weakened by that time in France and Norway, and I made a decision not to have children for some time, instinctively knowing I should wait. My body was not ready, not decontaminated enough yet.

Back in France, another woman a few years older than myself, who had spent a great deal of time in the South of France, did become ill and died around the time I became ill. Her husband wondered if the Chernobyl cloud over France, which we slowly grew to learn the truth about, had been the cause. Many many people in France and Scandinavia as well as the hundreds of thousands of people in and around Chernobyl have died, over a million total, as a result of that contamination. The increase in especially thyroid cancer has been huge. In certain parts of France you still should not eat the mushrooms and truffles.

As I watch with absolute horror and sadness what is happening in Japan, and imagine the ways that contamination will spread, and as we once again decide to go after Libya, I wonder, when will it end? When will we learn?

Will my now twelve-year-old daughter's life be a repeat of what I lived? Will her world be even more contaminated, polluted with even more violence and hardship? When I decided I wanted to have a child it was because I believed in a better future. I still do. But we must open our eyes and our hearts and actually learn something from all this.

As Rilke wrote, "There is no place which does not see you. You must change your life".

And it starts with every one of us, making the decision to change the way we live. All revolutions begin in the minds and hearts of individuals. We can build a better world, a saner less wasteful world, one without violence, a cleaner world.

This is a wake up call.

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