Chernobyl: miners under the reactor
Chernobyl: miners under the reactor

As you know, miners were among those who worked to eliminate the consequences of the Chernobyl tragedy. They built a horizontal tunnel together with the installers, laying it directly to the base of the fourth power unit.

As a result, a huge concrete system filled with pipes and special equipment was mounted under the reactor. All this massive construction was supposed to eliminate the danger of groundwater contamination.

Miners memories

From the memoirs of Andrei Nosov, a drifter from the Nikulinskaya station, Tulaugol Production Association… “We were left after the night shift. They announced that an accident happened somewhere in Ukraine, and to help our comrades overcome their consequences as soon as possible, they need our help.

A volunteer brigade began to be recruited from the tunnels. We had no idea then that we were signing up for the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. We went home to warn relatives that we were leaving on a business trip. Where? How long? No one knew anything. But we were raised that way. We were told that we needed help – and we drove off. Voluntarily, no matter who speaks today.

A few hours later, a special flight flew from Domodedovo to Kiev, on board of which there were 150 volunteers of the Tulaugol. On May 12, we were in service along with comrades from the Donbass. They worked before on hard soils –this is their specialty. And sand was under the reactor. This has already been our work, for this we need other equipment, the so-called metro-construction shields developed by our Tula specialists. That is why we ended up in Chernobyl”.

Why were the miners in Chernobyl?

The 136-meter tunnel under the fourth reactor was built due to fear that secondary uranium could melt, and as a result, the secondary chain reaction could lead to another disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

In turn, this would lead to the melting of the support base plate of the reactor, and the so-called “melt” could hit groundwater with radiation, which, entering the Dnieper, carried the danger of complete contamination of the entire Black Sea basin.

Therefore, it was decided to build another special construction with heat exchangers under the foundation plate of the reactor – a plate that could cool the reactor due to the built-in heat-removing equipment.

From the memories of Ivan Alexandrovich, a fastener from the Novomoskovskaya station, Production Association Tulaugol… “388 people worked at this construction site. Of these, 154 miners were from the Moscow basin and 234 were miners from the Donbass. It was necessary in the shortest possible time, before approaching the base of the fourth power unit, to lay a 136-meter tunnel through which to lay rails for trolleys and lay the necessary communication facilities. They worked as a united, friendly family, not for a second interrupting the construction process.

Sometimes shovels literally were pulled out of each other’s hands – they worked like this, shoulder to shoulder, shift after shift, around the clock. There were a total of sixteen shifts, each working for three hours. Everyone very clearly understood his task, knew how much he should do in the allotted time. All shifts at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were combined into a “shift”, one shift was fifteen days”.

From the memoirs of Vladimir Naumov, the mining master from the Nikulinskaya station, Tulaugol Production Association… “The main problem was radiation itself. Its level was high in the place where we started working. But when we entered the face – radiation was within normal limits.

The work was carried out comprehensively by the forces of drifters, machine operators, electric fitters, drivers and bulldozers. With this composition, we carried out the laying of a tunnel under the 4th power unit. The last few meters we worked by hand. All this was done with the aim of creating an additional concrete “cushion” under the base of the reactor. Our design was dubbed so affectionately then, although for such a technically complex construction, this is not a completely objective name.

We approached the center of the reactor gradually, day after day. During this time, we selected several thousand cubic meters of soil, laid the fittings, carried out the installation of the necessary equipment, and concreted the worked out space. It was spoken little about radiation. Everyone knew that the equipment at the dosimetrists was constantly going wild.

There was a restricted area on the roof of the destroyed reactor, thousands of X-rays per hour, in the area where the remains of the nuclear fuel scattered by the explosion were lying – 400-500 X-rays per hour. For our work, the dosimetrists laid a more or less normal route by those standards. The only point at the back wall, where there were 200 x-rays, we just ran very quickly, in seconds. The pit itself was covered with a wrap to minimize the possibility of radioactive dust entering it”.

Mining master Boris Karasev recalls that he came to Pripyat from the Tulaugol association: “Twenty mine shaft sinkers worked with me. There, underground, the count went on for minutes. My shift shipped 42 trolleys of soil in three hours , almost half a ton each, transported it to the pit and delivered a portion of the reinforcement allocated for installation under the base of the reactor. Each worker was handed over for the subsequent installation of pipelines and cooling equipment together with the miners from the Donbass.

Enthusiasm, especially among young guys, was off the charts. Ideology and education in those days were built on an active civic stand. Who is a if not we? As a souvenir, they wanted to take a piece of a broken-off stone fragment from the last place in the face above the reactor’s heel hanging over the heads. Everyone understood that concrete would soon fill the last part of the “pillow”, and no one would ever be able to touch the base of the reactor. But we were not allowed to pick up the “souvenir”, this is understandable”.

The radiation shaft

Everyone, who labored under the reactor, worked, it would seem, in non-natural conditions. But people were not ordinary. The miners will always understand each other perfectly: by gestures, by eyes, on fingers, like submariners under water, paratroopers in the air. They completed their task ahead of schedule. And to this day, a concrete wall has remained under the reactor, in which refrigeration equipment is mounted.

This was done by young miners aged 25-30 years, working in the most difficult and dangerous conditions. They had only “petals” of the radiation protection equipment, which were inconvenient to work with, they and their clothes were immediately soaked with. And then few thought seriously about the consequences.

Miners often say that they sang songs on the bus at the beginning of the trip, on the way from Boryspil to Chernobyl, everyone had some kind of high spirits. After serving a titanic heavy shift at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, on the way home, many cried, as if they had visited the war, all of them was a nervous wreck.

At home, relatives said that during the business trip, the miners aged several years. After a while, some began to lose their teeth, problems with the functioning of internal organs appeared. Permanent visits to doctors began. Many of the miners-volunteers did not even live to be 40 years old.