A brief retelling of the bestseller, not previously published in Russian.
“ Midnight at Chernobyl ” – the best-selling journalist Adam Higginbotham, not previously published in Russian. In his book, he not only understands the circumstances that led to the 1986 disaster, but talks about the tragic consequences and describes why the repetition of the tragedy is quite real. It was based on conversations with witnesses to the accident, liquidators, relatives, as well as documents and historical data.
Especially for TJ, the editorial staff of MakeRight.ru has prepared a brief retelling of key theses from the book.
The creation of nuclear power plants was treated with sincere enthusiasm, but from the very beginning they had vulnerabilities
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was conceived as the first nuclear power plant in Ukraine, and was built virtually from scratch, in an open field. Until then, all nuclear reactors were created in strict secrecy, in closed institutions – “boxes”, and were part of the Soviet nuclear weapons program. But in the 1960s, the party decided to make the atom “peaceful”, giving electricity to the population of the country. The construction was entrusted to the young Minister of Energy Viktor Bryukhanov, who got down to business with great enthusiasm.
First, the infrastructure was built on which it was possible to deliver materials and equipment. From the nearest railway station we had a branch, built a new pier on Pripyat to receive heavy loads. The workers laid roads through the forest and built wooden houses on wheels, equipped with a stove and a kitchen. In this house lived Bryukhanov and his family. An elementary school was built. From time to time concert brigades visited the builders. Workers who lived in the forest village, dug a pit under the reactor and dug an artificial lake, a reservoir that was supposed to cool four reactors with water.
In parallel with the construction of the nuclear power plant, the settlement and the modern atomgrad, which was called Pripyat, also grew. It was intended for employees of the nuclear complex and their families. First, they built several hostels and apartment buildings, which were quickly settled by young enthusiasts who dreamed of new technologies. Then the settlement began to be landscaped – roads, heating, shops, schools appeared.
The village of Pripyat was separated from the NPP sanitary zone, where it was impossible to build houses, so that residents are not exposed to low-level radiation. But residents gradually began to build in the sanitary zone garden houses and gardens, disregarding the rules.
At first, in the Chernobyl NPP it was planned to build two reactors of the so-called channel-type RBMK, which were more powerful than the western ones. The party bosses demanded that two reactors be urgently launched: it was planned that one would be launched at the end of 1975, the second at the end of 1979. In addition to this, it was necessary to build apartments, hospitals, bakeries, shopping centers, pay wages, beat out rare and expensive materials for reactors. All this happened against the background of the era of stagnation, when shortages, waste and bureaucracy flourished in every industrial sector.
Building materials and mechanical parts were often defective, there was a lack of steel and zirconium, reinforced concrete and pipelines were of poor quality, and often had to be thrown away. After the factory assembly, every detail of the new equipment was disassembled to the last nut, looking for faults, repaired and assembled according to the original specifications.
Bryukhanov understood that he didn’t meet the deadlines, he was often battered by the party authorities, who was indignant that in three years the nuclear power plant was never built. He asked to resign, but he was not released. During the long years of its existence, the Soviet government gave rise to a numerous party nomenclature, where district committees and city party committees supervised every industry, issued directives and demanded to meet deadlines, even if they were unrealistic. And if at one time party control was useful to the young Soviet state, then over time, party intervention in all processes became counterproductive and confusing. Gradually, the belief in the ideals of Marxism-Leninism disappeared, ideology became a window dressing. But fear still persisted from Stalin’s times, and this gave rise to an atmosphere of silence, sycophancy, servility, and complete subordination to the superior. In many ways, this atmosphere will play its fatal role in the Chernobyl disaster. Falsified reports, overestimations, incomplete tasks were issued for the truth, and all this was passed along the chain to the higher authorities.
At first, Bryukhanov tried to argue with the management, arguing that the construction of the reactor needed more time, that the materials and parts must be of the highest quality. But after the next party shout, he gave up on everything and just tried to do everything as quickly as possible. The roof of the turbine hall of the plant was covered with bitumen, which is strictly prohibited by safety. But the necessary material in the USSR was not produced, and the bitumen was allowed to leave. Before completing the construction of the fourth unit, it was necessary to carry out long tests of turbines, but then the deadlines would be violated, and Bryukhanov postponed the tests for later in order to pass the work on time.
