The Exclusion zone is the territory where time has stopped. Abandoned Pripyat, large and small villages and towns, of which over several hundred thousand people were resettled over several days in the stormy spring of 1986, are almost the only place in Ukraine where decommunization has not reached yet. Signage, road signs, abandoned buildings, posters, still recall the Soviet past, in which “the atom is a peaceful energy that works for the benefit of mankind.”
In 2000, the third, last of the Chernobyl nuclear power units, was stopped. Despite this, people still work here. A year later, the station was reorganized into the State Specialized Enterprise of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which should take care of safety on the territory of the nuclear power plant, control what is happening under the sarcophagus in the destroyed fourth power unit. About 9 thousand people worked at the nuclear power plant at the time of closure. Now, about 2 thousand specialists are working in Chernobyl and Slavutich.
The third power unit was once connected to the fourth, where the explosion occurred. It was on the third unit after the disaster that, if I may say so, it was not the largest radiation background, the critical was directly only at the epicenter of the explosion. The third power unit continued its work 14 years after the accident. And now, for almost 20 years, it was stopped.
There are more foreigners than Ukrainians here
To get to the Chernobyl NPP, you need to go through several levels of verification. The first is during a pass at the Dityatki checkpoint, where representatives of the National Guard carefully check the passports of visitors and the presence of people in the lists that are drawn up and agreed in advance. There is a stand of a company near the checkpoint that sells Chernobyl souvenirs. Magnets glowing in the dark, T-shirts with Chernobyl logos are designed mainly for foreign tourists. According to local kiosk workers, there are more of them than Ukrainians.
It is worth saying that visitors to the zone cannot fail to notice the atypically good roads, as for Ukraine. High-quality asphalt in the exclusion zone gave rise to jokes about Ukravtodor workers who “did their job honestly, because they do not want to shine here again, both literally and figuratively.”
The second level of verification is at the entrance to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The national guard is stricter here. Despite the fact that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant does not work, it remains a sensitive facility. Each “tourist” except for passport control, checking personal belongings, must go through a metal detector. The same procedure awaits guests at the exit from the station. The guard is worried that the guests do not take out things with an increased radiation background outside the confines of a sensitive facility. They are still full of them.
Before getting into the premises of the third power unit, visitors are given protective clothing: a protective respirator, a white coat and hat, and shoe covers on their feet. Of course, such ammunition does not save from large doses, but it will protect against radioactive dust. White color allows you to see if dirt has got on your clothes. If this happens, then the uniform is eliminated, if not, then it is enough to wash it in hot water, iron; and again you can put it on.
0.2-0.4 microsievert per hour is considered a safe level of radiation
There is no large radiation background at the third power unit. The object was spotless in the first years after the accident. However, there are warnings. According to Anton Povar, an employee of the International Cooperation and Information Department of the State Agency for the Management of the Exclusion Zone, the contractors who work at the fourth power unit “carry” radioactive dirt into the territory of the third power unit. It is from this that we must defend ourselves.
The working premises of the third power unit look like the premises of the destroyed fourth unit. They are “the best example of Soviet industrial architecture”: long corridors, dim lights, a few employees in uniform with dosimeters.
From time to time, devices squeak. This indicates an excess of radiation background… One gets the impression that you are on the territory of a top-secret Soviet facility. Today, those wishing to penetrate the secrets of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant have the opportunity to see the working premises of the third power unit.
In general, the industrial use of the Chernobyl NPP occupies about one third of the exclusion zone. The rest of the area is the Chernobyl Biosphere Reserve.
“… The place where we are is called the deaerator whatnot. In simple words, this is something like an industrial office,” Anton Povar explains. The machine room is on the left side, which is common to all Chernobyl units. The reactor building is on the right side. It is relatively clean here now: 0.2-0.4 microsievert per hour, which is considered a safe level of radiation for humans, the so-called natural background.
The most important room in any power unit of a nuclear power plant is the control panel. It is from this place that the operator regulates the operation of the reactor. The conductor shows the control panel. There are many sensors on it. Before the fatal accident of 1986, the central control panel of the fourth power unit looked the same. Now, after the explosion, the Shelter object is located on the site of the control panel.
