Chernobyl and the KGB: "archival documents revived"
Chernobyl and the KGB: “archival documents revived”

The construction of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant started in May 1970. A city department of the KGB for Kiev and the Kiev region was created almost immediately in the city of power engineers of Pripyat. The emergence of this structural unit is due to the strategic status of the new building. At first, the 2nd counterintelligence department ensured the industrial security of important energy and strategic enterprises. From December 1982, the 6th KGB Directorate carried out these functions.

The committee workers of the 6th department of the capital’s KGB took part in economic counterintelligence and the protection of the scientific and technical complex of the Soviet state. There was the list of enterprises, controlled by the Committee of the Kiev region. The Chernobyl NPP was a strategic facility number 1. The history of the construction of the ChNPP remains in the “revived archival documents” of the republican State Security Committee. They recorded environmental, social and psychological “signals”. The Committee collected them before and AFTER the explosion at the 4th power unit.

Since the construction of the first NPP on the territory of the Ukrainian SSR, the UKGB has deployed a colossal network of agents. 9294 people and 40 subcontractors were under review of the Chernobyl regional department of the KGB. In the 1970s, KGB officers paid special attention to the so-called “operational continent” involved in the new building. The committee members focused their attention on representatives of the “unreliable segment of society”. These included citizens of German nationality, former members of the OUN, persons with contacts with capitalist countries.

Operational data of the KGB:

“OUN foreign centers are trying to intensify anti-Soviet actions in connection with the Chernobyl accident. They interpret the catastrophe that happened as a continuation of Moscow’s “genocide” against the Ukrainian people. The leaders of the OUN, through “specially trained tourists”, plan to organize the sending of such materials to the republic. Nationalists deliberately spread panicky rumors among Soviet citizens about an alleged “radiation threat.” They position “the danger of life in Ukraine” as a result of the deployment of nuclear power facilities on its territory. The KGB Committee is taking measures to counteract hostile actions of foreign OUN. The authorities contribute to the promotion of objective information abroad about the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, the course of their elimination.”

Agents and proxies

27 agents and 58 proxies carried out counterintelligence work at an important national economic facility. All of them took part in the main areas of work. According to the declassified archives, the Committee trusted agents “Magistr”, “Petrovich”, and proxies “Ivan”, “Tina”. They systematically identified gross violations of technological standards for construction and installation work, batches of defective products from suppliers. Also, the agents informed about the facts of negligence and theft of property by the responsible employees.

The State Security Committee timely informed the party bodies, the directorate of the ChNPP, the Ministry of Internal Affairs about the violations revealed. The reports of the counterintelligence officers had the heading “By way of information”. They reported the low quality of the construction of the strategic facility. The operatives recorded partial, and sometimes a complete lack of proper supervision by the People’s Control Committee.

Almost every report of the KGB bodies contained information about insufficient control over the observance of industrial safety. First of all, this concerned the management of the ChNPP construction. There was attention to the unsatisfactory selection, training, placement of NPP personnel, a high percentage of injuries among builders. Such warnings reached their maximum concentration during the launch of the next power unit.

In the first half of 1978, 122 people got injured from work accidents during the construction of a NPP.

From the materials of the KGB:

“February 15, 1982, at 04:50 a.m., a sudden opening of the main safety valve occurred at the ChNPP. This caused a water hammer and ruptured the steam manifold pipe. As a result of the incident, there was an emergency shutdown of the 3rd power unit of the ChNPP. What we have found. A pipe with a diameter of 800 mm has a wall thickness of 9 mm instead of the 12 mm provided for by the project.

Installation of pipes with reduced wall thickness due to the lack of design took place in October-November 1981. The Chernobyl Installation Department of the Southern heat and energy installation trust agreed the installation with the USSR Ministry of Energy. Recovery work will take 30 days. The daily underproduction of electricity will amount to 22.5 million kilowatt-hours due to the accident. A departmental commission is carrying out the investigation with the participation of the KGB. The State Security Committee of the republic took under control the activities carried out by the KGB. Experienced workers of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR went to the site.”

The construction of the ChNPP is fulfilled by the “assault method”

They tried to put the ChNPP into operation much earlier than planned. Its preliminary launch was timed to coincide with one significant date, then with another. It is noteworthy that calls for “storming” sounded from the lips of high-ranking officials. According to the instructions of the Union government, the commissioning of the 1st power unit had to happen in 1974.