A nuclear power plant was built, and Pripyat was also built. In 1985, four reactors were ready, and the population of the atom city grew to 50 thousand people. In 1988, the fifth and fourth nuclear power units were commissioned, and it became the largest nuclear complex in the world. It was prestigious to work on it; many young enthusiastic physicists traveled to Pripyat from Moscow to gain invaluable practical experience. But not only they worked at nuclear power plants. It was necessary to ensure the work of all Pripyat, and the station had a lot of ordinary electricians and mechanics who were not very familiar with nuclear energy and radiation, moreover, occupying unnecessary positions to avoid unemployment. This did not add to the efficiency and safety of such a complex enterprise as a nuclear power plant, and even the largest in the world.
Perhaps, if the work at NPPs were organized differently at the construction stage, disasters could have been avoided.
Nuclear power originates from the development of nuclear weapons
In the USA, the first nuclear reactor was built in 1942, it became the first stage in the development of the Manhattan project. Other reactors built in the USA produced plutonium for atomic bombs. The first nuclear power plant for civilian use was built on the basis of the revised drawings of the nuclear aircraft carrier. The same thing happened in the USSR. Academician Igor Kurchatov and designer Nikolai Dollezhal worked together on the project of the atomic bomb exploded in 1949. Soon, Kurchatov proposed using atomic energy for peaceful purposes. At first it seemed inexpedient and impractical, but Beria, out of respect for the “father of the atomic bomb,” allowed the project to be carried out in 1952. An institute was created in the country to create reactors called NIKIET (Research and Development Institute of Power Engineering).
Khrushchev, who replaced Stalin, was interested in space exploration and nuclear technology, realizing that they would help revive the Soviet economy. Back in 1954, the AM-1 reactor was created in Obninsk, it was even connected to the Moscow power system, but it produced very little energy, which was only enough for locomotive operation. For energy supply of the capital, this was clearly not enough.
Nevertheless, against the background of post-war reconstruction, the Obninsk reactor showed what the technology is capable of, and was greeted with enthusiasm by the party elite and ordinary citizens. The peaceful atom became fashionable, physicists were praised to the skies, films, books and articles were devoted to them. The Obninsk reactor, meanwhile, was unstable, it was originally created for the production of plutonium for bombs and was poorly adapted to peaceful purposes. In addition, just before the end of construction, an unpleasant feature was discovered in the Obninsk reactor.
In conventional nuclear reactors that are cooled with water, there is a small amount of vapor that forms bubbles in the liquid. When water is used as a refrigerant and moderator of the reaction, the reactivity decreases as the vapor volume increases. When the steam is too much, the reactor is turned off. In the water-graphite reactor, how Obninsky was, the opposite effect occurs. The more the reactor is heated and the more water is converted into steam, the more its reactivity increases. To slow down this effect, you need to insert graphite rods and control the reactor with their help. If the rods fail for some reason, operators will lose control of the reactor. Nevertheless, water-graphite reactors were actively commissioned. Today, 15 water-graphite reactors are left in the world, and all of them are located in Russia.
Nuclear power developed in the UK. The nuclear power plant Calder Hall in 1956 solemnly opened the young Queen Elizabeth II. This caused a storm of delight in the press, but even with this power station, things were not going smoothly. In fact, Calder Hall also produced plutonium for military purposes, and electricity was needed to divert attention. The military past (and the present) left its mark on nuclear scientists all over the world: their activities were classified, risky experiments were combined with persistent unwillingness to admit that they were wrong. As a result, tons of graphite caught fire in one of the Calder-Hall reactors. The fire could not be put out for two days, radiation spread throughout the UK and Europe, local dairy farms were polluted. Fire miraculously managed to extinguish, adding water to the boiler, and the director Calder-Hall was not completely sure
The same self-confidence was characteristic of the USSR scientists who used the “peaceful atom” wherever possible: for irradiating seeds and products to keep them longer, for industrial explosions and mining work, atomic tanks and atomic planes were developed. Everything was strictly classified, and yet both inside the country and outside, everyone was sure that the experiments with the “peaceful atom” were absolutely safe.
But it was an illusion that the events in Ozersk showed, where an explosion of radioactive waste occurred at the Mayak Production Association due to the fact that the cooling systems were out of order. A cloud of radioactive dust was formed above “Mayak”, black rain began to fall in the neighboring villages, and then black snow.
