24 25 Years of Radiation

25 Years of Radiation

Posted on April 24, 2011 by team


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!

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24 Responses to “25 Years of Radiation”

  1. T Ratio says:

    I was 12 when this happened and living in England when it came on the news. It was pretty scary at the time as the cold war was still going on and we still had the nuke drills in school where we had to jump under the desks. All the secrecy around the Chernobyl disaster just adde to an anxious time.

    • T Ratio says:

      You’re very angry aren’t you? You do know the war has ended don’t you?

    • Arsenic says:

      I grew up in Holland,and at the time i was 20 yrs.There were no nuke drills overhere, ever!
      Maybe Your country had a reason to be scared of nuclear strike?
      As if hiding under a table protected people from nuclear strike, lol.
      Like small children hide their face , to dissapear from the scene and their parents act all supprised.

    • seangsxr34 says:

      i was 12 in England too, we never had nuke drills. There was a point made that we never had to do them like in the US. I think your making this up.

  2. O.o says:

    People says the Fukushima Accident is worse than Chernobyl…
    Yet no one died of radiation yet, economic loss is another issue though. And it shows that the effect of radiation doseage varies on different people, as Alexander lived over this 25 years and just wrote a book.

  3. O.o says:

    People says the Fukushima Accident is worse than Chernobyl…
    Yet no one died of radiation yet, economic loss is another issue though. And it shows that the effect of radiation doseage varies on different people, as Alexander lived over this 25 years and just wrote a book.

    (P.S.Sorry if duplicated, the system is a bit weird)

  4. Musa says:

    This is very interesting, thank you for posting.

  5. CZenda says:

    FYI only, the black box hanging around his neck is not a dosimeter, it is a cheap selenium light meter “Leningrad”.

  6. Unknown says:

    A sad story.

  7. TH says:

    Ha Ha Ha – Are you joking? What do you think is happening at Fukushima in Japan?!! There are several Soviet designed plants still in operation and if even somewhere as advanced as Japan can have such a nuclear accident, then the potential is always there. Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-nuclear, just realistic that there are likely to be future problems to be dealt with. I remember watching Chernobyl on TV as a child, some parts of Wales,UK are still radioactive as a result of fallout in the rain on the mountains and that is 1000’s of miles away.

  8. opticalsound says:

    Has this site been irradiated? Everyday for the last couple of weeks, things have been wacky when this site loads. I’m usually missing the newest posts. Either radiation or the CIA? Or my conservative brother-in-law?

  9. testicules says:

    Not a very cool gift. A thermos? Really?

  10. Matlok says:

    Sorry TH, but even in the good old paranoid U.S.A. we werent doing the nuclear drills. I’m 45 and they ended long before I started school. I was deployed on a Mediteranean cruise at the time of the accident and we had to stop recieving fresh produce, milk, and eggs from Europe for a while. Shipboard life takes a definate down turn when you have to eat powdered eggs, re-hydrated sliced potatoes and re-hydrated cottage cheese!

  11. Jeff Pigden says:

    Three Mile Island, remember that?
    An American reactor that was stopped before it went Chernobyl.
    The Russian reactor was a bad copy of that type of American unit (industrial espionage KGB). The Americans made some improvements, the Russians didn’t.
    The Japanese reactor was a copy of the American system, including the improvements.
    The CANDU reactor is about the best of the currently available models, but still not perfect.

    • Darius [DK] says:

      You mixing things in this comparison. First they are different types of reactors – the Russian is using graphite. There are several different types of nuclear reactors. The second issue – how does a stuck open valve in the cooling system is the same as bringing the reactor into unstable state during badly conducted experiment (+ some secondary issues in reactor sensor arrangement and control rod design)?

    • Frank says:

      The 3 mile island reactor has virtually nothing in common with the Chernobyl reactor. You could compare them like you compare a ship and a plane, both use petroleum products for their propulsion.

  12. Frank says:

    While radiation at high doses can be deadly within a very short time, low level radiation is neither fatal nor mutagenic it is documented that it may even have a hormetic effect.
    After Chernobyl 4 melted down the reactors one two and three were still kept running. The last one was only shut down in the year 2000. In the meantime personnel went daily into the exclusion zone to operate the reactors. Also some people never left the exclusion zone and are still alive, 30 years later. The area is now a thriving wild life refuge.
    If Alexander does not smoke, drink too much or walk into a bus, he has the same chance as everybody else to get old.

  13. timoulete says:

    No radiation in France, reporter from Scientist say “The radio active cloud stop at the frontier” After that, many tyroid problems, thanks politics…we don’t forget even today.

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