Last Updated Mar 28 2005 08:09 AM MST

Chernobyl children coming to Hinton

CBC News

HINTON, ALTA. - Hinton will play host again this year to children living with the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. But organizers are worried they may be blocked from running their program in future.

The president of Belarus has recently said he is not in favour of these kinds of visits, because they expose children to Western ideals and consumerism.

There are concerns he may decide to prevent children from leaving his country.

Large areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were contaminated in 1986 when a nuclear reactor exploded in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The disaster spewed tonnes of radioactive material into the air.

Every summer, when the radiation level is highest, 3,000 children in the affected areas travel abroad to 22 countries. Many are from Belarus, where radioactive waste rained down on two million people, a quarter of them children.

The nuclear complex was only 20 kilometres south of Ukraine's border with Belarus.

Thirteen children and one interpreter will be coming to Hinton from the Gomel region of Belarus for an eight-week visit, starting in July.

Barbara Madsen, who has hosted children from the Chernobyl area almost every summer in Hinton for the past 10 years, said she hopes the visits can continue.

"The main idea behind our program is to give the children a respite from their radioactive environment," she said.

Living with radioactivity leads to many health problems. The children have a high risk of thyroid cancer, leukemia and immune system problems.