Like the British, Soviet nuclear scientists vehemently denied the emergency. At the same time, in two years more than 10 thousand people were evacuated from the vicinity of Ozersk, about half a million people received radiation doses. The leaders of Ozersk were more afraid of mass panic than of radiation contamination. At first, no one was evacuated, but rumors spread rapidly, and 3,000 people left Ozersk and its environs. Only then, slowly and gradually, the remaining ones were evacuated within two years. The soldiers eliminated the contamination, shoveling the remnants of the blast waste container with their shovels into the swamp. The accident, one of the worst in the history of nuclear energy, was recognized only a few decades later.
Thus, by refusing to acknowledge the danger of constructive flaws, hushing up accidents and maintaining an atmosphere of secrecy, the scientists themselves contributed to the emergence of new accidents.
The origins of the Chernobyl disaster were laid in the very design of the fourth reactor
Even at the construction stage of the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl NPP, a young engineer Leonid Toptunov, studying the RBMK documentation (a high-power channel reactor), drew attention to the fact that reactor control rods can, under certain conditions, accelerate reactivity, rather than slow it down. He told this to his friend, but since such a feature of the construction was described in official documents, he did not attach any importance to this. On the eve of the accident, he had just learned to independently manage the reactor under the supervision of a senior shift operator.
The fourth RBMK type reactor was operated by rods filled with boron carbide about five meters long. By raising or lowering the rods into the reactor core, it was possible to regulate the speed of the nuclear chain reaction and the level of heat and energy. The reactor core around the perimeter was surrounded by a ditch with water, covered with a steel shell, which, in turn, was covered with sand. On top of the sand was a huge concrete vault, on which were metal boxes with a mixture of iron shot and serpentite, which slowed down neutrons. At the very top of the repository lay a shield, a giant cover three meters deep and 17 meters across, filled with pebbles, serpentite and nitrogen gas. She was affectionately called Elena (according to the documents she was listed as structure E), and she weighed 2,000 tons.
The volume of the RBMK was 20 times greater than that of the western reactors, it supplied electricity to half of the population of Kiev and was the largest in the world. The main participation in its development was taken by the director of the Kurchatov Institute, Anatoly Alexandrov. He was proud that his reactor is much easier to build than Western counterparts. Its parts could be manufactured domestically; they did not require special materials or equipment. The design was modular, the reactor could be assembled at any place and, if desired, additional units could be expanded for more power.
A thick concrete dome was erected over each western reactor in case of radioactive contamination in the event of a possible accident. But the RBMK was too huge; a concrete dome over each block would double its cost. Money saved by resorting to less expensive solutions. At the same time, possible scenarios were taken into account, for example, the rupture of one or two pressure pipes — while the radioactive steam had to go down through many valves and flow into the huge reservoirs with water under the reactor. There he would cool.
Pipe rupture was considered the maximum design basis accident that could have happened as a result of some emergency situations – an earthquake, for example, or a plane crashing onto a nuclear power plant. In this case, the worst is the melting of the reactor core when it is impossible to cool it.
Therefore, the supply of water to the core in the event of an accident should have been supported at all costs. Theoretically, more pipes could have burst, but this possibility was not considered in the design, since it was considered too incredible. Nevertheless, it was designated as an accident outside the design.
Not all scientists shared enthusiasm for the RBMK design. One of the specialists of the Kurchatov Institute warned that the project was too dangerous for exploitation for peaceful purposes. Another scientist considered the reactor to be explosive in principle, and for a long time wrote warning letters to the CPSU Central Committee and the Council of Ministers.
Even at the design testing stage of the RBMK, it became clear that the longer the life of the reactor, the more difficult it will be to manage. The designers made changes, but could not completely eliminate the instability. Tests in Leningrad showed that the work of the reactor in practice is very different from the work in theory, but Dollezhal and Alexandrov, the creators of the RBMK, decided to ignore this fact.
The size of the RBMK itself was a problem. Operators could control individual units, but not the entire reactor as a whole, the processes in one unit could be very different from what was happening in another. Points of reactivity could be deep inside the nucleus, and with such a gigantic structure they were difficult to detect. This was particularly pronounced during start-up and shutdown, but the design was not refined, deciding that operators need to rely on experience and intuition instead of instructions.
There were already small accidents with RBMK type reactors, including at the Chernobyl NPP, but everything was kept in such secrecy that even the engineers of the NPP themselves were not told the truth – neither about radioactive emissions, nor about the causes of the accident.