However, the failure to fulfill plans for construction and installation works and the supply of equipment affected. These inconsistencies led to the postponement of the launch of the first stage to 1975. Subsequently, there was a number of inaccuracies. As a result, the launch was postponed again till the end of December 1976.

In May 1976, a visiting board of the USSR Ministry of Energy and Electrification took place at the ChNPP. According to the Committee, “the Ministry demanded at the meeting that the ChNPP had to be launched in 1976 at any cost.” The demand of the minister prompted the acting head of the Chernobyl regional department of the KGB Tereshchenko to take prompt action. He sent top secret alarming information to the head of the KGB for Kiev and its region, Major General N. Vakulenko.

It said: “The physical start-up of the first power unit is impossible and unacceptable in December 1976. This is the opinion of experts, agents, proxies, based on the realities of the state of affairs in the construction of the ChNPP. We have winter conditions. Moreover, given the current state of construction and assembly readiness, a premature start can lead to accidents. This will lead to a critical situation associated with radioactive contamination of the environment.” The country’s top party leadership sometimes listened to the opinion of specialists and counterintelligence officers. So, the plans for the construction of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had some corrections. The first reactor was commissioned only in December 1977.

Committee members urged to apply the measures of party pressure

The information messages of the State Security Committee of the Ukrainian SSR about the “operational situation at the ChNPP” were as warning as possible. The committee members urged “to apply measures of party pressure to persons involved in violations of construction technology and fire safety.’ However, party and government bodies often left such “timely signals” without a proper response.

The result was not long in coming. Emergency situations regularly occurred at the Chernobyl NPP. It happened due to non-observance of technological discipline, lack of professionalism of technical personnel, mistakes of designers. 9 accidents and 68 failures of the main equipment of the plant occurred before the explosion of the 4th power unit. It was the violation of safety precautions during the design tests. It led to the explosion of the fourth reactor of the ChNPP. Violations linked to each other by a chain reaction caused the largest environmental disaster of our time in terms of its consequences.

Materials of counterintelligence support for the construction and operation of the ChNPP illustrate the signs of stagnation of the command-administrative system in the USSR. The history of the construction of the ChNPP shows that the Soviet leaders attached great importance to the stability of the approved plans. So, they were extremely reluctant to the practice of adjusting them to the actual performance.

The construction of a NPP near Kiev demonstrated the Union’s problems not only in the field of nuclear energy. It revealed the pain points of the entire national economy of the USSR. The main disadvantages were low labor productivity, a shortage of labor and material resources. Also, another flaw was an imperfect production process control system.

“Chernobyl profile”

The KGB agents monitored the development of the situation related to the Chernobyl accident. So, they continued to function in Ukraine until the collapse of the USSR.

From the materials of the KGB:

“April 1991. The Western countries are carrying out a smear campaign. It`s about the so-called “next anniversary of Chernobyl”. It became known about the intention of residents evacuated from a 30-kilometer zone. They planned to gather in Kiev to express their discontent. Its base is an allegedly incorrect diagnosis of the victims being treated. The protesters intended to express to the authorities their disagreement with the amount of compensation for material damage. In addition, they wanted to say about the lack of a permanent residence permit in Kiev.

Inhabitants of “Troyeshina”, “Kharkovskoe shosse”, a part of the student youth planned to take part in the protest action. The KGB, in cooperation with the internal affairs bodies, implemented a set of measures to prevent possible negative manifestations. Extensive explanatory work was carried out on the places of residence, work and study of the evacuees in Kiev.

Similar work took place at the locations of operating and under construction nuclear power plants in the republic. Through operational capabilities, a deterrent effect was exerted on the inspirators and instigators of group actions. As a result of the measures taken, negative manifestations were not allowed in Kiev and other settlements of the republic.”

The documents of the undercover sources became the basis in a series of operational counterintelligence activities around the functioning of the Chernobyl NPP. Now, a declassified multivolume “Chernobyl profile” contains a significant amount of valuable information. It reveals the operational situation from the construction of the ChNPP in the protected area of Polesie to the moment of its sealing. Moreover, the profile sheds light on the background and the chronology of the accident. Also, it presents us the causes and extent of the disaster. In addition, it shows the minimization of the consequences of a man-made disaster.

On the one hand, the “Chernobyl profile” is a disguised symbol of the ideological struggle. But on the other hand, it’s an indicator of service to duty on the other. One may disagree with this statement. But history confirms this particular paradigm.