Chernobyl personnel made mistakes, but they were not critical to safety
An employee of a state agency shows the well-known АZ-5 button on the control panel. According to one version, its author is a former Chernobyl engineer Nikolai Shteinberg. Clicking on this button 32 years ago, the fourth block was stopped. “This version suggests that commissioning tests were carried out at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The staff made mistakes, but they were not critical to safety.
The power unit had a number of design flaws. In fact, an accident occurred due to the pressing of the button АZ-5, which introduced protective controls into the reactor core. Protective equipment should stop the reactor, but they, on the contrary, dispersed it even more. Chernobyl experts did not know about this lack of reactor,” Anton Povar explains.
Most experts believe that the final cause of the explosion at the fourth Chernobyl NPP unit should be considered the design of the rods of the reactor protection control system. Their function is to stop the chain reaction. Shielding rods are the basic tool due to which the reactor is, in principle, controllable.
The reactor of the fourth power unit had a specific design of the absorber rods. They had graphite at the ends, whose properties are directly opposite: to accelerate the chain reaction. Under certain circumstances, it was believed that it was highly unlikely that instead of extinguishing the absorbent rods introduced positive reactivity into the reactor zone, in simple words, they accelerated it.
That is, under certain circumstances, the so-called “reactor brakes” performed the exact opposite mission. They squeezed the gas pedal with all their power. This was the fatalism of the rector’s design, which proved itself in full force on April 26, 1986.
A Concrete Wall: BEFORE AND AFTER
In August 1986, the Chernobyl communication systems, which were common for the 3rd and 4th power units, were disconnected. A concrete separation wall was erected in the engine room. Now, it has a memorial to senior cameraman Valery Hodemchuk, who died on the fateful April night of 1986.
One concrete wall divided the history of the nuclear power plant into BEFORE and AFTER. The dosimeter records an average of 8 microsievert / h here, and even 50 microsievert / h in some places. According to the first deputy of the Chernobyl NPP, the wall had to be sealed due to the installation of a new confinement, which became reliable protection from the radioactive residues of the destroyed block now.
The last location of the third block excursion is the engine room of the central pumps, which had to pump water to cool the reactor. Between the pumps and the active zone of the reactor, which is currently not working, no more than fifteen meters. At one time, these huge pumps ensured the safe operation of the reactor.
In addition to the commissioning of confinement, the Chernobyl leadership plans to successfully conduct hot tests at the spent nuclear fuel storage facility No. 2. The main task of the management is the safe operation of the station, and not just the development of tourism or the construction of a solar energy park, which was previously announced by the Ministry of Ecology.
Chernobyl decommissioning mechanism is launched
A mechanism is already working to decommission the Chernobyl NPP and transform the Shelter facility into an environmentally friendly system. It is planned to put into operation a nuclear fuel storage facility, an industrial complex for processing solid radioactive waste and a plant for processing liquid radioactive waste, as well as completing the construction of a new safe confinement and beginning work on the conservation of Chernobyl units in order to decommission the station cooling pond.
The further fate of the exclusion zone is not only the elimination of the consequences of the accident, but also the gradual transformation of the territory into an object that benefits Ukraine, and not only “absorbs state funds”.
The most effective way to develop the Chernobyl territory is to further expand the modern solar energy park, which was opened with the support of colleagues from Germany.
The Chernobyl NPP was a great fit for building a modern solar energy park. It was possible to preserve the necessary transport and energy infrastructure here. The Chernobyl NPP was often called the first nuclear power plant in Ukraine, where the decommissioning mechanism was launched, and the first on the basis of which modern international projects are being implemented. Today, Chernobyl is the first station in Ukraine that generates alternative energy.
It is very positive that the Chernobyl NPP has modern facilities again that can create marketable products – energy. In the long term, the expansion of the introduction of solar parks in the former contaminated territories will enable Ukraine to use these lands in economic activities.
This is a huge territory, but the most important thing is that not only foreign, but primarily our, Ukrainian experts are involved in servicing the modern ecological park for the creation and distribution of energy.
That’s why the eco-project in the exclusion zone can be a good springboard for the development of new environmental technologies in Ukraine, a symbol of change, a new page in the success story of Ukraine. The exclusion zone is open for the construction of solar stations.