Chernobyl: a chronicle of workdays
Chernobyl: a chronicle of workdays

The first Chernobyl power unit was commissioned in 1977. By 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power station had become the largest nuclear power plant in the European part of the USSR. On April 26, what was the pride of the country became the place of its misfortune.

When ambulances raced from Kiev along the road to the airport, in which there were firefighters who received a huge dose of radiation – the whole struggle was still ahead. The bitter aftertaste of misfortune did feedback from roadside welcome signs.

The end of spring 1986. A special zone of the Chernobyl NPP, it was allowed to be there only on special passes. The red line on the map around the NS is a circle with a radius of 30 km. An emergency headquarters operates here. According to his orders, equipment, materials, people are thrown from everywhere to the emergency zone.

Farms were empty in Polesie, enterprises were stopped, schools were closed, the population of Pripyat, Chernobyl and all nearby villages — tens of thousands of people — were evacuated.

Radiation is the invisible mortal enemy of man. The needles of the dosimeter were off scale even under steel armor, in armored personnel carriers. The first contribution to the localization of the consequences of the Chernobyl explosion was made by firefighters. They localized powerful combustion with their incredible efforts at the fourth power unit of the nuclear power station – by May 10, the dangerous fires had been completely eliminated.

Nevertheless, graphite continued to burn in the vent, and aerosols continued to be released. The government commission, in the course of debates and disputes, realizing that it is no longer possible to deal with the emission of radiation by traditional methods, decides to attack the reactor from the air. Special physicochemical compositions were selected that made it possible to create a powerful filter layer.

We could talk about the subsequent conservation of “the entire reactor kitchen” only after complete localization of aerosol emissions into the atmosphere. Everything that remained after the explosion at the fourth power unit should have been safely hidden, sheltered, buried, and without burdensome consequences for those who would be engaged in this. The accident is such that it is difficult to evaluate and predict its magnitude the development of events.

May 1986. People are not verbose at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, orders are given in an undertone and are executed implicitly, there is no right to make a mistake… Exactly so, surprisingly quietly and as if by statute, the hard workdays of thousands of people begin to eliminate the bubbling hellish nuclear kitchen that was to be filled with liquid nitrogen.

The count of work shifts is still for minutes, so high radiation fields are in the station area. The goal is set, tasks are received. First of all, their implementation, no matter how difficult it may be, and only then, the tired eyes of the liquidators look at the peephole of the individual dosimeter of the drive. What were the liquidators thinking at this moment? Perhaps – would it blow this time, or not? The dosimeter went off scale, it`s a common occurrence.

Five thousand tons of boron, dolomite, sand, lead, dumped from helicopters into the deadly mouth of the reactor, reduced radiation and made the design of the reactor heavier. If the foundation can’t stand?!!! This thought haunted everyone then, because the soils in the vicinity are the most treacherous – sandstones. The foundation must be strengthened by simultaneously installing cooling structures in it.

This would be the start of the construction of a canning facility. Meter by meter, a tunnel goes into the “reactor hell”. Concrete would be launched through pipes into the base plate of the future sarcophagus, in which the diseased reactor have to die. There is a minimum of radiation in the face, but the temperature is not lower than +35. Changing on a shift every 3-4 hours, Donetsk miners and Tula metro builders “bite into the reactor” one after another. They mercilessly dig the “road of life.”

A little time would pass, and the world would breathe out – the most important thing that everyone was afraid of – would be left behind. The reactor foundation survived, water contamination was stopped, and thereby all the deadly danger in the 10 km zone was synchronized. Now in a war with an invisible enemy, radiation, you can gradually, step by step, proceed from defensive measures to offensive.

All those who visited the zone — both people and cars — are under the strictest control, the spread of radioactive dirt is blocked. There are minimum risk and maximum safety in emergency operations. This is the motto and order of the Main Operations Headquarters.

Sanitation points….

Only trained army guys could withstand a heavy, 12-hour shift, carrying out decontamination activities in a 30-degree heat under the scorching sun. They scrambled every inch of equipment with their bare hands, spreading decontamination agents over and over again, holding a heavy water sleeve in their hands – they were responsible for safety. How would washing machines come in handy then, but no one thought of them beforehand.

