This post is unique without any exaggeration. The story is told by a man who participated in liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. His name is Alexander and he arrived in Chernobyl in the middle of August in 1986…

By that time the reactor had already been “pacified”. The threat of nuclear explosion was ruled out, the threat of thermal explosion was minimal, emissions were absent.

The most dangerous work had already been done by the liquidators. You can see boom truck-mounted concrete pumps (then a very rare machine in the Soviet Union) and concrete line pumps in the photo. Between them is a white booth where its operators sheltered. The booth made of lead weakened the radiation level.

These operators are heroes, either because of their recklessness or ignorance. They were paid a 5 time higher wage and promised the “Zhiguli” without standing in a queue. But very few of them seem to have managed to get this car…

The radiation level in the place of a photographer was 2 r/h, in the place of operators – at least 20 r/h. It means it was safe to work here only for an hour which was actually impossible in such circumstances.

Besides, Russian people pursuing big money and the “Zhiguli” left their dosimeters in a “clean area” so that they wouldn’t be sent away from the “hot area” before time. That’s the paradox of the USSR – the “Zhiguli” at the cost of life.

The liquidators in black overalls and white caps descend the stairs. The chances that they’re now gone are very high…

The sarcophagus. It was heroically built to protect against new releases. A lot of money and health were thrown away.

There are two points of view on this matter. The first one: about 194 tons of fuel  (out of 200 tons)  were left in the ruins of the NPP, and the sarcophagus was really needed. And the second one: by the time of its building all the fuel had already been burned out, it means such protection wasn’t needed. The latter opinion has been expressed in “Youth” magazine on the 20th anniversary of the accident. It was based on the personal experience of one of the dosimetrists.

If the second point of view is correct then the whole strategy of liquidation was wrong as well as today’s decision on construction of another sarcophagus over the old one.

Sacks of lead shot were widely used in early May.

Lead was collected throughout the whole country (mostly in hunting societies) and dropped from the helicopters directly to the collapse. The goal was to block emissions. But… accumulating gas and increasing temperature lead to additional thermal emissions with even more pressure. Then it was decided to stop doing this.

Mushrooms. When the first fear was almost gone, there appeared a desire to pick up mushrooms and apples. At that time there already existed some good foreign devices allowing to measure the degree of radioactive contamination by not only gamma rays but beta and alpha.

The measurement of mushrooms showed their radiation level was small. So they were washed and fried. When their smell echoed through the dormitory of workers everybody (even the most cautious) came to the kitchen. Two huge bags of ceps were eaten at a time. Since then nobody has been allowed to pick them up again…

Curiosity. Alexander wanted to take a photograph of the reactor from above. So he went to the airport, entered the trailer and saw some helicopter pilots sitting there. “Who are you?” – they asked. “I’m a photographer, I want to shoot the reactor from above”. “Are you crazy? We are forced to go there, and you want it yourself!? Better take a picture of us, we have no pictures from this trip at all.” After Alexander had shot them and promised to bring the pictures the next day they said “Ok, we’ll take you on a trip above the reactor tomorrow.”

But Alexander couldn’t come back the next day as he was on duty. When he returned two days later, he could see neither helicopter, nor those guys… “Where are they?” – he asked. It turned out that they had crashed the day before. All of them alive were in the medical unit.

Alexander couldn’t believe his good luck. He could have flown with them that day… Anyway, since that moment he lost his interest in flying.

Medicine. There was a doctor and a paramedic for each 50 workers. The latter had to pass medical examination before coming here. Blood was taken twice a month, everybody was given iodine and multivitamins. Water for kitchen was brought in jars from a clean area. Bottles of “Yessentuki” and “Borjomi” (mineral water) were used for drinking.

Protection from radiation. There was a post at the entrance to the dormitory where everybody was “sniffed”, the “dirty” ones were sent “to have a wash”. The main protection: respirators, an every day change of clothes (a shirt and pants), an every day wash (decontamination), “sniffing” of jackets and trousers. Decontamination of the facilities (a wash with soap and water). Dorm windows were closed, air was supplied through 100-liter barrels serving as filters.

Radiation survey devices. The only one was used – the DP-5. It was popped out of cars and helicopters. The readings were quickly written down on paper. All the time they were mixed up. Groups of dosimetrists from different departments were sent here – and the readings were averaged!

A few more photos. Alexander was only 30 years old at that time. He was keen on photography… A couple of his shots were even awarded at some shows.

On the 25th anniversary of the accident Alexander was sent a gift: a thermos, a bottle of vodka and a prayer of the Optina Elders.

1986. Cure for radiation. 25 years old.

English Russia

 

 

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