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Lt. Governor in Europe Amid Chernobyl Disaster

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A prominent North Dakotan was in Europe when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster unfolded. Lieutenant Governor Ruth Meiers was on a three-week trip to the Soviet Union for an international women’s conference. At 10:45 in the morning on this date in 1986, she called from Porvoo near Helsinki, Finland, saying she was OK and in no danger from the disaster. The world learned of the accident after nuclear plants in Sweden detected elevated levels of radiation.

Meiers was set to leave for Leningrad after conference orientation sessions in Helsinki. She and 60 other American women leaders were to participate in meetings arranged by the Soviet Women’s Committee in Leningrad, Moscow and Minsk. Meiers’ secretary told The Bismarck Tribune that Finnish authorities assured the lieutenant governor she would be in no danger.

After returning home, Meiers said the nuclear accident had little effect on the trip. At a news conference she joked: “I had all kinds of people (here at home) ask me if I glowed.” She said she was not ever in danger from radiation, but said Soviet leaders should have been more open about the disaster. A Soviet woman helping with the conference only learned of the accident from the visiting Americans.

Meiers said she “came away with a very good feeling” about the Soviet people, though she said “they don’t smile.” She visited five families’ homes. She said the Soviet people were “very concerned about peace” amid the Cold War.

Meiers was North Dakota’s first female lieutenant governor. She died in office at age 61 in 1987 from cancer, related to smoking.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Bismarck Tribune. 1986, April 29. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1986, May 19. Page 10
The Bismarck Tribune. 1986, September 12. Pages 1, 10
The Bismarck Tribune. 1987, March 20. Pages 1, 10 The Bismarck Tribune. 1987, March 22. Pages D1

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