On March 28, 1979, at a nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a series of minor faults and human errors led to the melting of the reactor and the pollution of the environment with radioactive water. Radioactive gases were released into the atmosphere, a cloud of these gases drifted over the Atlantic, however, without harming anyone. This caused panic and scandal, the development of nuclear energy was temporarily suspended. To avoid mentioning the danger of the “peaceful atom”, in the USSR, the causes of the incident were attributed to the peculiarities of capitalism. Nuclear scientists assured that Soviet personnel were much better prepared, reactors were much safer, and this simply could not happen in our country.
If all these cases were carefully studied, mistakes were analyzed, and design flaws were eliminated as quickly as possible, the Chernobyl tragedy might not have happened.
The human factor played a role in the Chernobyl disaster
On April 26, 1986, the night shift was preparing for testing the turbogenerator. It was necessary to check the safety system protecting the reactor in the event of a power outage. The loss of external power was rehearsed, in case the power from the network ceased to flow to the station. The scenario was within the framework of the design basis accident, when the station abruptly loses power, and the pumps through which water circulates through the reactor core, suddenly stopped. In this case, the station stocked up on diesel generators, but their start-up plus the subsequent start-up of pumps can take up to three minutes. This time is sufficient for the core of the reactor to melt.
Such a security check should have been conducted as early as 1983, but then the construction of the fourth unit would not have met the deadlines. The planned shutdown of the reactor finally gave the opportunity to carry out tests in real conditions.
Deputy Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov, who was in charge of testing, had long dealt with nuclear reactors, however, mainly for nuclear submarines. But he thoroughly studied the documentation for the RBMK reactor and was present at the commissioning of all the reactors of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. He had occasion to lead a secret military laboratory, but he did not understand that the military style of leadership could not be transferred to the operators and engineers of a civil nuclear power plant. He demanded that his orders be carried out without question, threatened to punish those who disobey, and ignored any opinion that did not coincide with his own. With all his flaws, he was an experienced professional, and when studying documentation, the RBMK also noted that he saw a lot of incomprehensible information in it. Dyatlov began to give instructions to operators. He ordered the senior shift, Alexander Akimov, to reduce the reactor power to 200 megawatts, although according to the regulations it was supposed to reduce it not below 700. Akimov objected, but Dyatlov insisted, and Akimov reluctantly carried out the order. Leonid Toptunov, senior engineer at the reactor department of the reactor department, gradually reduced power. He began to transfer the system to autopilot, supporting the RBMK at a certain level, while testing is underway. He had to choose the power level of the reactor in the new mode, but for some reason he missed this step. And the computer considered the norm any drop in power down to zero. He began to transfer the system to autopilot, supporting the RBMK at a certain level, while testing is underway. He had to choose the power level of the reactor in the new mode, but for some reason he missed this step. And the computer considered the norm any drop in power down to zero. He began to transfer the system to autopilot, supporting the RBMK at a certain level, while testing is underway. He had to choose the power level of the reactor in the new mode, but for some reason he missed this step. And the computer considered the norm any drop in power down to zero.
After reducing the power to 200 megawatts, it continued to fall. Neutron gas xenon began to accumulate in the nucleus, and this was a signal to the operators – the reactor was completely shut down and the test was canceled. But the reactor is not turned off. Some argue that Dyatlov forbade it to do, Dyatlov himself said that he was not even in the room. Anyway, Toptunov, by order of Dyatlov, began pulling the control rods to increase power. At first he refused to do this, fearing that he would completely lose control of the reactor, but Dyatlov threatened him with dismissal, and he complied. By pulling out the rods Toptunov and the elder of the previous shift, Yuri Tregub, who came to his aid, managed to increase the power to 200 megawatts. To do this, they had to remove from the reactor core 203 of 211 control rods, which was prohibited without the permission of the chief engineer of the plant. But the engineers decided to neglect the security system – not so much by their own carelessness, but because they were not aware of how important it is.
In such a situation, only a slow stabilization of the reactor and the same slow shutdown could prevent a catastrophe, but Dyatlov decided to continue testing. Cooling pumps connected to the reactor started working and began to supply cooling water to the core. By this they further violated the reactivity, and the water very quickly turned into steam.
