A brief history of the Chernobyl NPP: from an industrial giant to a sarcophagus
A brief history of the Chernobyl NPP: from an industrial giant to a sarcophagus

Rigorous protection, a long corridor, a gloomy concrete building where the dramatic events of a failed experiment unfolded. The Chernobyl disaster happened here. Today, the control panel of the fourth power unit of the ChNPP is included in tourist routes.

A few people managed to see the 4th power unit from the inside earlier. These were mainly employees of the Chernobyl NPP. But the tourist boom has made adjustments. Moreover, the preconditions have appeared for revising tourist routes. Today this object, being far from a tourist attraction, is a place of great interest for most visitors to the Zone.

Lets briefly recall the history of the Chernobyl NPP

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant lies at a distance of 110 kilometers from Kiev. The project provided for commissioning of six power units with a capacity of 1000 megawatts with high power uranium-graphite reactors (RBMK). However, only four blocks were built. There was a plan to launch the fifth power unit at the end of 1986. However, the construction stopped after the accident.

The ChNPP produced almost 10% of Ukraine’s electricity. In particular, it supplied electricity for a secret military facility located nearby, the Duga complex. But all the power units of the station stopped working after the accident. By the end of 1987, it was possible to restore the generation of electricity at three power units. The Chernobyl NPP finally stopped working in December 2000. Then the last, third power unit was shut down.

The outline of the Chernobyl NPP and the giant arch of a new safe confinement appear from the road today. It’s the same road along the village of Kopachi, which has not been on the map for 34 years. It has been demolished by special equipment and buried underground. Tourists with a hypersensitive psyche claim that they hear the “heartbeat” of this buried village while driving along the road.

One can see from a distance the structures of the unfinished third stage of the NPP. It includes cooling towers and buildings of the 5th and 6th power units. In general, the station complex occupies a huge area of 1.5 by 0.5 kilometers. The turbine hall, with installed turbines and generators, stretches for almost a kilometer.

About 600,000 people got injured as a result of the accident, which occurred on the night of April 26, 1986. 60% of radioactive substances settled on the territory of Belarus. Furthermore, 130,000 residents of the Kiev region had to leave. A closed thirty-kilometer Exclusion Zone emerged around the ChNPP immediately after the accident.

Visit to the site of the largest man-made disaster ever

Before going to the fourth power unit, the rules oblige to go through radiation pollution control. You should change into a white outfit, which includes shoe covers, a lab coat, a hat, a helmet, etc. In addition, each visitor passes through the frames that determine the level of radiation pollution. Everyone has two dosimeters. The route passes through a long, about 600 meters, so-called golden corridor. Of course, there is no gold there. But thick yellowness of the walls and windows does give a kind of golden nebula to a long corridor route.

The corridor connects all power units: from the first to the fourth. You need to put on gloves and a respirator immediately before entering the premises of the fourth power unit. Thus, you will protect yourself from getting radioactive dust on the skin and respiratory tract. Anton Povar, a station employee, urges not to touch anything inside the power unit with bare hands.

The control room of the fourth power unit is a historical place. The catastrophe started here. Fatal events on the night of April 26, 1986, took place within these walls. Now the shield has been dismantled. Moreover, workers removed about all of its components during the investigation and subsequently buried. The room included the control panel for the reactor and the turbine unit. The lead engineer of a reactor control, the shift supervisor and a couple of other employees were directly in it. Workers controlled each of the reactor channels here. In addition, the level of immersion of the rods was determined.

The block shield remained unscathed after the disaster. Explosion destroyed the central hall, where the reactor was located. Now, everything inside, including the floor, is covered with a sticky solution that keeps dust. Despite the fact that the background radiation in the room is within the normal range, it is only a matter of minutes to be here.

