In Romania, the communist authorities told people about what happened, only three or four days later, after the URSS regime anounced it. They warned the population with annoucements on radio and TV stations, on 1st of May 1986, and were trying not to make them panic.
I was in school at that time and I don’t remember much about that period of time and what measures were taken. But I tried to find out what was the feeling and what people thought of the accident and how did it change their lives?
For a start, let’s say that children received one pill of iodium in schools and the adults one pill of iodium in the medical offices of the factory they worked at. In the northern part of our country people were more scared, being closer to the Ukrainian town. They were told to wash very carefully the fruits and vegetables they bought in shops and to throw away all the vegetables and fruits from their gardens. Also, in villages, not to drink the milk from their stocks or to use it to make cheese and diaries. They thrown away all of it for a month or so. Nobody wanted to buy the milk and the local centers for collecting the milk from rejected it, too.
The people were told to stay indoors as much as possible, but the authorities did not close the schools or kindergartens, not even for a day! They said “Avoid the forests and the gardens“, but it was already too late, because many people took part at the annual communist parade for the 1st of May and, as was the custom at that time, went for a barbecue afterwards. We were told not to drink water from the fountains in the back yard, because the water was irradiated – and it happened for a week or so. And those who were living in cities drank tap water but boiled and cooled.
I would say that ordinary people were not informed exactly about the possible consequences or the amplitude of the disaster, so after a short period of time they forgot all about it. They were reminded of it after a while, when pregnant women gave birth to kids with congenital defects and after a few years some people that we knew – a relative, a neighbor or a friend - was sick and died of cancer.
Let's hope now that Europe has learned its lessons and that such a horrible nuclear accident would not happen again, although Fukushima tragedy shows us that, unfortunately, no country in the world, as big or rich it is can avoid it completely. Still, quick and honest reactions of the authorities are very important!
Foreign Affairs Editor, Evenimentul zilei, Romania