The test itself with power outages and diesel generators went well. But meanwhile, more and more water turned into steam, the equilibrium in the core became more and more disturbed. At 1:23 the test is over. It was time to turn off the reactor and put the rods back in place. At first, when the rods entered the upper part of the reactor, the overall reactivity dropped as it was intended. But then the graphite tips of the rods began to displace water in the lower part of the core and generate even more steam, respectively, increasing the reactivity. Instead of stalling, the reactor began to accelerate. The recording systems managed to record several signals of rapidly growing power, and then failed. Soon there were two powerful explosions, and the reactor was completely destroyed.
The explosion was equivalent to 60 tons of trotyl, it tore hundreds of pipes of a steam-water circuit and threw a multi-ton “Helen” into the air, like a coin. The roof was scattered into pieces, and a gas mixture with radioactive particles of iodine 131, neptunium 239, cesium 137, strontium 90 and plutonium 239, deadly to humans, was emitted into the atmosphere. A beautiful bluish glowing pillar went into the sky, the earth was littered with graphite blocks. A fire started on the roof of the third power unit (covered with bitumen with the knowledge of the authorities and not refractory materials) directly above the reactor, and if it could not be eliminated by the heroic efforts of the firefighters, the entire NPP could take off to the air, making half Europe. A radioactive volcano of uranium fuel and graphite boiled at the site of the reactor.
Formally, the wrong actions of the operators led to the catastrophe, but it became possible and acquired such a scale as a result of a set of reasons. The unsuccessful design of the reactor, fear of superiors and personal ambitions, an ill-conceived security system all played a role.
To extinguish the fire and eliminate pollution, heroic efforts were made, but it was necessary to act almost blindly
After the inevitable confusion, when scientists and party bosses tried to understand what exactly happened, it became clear that the following tasks had to be solved, and as soon as possible. First, a new chain reaction could have occurred in the wreckage of the reactor; it had already issued several small explosions. In addition, a column of gases with radionuclides continued to erupt into the sky, and this process had to be stopped. It was impossible to pull with the evacuation of Pripyat, which began on April 27. First, people were taken out within a radius of 10 kilometers from the reactor, in the following days from a 30-kilometer zone. Evacuation was declared temporary, many left in home clothes, leaving things and taking only documents. The first report, very brief, about the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant appeared in the press only on the evening of April 28. When in Europe already sounded the alarm,
In the destroyed reactor, something continued to happen. Academician Valery Legasov, who was included in the emergency response commission, estimated that there were 2500 tons of graphite blocks in the reactor, which continued to burn at temperatures of more than a thousand degrees Celsius. From this heat could melt fuel cassettes that remained in the core, and uranium dioxide granules that were in them. The release of toxic substances would become even more intense. If the fire is not extinguished, the fire in the remains of the reactor will burn for about two months, poisoning the atmosphere not only in the USSR, but throughout the world.
The fire burning in the reactor could not be put out in the usual way. The burning of graphite and nuclear fuel was accompanied by such a high temperature that neither water nor foam were suitable for extinguishing. The water not only turned into toxic steam, but could also provoke another explosion. As a result, it was decided to extinguish the fire with a mixture of clay, lead and dolomite, which the scientists had hoped to extinguish the graphite fire, cool nuclear fuel and block the release of radionuclides. None of these components was at the station. In their absence, it was decided to extinguish the fire with powder boron and sand, so as not to waste time. The sand created a filter bed on top of a burning reactor and choked the fire. He was dropped from helicopters. The helicopter pilots worked from morning till evening every day, and at night they disinfected helicopters and washed them in the sauna, trying to wash off the radioactive dust. It was not so easy to clear the helicopters, and under the helicopters the grass turned yellow from the effects of radiation.
At first, it seemed that the fire did not give in to any influences, but gradually began to subside, and by that time lead had arrived. However, after some time, combustion and emissions resumed. There were concerns that the fire destroyed the concrete floor and toxic combustion products could get into the rivers.
