Chernobyl hazardous liability
Chernobyl hazardous liability

Over the years, the number of participants in the liquidation of the Chernobyl accident has become less and less – their life “stubbornly undermines the peaceful atom.” But while they still live among us, it is possible to collect their memories of that terrible tragedy bit by bit, so that from them, like from puzzles, we can put together a real picture of the universal tragedy, the consequences of which we will feel for hundreds of years.

Kiev citizen Georges Ivanovich Shanaev turned 82 years old, and 33 years ago he was engaged in sealing the Shelter object over the fourth Chernobyl power unit destroyed by the explosion.

In the early 1980s, Shanaev took part in the implementation of the sealing technology of station structures at the Chernobyl and Rivne NPPs. He had enormous professional experience at that time, for which he, as a highly skilled specialist, was awarded the USSR State Prize in the field of science and technology.

When the Chernobyl accident happened, Shanaev worked as the head of the underwater bonding technology group at the Institute of High-Molecular Compounds Chemistry of the NAS of Ukraine. Knowing about the scientific and technological achievements of the institute, high government officials turned to this place. They needed the qualified help of a specialist in sealing walls and roofs of the Shelter, which was popularly called the “sarcophagus”, which was being built then over the destroyed power unit of the nuclear power plant.

The local leadership entrusted this responsibility to the technologist Shanaev: they say, if he knows how to seal under water, then, of course, he can do it on the ground …

“… In October 1986, they took me out of the house at night and brought me by car directly to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,” Georges Ivanovich recalls.

At the headquarters of the government commission for the elimination of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, the deputy minister of secondary engineering of the USSR, Usanov, immediately asked if I could guarantee that sealing the joints between the wall plates and the roof of the facility would withstand 50 years? To which I replied with caution that I am only a technologist by profession, not a chemist, and I do not know how polymer adhesives will behave under the influence of radiation. I was aware that such a decision was tantamount to signing a sentence to myself in case of non-compliance with the deadline.

Then, the official “lowered the standards” to one year and explained that now, there is a very high level of radiation around the fourth power unit, and people work there around the clock. Therefore, for their safety, it is necessary to minimize the radiation level at least for a year, in order to begin the construction of a new capital shelter.

I risked agreeing to this period. Moreover, during the preparatory work on sealing, I convinced officials to refuse the offer of the Swedes to buy polymers from them.

I argued that they are not only much more expensive, but also worse in quality from KIP-D foam polymer glue, which was produced by the Kiev Chemicals Plant. It was also very risky: if there were any problems, everyone would blame me. This could end tragically.”

We worked around the clock sleeping in cots

To carry out work on sealing the “sarcophagus”, Shanaev invited four more employees of his institute and created a special design and technology group. A couple of weeks later, a special training ground was urgently built near the station to test the developed technologies.

All projects of auxiliary equipment, their manufacture, experimental work, and, regardless of the conditions, training of auxiliary personnel, the direct implementation of sealing work at the Shelter itself, all this was carried out around the clock by conveyor methods. Free time was only for eating and sleeping – we slept in cots, because we lived in kindergarten.

Shanaev and his colleagues developed three sealing technologies, two of which were applied, namely, sealing the roof and vertical gaps that formed during the installation of walls made of massive steel structures.

Prepared structures were installed by a German-made remotely-controlled self-propelled Demag crane-robot, which could lift a 600-ton load, so considerable gaps appeared. To seal them, foam rubber tapes were cut, which were impregnated with foamed polymer glue.

But for sealing the roof, we came up with real know-how: sealing cigars were attached to the structural elements of the roof. They were 40-meter canvas bags filled with expanded clay and impregnated with an adhesive composition, which were laid on the ceiling pipes. At first, this invention was supposed to be coated with concrete with a thickness of 60 centimeters, then the thickness was reduced to 20 centimeters.

But such a decision is fraught with delayed subsidence of pipes and the destruction of the roof, which would inevitably lead to the release of radioactive substances into the air. Therefore, Shanaev insisted that the concrete be replaced with light expanded clay, in response to this, he felt misunderstanding and fierce opposition – there were even threats of criminal liability in the event of failure of this venture …

Conditional Security

As the work manager himself admitted, it was not possible to achieve 100% sealing, because installation work was carried out remotely, and it was simply impossible to completely fill the cracks. However, according to official conclusions, the level of radiation decreased by almost 500 times after the construction of the Sarcophagus, including due to the sealing of Shanaev.

Although, as Georges Ivanovich says, these data are hardly worth believing, because it is now known that most of the information about the radioactive contamination of that time turned out to be unreliable. Those who submitted it to senior management simply had to do this in order to embellish the situation and avoid strict responsibility.

In particular, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine Volodymyr Scherbitsky was then informed that

“… the entire Shelter object is completely sealed. All measures have been taken to prevent the removal of radioactive dust and aerosols from the destroyed reactor… ”

The commissions that adopted individual systems expressed many shortcomings, in particular, regarding the compaction of structural joints. It was necessary to carry out these works as soon as possible …

“In general, the sealing of the Shelter was very difficult not only technologically, because nothing like this had been done before, but also psychologically,” Georges Ivanovich says.

Each decision I made could have serious consequences. Therefore, when two months later, I escaped from this hell home, I could not adapt to a normal life for several weeks. Even the smiles of people, the music and the laughter in the streets annoyed me.

Radioactive exposure also affected less than a year later, because we worked next to the fourth unit. In fact, nobody controlled the radiation doses received. First, vision deteriorated significantly, rheumatic pains began, then internal organs became ill.

In the end, I was assigned the second disability group, which I am still on. Although I had a lot of time to prove that it was all connected with Chernobyl, because the documents about my stay there strangely disappeared from the institute’s archive… ”

And yet, despite his illnesses and venerable age, Georges Shanaev not only has an active way of life, he prepares scientific and technical publications, draws paintings, writes poetry and performs concerts, but also supports other disabled people, attracting them to various art exhibitions.

He even organized a permanent exhibition-gallery of their works “Enduring Spirit”. After all, he himself is from this unbending cohort of Chernobyl liquidators who, at the cost of their own health, and some of their lives, saved thousands of other people from the “peaceful” atom.