Natalia Manzurova, one of the few survivors among those directly involved in the long cleanup of Chernobyl, was a 35-year-old engineer at a nuclear plant in Ozersk, Russia, in April 1986 when she and 13 other scientists were told to report to the wrecked, burning plant in the northern Ukraine.
It was just four days after the world’s biggest nuclear disaster spewed enormous amounts of radiation into the atmosphere and forced the evacuation of 100,000 people.
Manzurova and her colleagues were among the roughly 800,000 “cleaners” or “liquidators” in charge of the removal and burial of all the contamination in what’s still called the dead zone.
She spent 4 1/2 years helping clean the abandoned town of Pripyat, which was less than two miles from the Chernobyl reactors. The plant workers lived there before they were abruptly evacuated.
Manzurova, now 59 and an advocate for radiation victims worldwide, has the “Chernobyl necklace” — a scar on her throat from the removal of her thyroid — and myriad health problems. But unlike the rest of her team members, who she said have all died from the results of radiation poisoning, and many other liquidators, she’s alive.
AOL News spoke with Manzurova about the nuclear disaster in Japan with the help of a translator.