If the molten fuel leaves the basement, it will reach Pripyat and the Dnieper, and before that it will pass through flooded compartments and basins of vapor suppression. This can cause a new explosion, much more powerful than the first, and destroy the remaining reactors. It was decided to pump out the water under the reactor to prevent this from happening. The water temperature rose rapidly, it was impossible to delay. And the military, under the command of the captain of the 427th Red Banner Mechanized Civil Defense Regiment of Peter Zborovsky, risking their lives, miraculously pumped water. The danger of a steam explosion was eliminated, it remains to stop the progress of the burning mass down through the concrete. With the help of metro builders and miners under the reactor, a mine was punched under a heat exchanger with a complex network of stainless steel pipes, control cables and temperature sensors, which was laid in concrete and covered with a layer of graphite. By the end of the work, in which hundreds of miners, soldiers, engineers were involved, it turned out that there would be no burning of the concrete.
The liquidators of the accident had neither experience in fighting radiation nor reliable means of protection.
All scientific and technical forces of the country joined the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. An operational team of specialists in radiation and chemical war arrived in the 30-kilometer zone, soldiers and heavy equipment were pulled together.
All bureaucratic obstacles were forgotten, the necessary resources from all over the USSR were delivered on demand: lead sheets, spot welders, graphite blocks, overalls. Official plans and instructions for eliminating the consequences of a nuclear catastrophe were never worked out, elimination was improvised. There were disagreements about the maximum allowable dose of radiation, but in the meantime, doctors insisting on a low dose, and the military, who believed that it could be doubled, came to the same opinion, the work continued. By the time it was finally decided that the safe dose, as the doctors insisted, was 25 rem, many had time to sort out the radiation. And after that it was difficult to control the permissible level – there were too few trained dosimetrists. The volume of radionuclides escaping from the reactor changed all the time,
Clearing the dirtiest radioactive debris around the reactor was carried out by soldiers on the IMR-2 tanks, designed to clear the way for infantry through minefields or after a nuclear attack. They were equipped with bulldozer blades and cranes with hydraulic tongs, so that fallen telephone poles could be frustrated or fallen trees moved aside. Inside the tanks were covered with lead to protect themselves from radiation. Two radio-controlled bulldozers cleared the radioactive rubble and soil from the fourth block, but both quickly refused – gamma-irradiation from sprayed debris, there were about a thousand roentgens per hour.
The topsoil around the reactor was removed manually. People worked outdoors, in military uniform, and from the means of protection they had only respirators with petals. The soil was dug with ordinary shovels and placed in metal containers in order to bury them later. Each shift lasted about 15 minutes, but after all, everyone had a tickle in the throat, dizzy, bleeding from the nose, some who had received particularly large doses, vomited. Where radiation was particularly high, dozens of people were involved for one task, but each worked for no more than two minutes.
At the service called storekeepers from 24 to 50 years. They announced that they were special military exercises. About 40 thousand storehouses were settled around the perimeter of the 30-kilometer exclusion zone, and each morning they were sent in covered trucks to help the troops who worked on cleaning the soil near the reactor.
Trucks and helicopters raised radioactive dust, which accumulated in the form of heavy precipitation a hundred kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. This dust covered everything inside the zone, it seeped into the lungs and stomachs along with inhaled air, settled on the hair.
Some liquidators were serious about the threat: they drank only from sealed bottles, walked in respirators and hats, tried to wash off all the dust. Others, ignorantly or carelessly, did not take any precautions: lay on the grass next to the reactor, smoked and undressed to the waist when the heat was high. The KGB officers arrived in the zone in protective suits and with Japanese dosimeters, but they did not know how these dosimeters work. At the same time, corpses of dead crows lingered around the reactor were lying around the reactor.
Finely dispersed irradiated dust and debris contaminated the ground, radioisotopes fell on crops and grass, poisoning cows and goats. The wind again carried the isotopes to already cleaned areas, so that early deactivation did not bring any benefit. The radioactive cloud floated above the earth for many days and weeks, polluting buildings, gardens, trees and water in lakes and rivers. Buildings, crops, forest, cars needed to be cleaned, demolished and buried in such a way that radioactive decay was more or less isolated from the environment. They decided to build a huge sarcophagus over the reactor.
In June, the construction of a 195-kilometer fence around the entire exclusion zone was completed. Atomgrad Pripyat and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant turned out to be in the center of a deserted territory of 2,600 square kilometers, the entrance to which was guarded by soldiers and it was possible to enter only with a special pass.
If earlier it was assumed that it would take several years to completely clean the area, after which people could return to their homes in Pripyat, then it became clear that this was impossible. Despite all the efforts of the liquidators, many of whom have lost their health and years of life, Pripyat became a ghost town. But the worst was avoided – the radiation catastrophe did not spread to other cities of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, although its consequences were still felt for a long time both in the USSR and in Europe. A sarcophagus was built over the reactor, and before that, the radiation, which was called biorobot, was clearing radiation debris – real robots could not cope with such work.