The “Fairytale” pioneer camp was faced with severe dust – children’s voices did not ring in it in the summer of 1986. The camp became a second home for those who lost their homes: for shift workers, miners, nuclear engineers, volunteers, metro builders. The station staff was resting at “Fairytale” between heavy shifts.

…Food was delivered to some territories by helicopter in response to the consequences of the accident. It was temporarily converted into a dining room – it was safer than eating in the open air with an increased radiation field.

A Ukrainian borsch with sour cream, mashed potatoes with a patty, an uzvar, fruits were delivered by helicopter, almost at home, in the native kitchen. But the laconicism of the staff, internal tension, the feeling that every minute that works against a person force to be in a hurry.

Life goes on…

Volunteers were seeking to Chernobyl from near and far sides. Someone was from Chita and Vladivostok, someone – from Tajikistan, someone – from Moscow. Bulldozerer, Kantarev Nikolai Andreyevich, wrote a letter to the Politburo and asked for permission to arrive at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant from Sakhalin.

Five days later, he had already controlled the radio maneuvers of the bulldozer-robot at the station site. His experience was very welcome. There were trains with volunteers. Chernobyl was waiting for its drivers, builders, installers, electricians, and so on.

Volunteer doctors 

All the main medical personnel of Chernobyl and Pripyat were called by telephone to their workplaces 15-20 minutes after the accident. But the doctors were not only on call, they were at the call of the heart, well aware that they are very necessary in the current extreme situation.

Special heroism was shown by doctors and ambulance drivers. It was they who carried out and removed from the burning fourth block of the Chernobyl nuclear power station more than a dozen injured on the night of the tragedy. Valentin Belokon, Pavel Tynyanov, Anatoly Gumarov, Anatoly Vinokur entered the crucible of the exploding reactor along with firefighters, helping to remove those who needed urgent medical care from there.

They were the first to lie on the table if someone needed a direct blood transfusion, and the last, according to the residual sign, they took prophylactic drugs. Later, they themselves would end up in hospital beds, having received a huge dose of radiation during the evacuation of the wounded. Ambulance cars cannot be put into operation or re-melting from that night – their radiation contamination is so high.

Chernobyl, Pripyat and their environs were deserted, as once – during the brown plague, when the Nazis, mixing people with cattle, almost completely shot the entire population of these places. After 45 years, the houses and streets are emptied again. Only occasionally the unshooted dogs continued to bark somewhere. Blossoming cherries and apples smelled unimaginably in the villages behind the huts.

Chernobyl is a big lesson

Chernobyl is a big lesson, it is a pity that it was given so bitterly, at the cost of empty houses, at the cost of orphaned collective farm fields, at the cost of the life of a huge number of those heroes who were the first to fight the consequences of the accident.

The word “heroism” was rarely uttered then, and even somehow quietly, as if shy of it. In addition, cases were already known when the thoughtlessness and irresponsibility of others hid behind the heroism of some. Why one had to work to the limit of human capabilities, clenching his will into a fist, clenching his teeth in pain, and paying with blood for what the party declared an “implacable battle”.

Complacency, incompetence, careerism, demagoguery, flattery – is this not the address of Chernobyl, and a number of other troubles. Decades would pass and the world would know the truth. But would it become that ultimate truth that would allow forgetting, forgiving, reconciling? And is this possible in principle?

Someone correctly observed that the only protection against an exploding, promising civilization death could only be civilization itself in those difficult days of the hot summer of 1986. But only sophisticated, equipped, having accumulated experience of heavy losses and bitter losses. The nuclear age has certainly multiplied the power of man.

The hand of a mere mortal holds a mighty power of thousands of megawatts today. After the Chernobyl tragedy, we have no right not to become harsher, more demanding, stricter towards ourselves, each individually and collectively. We do not just want, but are obliged to leave to our descendants the land in apple blossoms, in bird’s twitter, and not the cities overgrown with Chernobyl, and wheat, running wild behind the wire of dangerous zones.

The years are taking their toll. Life in the Chernobyl zone is gradually returning through the efforts of people. As the poet once said: “the joy embraced with sadness.”

Nevertheless, it will take a lot of time and efforts to return to the usual roadside wish for a “Bon voyage” located on the way to Chernobyl – its original meaning.