Firefighters, military men and scientists became heroes-liquidators in the post-accident period. The media were happy to tell about cooks, students and singers who came to the liquidation area of the accident. Only one category of citizens was bypassed: the actual workers of the Chernobyl NPP. The personnel of the ChNPP waited only for the investigation, courts and … silence.
Newspapers didn’t report that thousands of people worked daily in the vicinity of the destroyed block. They simply, not at all heroically, carried out their official duties and solved new tasks. They canned and then launched the units again, drained water, restored equipment. Moreover, they accompanied military and scientists visiting dangerous places every day.
There was only one reason: the Soviet Union couldn’t accept that the RBMK had any shortcomings. The highest authority decided to make the management and specialists of the Chernobyl NPP the main culprit. A human factor is to blame, but not the designers, developers or scientists. However, the actions of operating personnel in the days before and after the accident are documented and well-known. Although the data were initially declassified, many researchers studied them later.
The entire course of the pre-emergency and emergency processes was analyzed using registration data from various devices, information and computing systems. In particular, standard self-recording devices with a corresponding chart tape, a centralized control system and a program for diagnostic registration of parameters.
So, what did the workers of the Chernobyl NPP do wrong if their actions led to the largest nuclear accident?
Many Soviet experts had strong arguments and managed to convince the IAEA that the ChNPP personnel had violated the Regulations. As a result, the international group on reactor safety used this version as the main one. And according to this theory, all the blame for the Chernobyl disaster got to the personnel of the station and power unit. Design flaws of the reactor, pointed out in the conclusions of the government commission, were actually reduced to zero. This version became the basis for a severe verdict of the Supreme Court against the workers of the ChNPP.
It is significant that within the framework of a criminal investigation, it was no longer possible to convict the main perpetrators. They died as a result of acute radiation sickness. However, the country needed culprits. So, the authorities changed the way and condemned others. The state prosecution named a dereliction of professional duty to be one of the “main causes” of the accident.
“… The management of the ChNPP organized a rash experiment from the scientific and technical point of view. Insufficiently well-organized tests led to the disaster. In addition, the ChNPP management did not provide necessary professional training for the personnel serving the reactors. It also reacted negligently to the organization of discipline control in the workplace.”
Such accusations became the basis for a “fair sentence”. After the trial, there was a possibility that these accusations could become a reason for provocations against the law enforcement agencies of the USSR. Based on this, they were completely classified for many years. Until now, some are trying to understand what was actually more secret: materials of the investigation or the court.
Materials of the court documentation:
A witness, the shift supervisor of the ChNPP: A local critical mass formed in the reactor. This contributed to the acceleration on fast neutrons. As a result, it cut the channels. A steam got into the reactor space, where was a breakdown of the “E” scheme. After that, the explosion took place. If we proceed from the conclusions of the government commission, only the personnel servicing the reactor at the time of the accident is to blame. But I strongly disagree with this…
The chairman of the Court: You are not testifying as an expert on the conclusions of the government commission. Keep your disagreement to yourself.
A witness: The reactor was as if on a powder keg almost all the time. It could explode under certain circumstances. And, as it turned out, it could from the first days of its operation. I’m convinced that the staff didn’t suspect that the reactor goes into an explosive state when operating at low power. Moreover, the Regulation doesn’t indicate that the reactor automatically becomes explosive when there are less than 15 absorber rods in the core. No one could even imagine such a thing. If a person does not know about the imminent danger, he will consistently carry out a planned test program to the end.
An expert: You noted that a local critical mass has formed in the reactor. What are the arguments supporting this fact?
A witness: The main argument is that the reactor had a design with a positive steam effect. And this is a violation of nuclear safety standards. The positive effect led to the acceleration of the reactor. However, according all physics textbooks, this should not be.
An expert: If automatic regulators worked, would there be a critical mass?
A witness: Regulators are useless here. They are at the top of the core, but not at the bottom. The steam effect took place directly in the reactor. The rods went down displacing the neutron field. As a result, a critical mass formed below.
A prosecutor: What would be the consequences if the ChNPP personnel did not deviate from the requirements of the Regulations? Should we believe that nothing could stop the catastrophe?
A witness: I think so. If we followed the rules of the Regulations, the reactor could still explode. This is a consequence of the positive steam effect.
The reactor has been working for many years
An expert: Do you mean that after studying the causes of the accident, you know what exactly caused the accident?
A witness: Yes, we examined all the options, but there is still no final understanding of the cause of the disaster. And there is the only obvious fact. A reactor of this type had to explode sooner or later.
The chairman: Nevertheless, it is also obvious that this reactor has been operating for many years.
A witness: Safety measures were taken after the accident at the ChNPP. So, the positive steam effect of reactivity has decreased. But the accident could have occurred not only at the ChNPP, but also at other facilities of the nuclear industry. The whole reason is the unfinished RBMK reactor. Although everyone cultivates a different version for some reason, the plant personnel are to blame for the accident. The staff is also to blame, but not to the extent that the court determined. We were doomed to make a mistake, as we were working in an unsafe reactor without knowing it.
The trial passed quickly. Those who adhered to the official point of view of the causes of the accident took part as witnesses. Only few have expressed a desire to understand the reasons that prompted the operators of the ChNPP to act as they did. So, there is the question: what is the Regulations? Why has this document turned out to be so easy to violate, and with such disastrous consequences?
A detailed analysis of the actions of the Chernobyl NPP personnel, who were on duty on the night of the accident, appeared only in 1991. After its public coverage, some earlier conclusions of the government commission turned out to be wrong. However, very few people worried about this. The press didn’t shout about it. And the government didn’t make statements.
The first thing that should be emphasized is the fundamental difference between the violation of the Regulations and the wrong/erroneous actions of the ChNPP personnel. If the Regulation develops correctly, then the operational documentation will be the same. So, the wrong actions of the personnel simply could not occur with strict adherence to them. The analysis of the ChNPP personnel`s actions, published in the report of the international experts of the IAEA, revealed only 4 violations of the Regulations. And only one of these could insignificantly affect the occurrence of the accident.
Experts disclaimed responsibility
Experts didn’t come to a consensus: is RBMK explosive or not? The controversy continued even after the reactor exploded. The reason is obvious. If it is explosive, then the reactor does not meet international standards. And since it doesn’t meet safety standards, the experts have their hands tied. In such a desperate situation, they would have to name the real perpetrators of the tragedy. This meant that its developers, that is, themselves, were to blame for the explosion of the reactor.
Proceeding from this, the experts-developers of the reactor got the “second choice”. The following conclusion became the ultimate truth: “The reactor is safe in professional operation. We excluded the possibility of an explosion completely.” So, the operational documents say nothing about the possible risks.
As for other violations of the Regulations, there is no consensus on this score. The “enthusiasm” of the prosecutors totals from three to fifteen violations of the Rules. Well, since you can read the main operational document in two ways, how can you adhere to it at all?
The accident, in the technical possibility of which no one could believe, was qualified by experts as absolutely incredible. But, nevertheless, this absolutely hypothetical accident did happen. This happened due to the pressing of the emergency protection button by the personnel of the Chernobyl NPP. Thus, the Soviet court ruled that the people who directly “pressed the button” became culprits for the accident.
The subsequent actions of the leadership, which tried to “save face”, simply continued the logical chain of “assigning the guilty”. The leadership of the ChNPP was condemned. And the personnel were forever branded. Those who disagreed were fired. The dead were generously forgiven. And the creators of the reactor got rewards. The only reason why all the materials of the court were classified is the need to preserve the “face” of the Soviet legal system. The secrecy collapsed at the moment when the full picture of events became apparent to the whole country.