With the help of the world community, the Ukrainian authorities are currently building a new dome, the Arch, over the dilapidated sarcophagus. Work is not yet completed.
The Chernobyl disaster had long-term consequences.
In the first days after the accident, 31 people from the NPP personnel died – they got into the thick of the furnace. They were transplanted bone marrow, but it did not help. However, some people miraculously irradiated survived contrary to forecasts.
The long-term effects of irradiation on all those who participated in the extinguishing of the reactor, the cleaning of Pripyat and the construction of the sarcophagus resulted in the growth of cancer, hereditary diseases, cataracts, cardiovascular diseases. The direct connection of these diseases with the effects of radiation was very reluctant to be admitted by doctors on orders from above. The data on the victims of the consequences of the catastrophe are contradictory: according to WHO, there are a total of about four thousand people, according to official estimates there are much less.
After the accident, a criminal case was opened to identify the perpetrators. In the Ministry of Medium Machine Building (Sredmash), which was responsible for the construction and commissioning of reactors, a report was prepared to the Politburo, where they tried to blame all the unskilled operators. Aleksandrov, director of Sredmash Efim Slavsky and designer Nikolay Dollezhal, who stubbornly tried to assure the government of the safety of RBMK reactors in general and the Chernobyl reactor in particular, adhered to this point of view. Toptunov and Akimov were accused of incompetence, which led to the accident, they had nothing to say, because several days after the explosion of the reactor both were dead.
The Ministry of Energy expressed a different point of view, where the failure of the reactor design was noted. If it were different, no mistakes of the operators could have led to such terrible consequences. To hide this fact is to refuse to identify the real causes of the disaster.
At a meeting with Gorbachev, they came to the conclusion that the RBMK did not meet safety standards, and its creators deliberately misled the government, knowing that they were considered infallible. However, none of them was punished. But Bryukhanov, Dyatlov, the chief engineer Fomin and several other employees were punished, having given them sentences of 6 to 10 years, fired several middle managers from Sredmash and the Ministry of Energy.
The Chernobyl disaster affected the development of nuclear energy throughout the world. Construction of nuclear power plants in Western Europe and the United States was suspended until 2002 under public pressure. In the USSR, the construction of new power units at nuclear power plants and the construction of new nuclear power plants was suspended (however, the old ones are still in operation until an alternative has been found). True, the RBMK reactors were re-equipped, giving them maximum reliability – as far as possible.
The legal consequence of the catastrophe was the law providing for criminal liability for concealing the consequences of catastrophes and accidents. This information is no longer secret.
Academician Valery Legasov, who took the most active part in extinguishing a burning reactor, was shocked by the scale of the disaster and the state of nuclear energy. He tried to modernize science, wrote reports to the government, articles to scientific journals, gave interviews in an effort to change something, but this only ruined his career. Having undermined health and mental strength, he committed suicide on April 26, 1988.
In 1988, a radiation-ecological reserve was established on the contaminated territory of Belarus to monitor the effects of radiation on animals. Initially, there were isolated cases of mutations among them, but then the populations of wild animals began to recover quickly, proving that human exposure is far more destructive for nature than radiation exposure. In addition, nature has powerful adaptation mechanisms. Some plant species that are less sensitive to radiation than others are also being restored.
The catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant has long served as a warning to nuclear scientists and governments of different countries, but today its lessons are gradually being forgotten. In the 2010s, there were attempts to revive the nuclear power industry. In the United States, a contract for 30 years on the construction of a new nuclear power plant was already in force, and in 2011 Ukraine planned to start building two new reactors near Chernobyl.
But then the accident at the nuclear power plant of the Tokyo electric power company in Fukushima again reminded mankind of what it was dealing with. The Japanese government immediately abandoned all of its nuclear reactors, Germany closed 8 of the 17 reactors and by 2022 plans to completely switch to renewable energy sources. The United States has canceled contracts for the construction of new reactors, but nonetheless the nuclear power industry is not losing ground. France and China are expanding the use of nuclear energy and in general it is the easiest way to meet the growing need of mankind for electricity. However, life requires the creation of much more advanced reactors in terms of safety than those used so far.