Premises of the power unit destroyed by the accident were covered with a concrete sarcophagus in the first years after the disaster. In July 2019, the NSC arch covered the sarcophagus. It’s a new safe confinement. Now external natural factors don’t affect the state of the power unit. As a result, radiation leakage decreases. The service life of the modern super shelter is encouraging. Moreover, its authors guarantee 100 years of impeccable NSC service.

Where the wind carries radioactive clouds, there will be trouble

Sergey Parikvash organizes excursions in the Zone, including showing the block control panel of the 4th reactor. Sergey is a reactor repairman. He has been working at the Chernobyl NPP for over three decades. He perfectly remembers that fateful April 26, 1986, and the subsequent shutdown of the other three reactors of the station. And he recalls that he heard not even an explosion, but a powerful clap on the night of the accident. Then he saw thick smoke in the direction southwest of the ChNPP. Only few followed the ever-changing wind direction. Only a few guessed: where the wind carried radioactive clouds, there would be trouble.

According to Sergei, there was no strong fire and no fiery light over the station. Firefighters worked on the roof of the turbine room as there was a threat of collapse. After evacuation of the inhabitants of Pripyat, he moved to Kiev with his wife and child. His family received an apartment on Nikolai Zakrevsky Street in Troyeshchina. After living in the capital for several years, they moved to a new city of nuclear scientists, Slavutich. It stands among the forests, not far from the NPP, on the left bank of Dnieper. Since then, his family has lived in Slavutich. Sergei travels to work by train, bypassing the Belarusian border.

Sergey Parikvash considers Slavutich a very comfortable city, not worse than Pripyat was. Also, it’s a kind of a modern city, but familiar like Pripyat. Representatives of various republics of the former USSR (Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, and Armenians) built city quarters. Accordingly, a national flavor is inherent in each separate city quarter. The peculiarities of the architecture define the atmosphere of the city, where it is hospitable in Georgian, elegant in Riga, festive in Moscow, and delicious in Ukrainian.

Not everyone agrees with the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Sergei regrets that the authorities made a decision to close the Chernobyl station at one time. He calls it a political issue, which is not our place to understand. The ChNPP was the only nuclear power plant in Ukraine. It was possible to produce plutonium from nuclear fuel there. Economists considered the process of modernization of the surviving blocks too costly. From the environmental point of view, it was unjustified and even risky. So, it’s a debatable question whether the losses of labor potential arising during the shutdown of the station have been taken into account. This is a subjective opinion of the reactor repairman. But many plant employees agree with him.

According to Sergei, the 3-rd unit is much more interesting for visitors than the 4-th unit. You can see the unloading and loading machine in the engine room. This fitted the channel and pulled out graphite rods. Now, according to him, work at the station mainly concerns paper and nomenclature fuss. Previously, when power units were in operation, he and his colleagues took part in their repair.

The Chernobyl NPP had a strict schedule. According to this, it was necessary to carry out current and major repairs of equipment. Current repairs of each reactor took place once a year, for 10-15 days. An average repair took place once every two years, lasting about 40 days. A major repair, which needed about 80 days, was carried out every three years. Before the Chernobyl accident, the annual dose for workers was five roentgens, and now it is two.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is home

The Chernobyl NPP is home for people like Sergey Parikvash. He considers each reactor to be the heart of the station, electromechanical networks to be its blood vessels. He knows all their complex webs and feels the station’s heartbeat as his own. On December 15, 2000, the power generation at the Chernobyl NPP stopped its work by using the AZ-5 emergency protection key. Many employees took their breath away. They lost a certain stage of their life path for the second time. At first, there was no life in Pripyat. But now, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is becoming history.

The process of conservation of the Chernobyl NPP is quite long. It takes about 50 years. All employees of the plant get social guarantees. Social, but not moral. And morality and humanity are not always about money. The guarantee for nuclear scientists is the belief that the ChNPP will not be buried alive over the years and decades. It will not be leveled to the ground, like the village of Kopachi, where the road to the Exclusion Zone lies on “radioactive bones”.