Today's Story Line

The body count continues to rise in the Middle East. Israeli soldiers, trying to protect some 145 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, continue to clear the land of olive trees. But Palestininans see this as an economic and symbolic assault on a national icon (page 1).

David Clark Scott World editor

VISITING CHERNOBYL: Foreign correspondents often must weigh risks versus rewards when going after a story. And sometimes simple curiosity tips the scale. So it was when the Monitor's Scott Peterson was given the "opportunity" to see the Chernobyl "sarcophagus" - a concrete-and-steel shell built over the destroyed nuclear reactor. "They will tell you how to behave when you are in there, and that doesn't include playing basketball," the press officer oddly joked. "No basketball, but our first stop was the locker room," Scott says. He and two colleagues stripped to their underwear, and donned two layers of new white protective clothing. Then socks, special boots, gloves, a coat, surgical hat, hard hat, and a radiation dosimeter. The clothing was to keep radioactive dust and residue at bay.

Scott carried a hand-held Geiger counter, which put out staccato bursts with increasing intensity as they neared the sarcophagus. Then, he was handed yet another dosimeter - a donation from the US Department of Energy with a 1998 expiration date - and a surgical mask. Briefly, among the burned ruins and layers of protective goo on the walls, the counter sang. When a colleague's pen cap dropped onto the contaminated floor, a worker said: "Don't touch it!"

Exiting was just as elaborate. Shoes were dipped in purple liquid, clothing piled up for decontamination, and hands and feet checked for radiation. The dosage was within acceptable safety levels. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime visit, and once was enough," Scott says.

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