Tony James was a teenager in Kennewick watching TV coverage of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine after a reactor there exploded 25 years ago.
Today, he and his wife are raising their daughters in Ukraine.
James, a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory engineer, is one of six employees of the Richland lab who are living in the Ukraine and working toward the construction of a massive arch that will be placed over the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
It's not just a professional but also, at times, a personal challenge for the team and their families.
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They live in Slavutych, the town built in 1986 for Chernobyl workers and their families evacuated from the contaminated and now abandoned city of Pripyat near the Chernobyl reactor complex.
Eric Schmieman, a PNNL senior technical adviser who is worked on the project for a decade, including the past five years in Ukraine, leaves home in Slavutych about 5 a.m. each morning. How soon he arrives at the Chernobyl site 31 miles away depends on the guards at the Belarus border where a narrow peninsula of the country extends into Ukraine between Slavutych and the Chernobyl site. He's home by about 8 p.m., he said.
He buys his food mostly from farmers when they come to town -- now radishes, sold in 25-pound bags, are in season.
"Cooking is an ordeal," said Nichole James, the wife of Tony James. The James family, including Ellie, 8, and Rylie, 6, have lived almost a year in Slavutych.
A small shop has opened near their home, with shopkeepers standing behind a counter to fetch what shoppers request. Nichole James said she relies on pictures on the labels of goods she buys since printing is in the Cyrillic alphabet, and most people speak only Ukrainian or Russian. When Americans find a familiar new item, such as kidney beans, they buy all of them off the shelf, she said.
"Some of the challenges are pretty funny when they are done," Tony James said.
When the James family needed flour, they looked up the word on the internet so they could request it. Particularly when they first started visiting the shop and would try to tell the shopkeeper what they wanted, she would look at them and shake her head, then try to show them what she thought they might be trying to buy.
This time, when Nichole asked for flour at the shop, the shopkeeper smiled and said that was not what she wanted.
"Nichole had actually said I'd like to be tortured," Tony James said.
On the weekends they go to an outdoor market and bazaar, where at one stall meat might be chopped up in front of them and at the next one cleaning supplies sold.
When Ellie needed to buy pants, the seller had her stand behind the table at the stall to try them on.
"It's weird, Mom," she said, but her mother pointed out everyone else was doing it.
People try hard to help them when they can't make themselves understood, and children will approach the American kids to repeat the English words they know: "Hello" and "How are you?"
The girls are home schooled, but they meet other children at ballet, piano and gymnastic lessons.
"When they do something in Slavutych, they do it 110 percent," Tony James said. Their teachers and coaches take their instruction and supporting the children very seriously, he said.
There also are many opportunities to enjoy the local culture. Frequent folk music concerts, ballets and other dance performances, and plays are offered.
The 25 westerners working in the Project Management Unit, a consortium that includes Battelle and Bechtel, also make their own entertainment, Schmieman said.
Coming up May 15 is their fourth annual wine judging contest, with the French putting up their wine against the American's wine from California and Washington, under rigorous rules, he said.
But one of Nichole James' favorite activities is having coffee with her neighbor, conversing as much as they can as she tries to learn the local language.
"Our neighbors are fantastic," Tony James said. They treat the girls as adopted grandchildren, and will share treats with the family from their cooking, such as beet or dill soup and pork- and onion-filled dumplings.
Most food is made either with mayonnaise or decorated with a dollop of mayonnaise, Nichole James said.
As frustrating as it has been not to speak the language or even be able to read signs and labels, she is getting used to the slower pace of life.
"We do walk everywhere. It's simpler. It's nice," she said.
Slavutych was planned as a city of high density housing, built with separate neighborhoods with everything available within walking distance.
But one of the best parts of living in the Ukraine is the opportunity to travel. Battelle workers are given "R and R" breaks, and trips to Europe and elsewhere are popular.
The James visited Egypt on one of their first vacations, after the children devoted time during their home schooling to learning about the country.
A highlight was visiting the Luxor Temple, where Ellie and Rylie were able to run their fingers over hieroglyphics, something Tony James dreamed of doing when he studied ancient Egypt in the fourth grade, he said.
"They've learned so much about different cultures," he said.
"We are developing a better understanding of people in the world," he said. "We all come from such different backgrounds and experiences that make us who we are, but we are still people with families and dreams."