Not everyone is ready to believe it, but the information that a student detachment worked in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the summer of 1987 is true. It was important to understand the practical study of the radiation situation in the contaminated Chernobyl territories for fourth and fifth year graduates and students of the Obninsk Institute of Atomic Energy.
A group of volunteers from the OIAE decided to spend the summer holidays in 1987 at Chernobyl in order to accumulate practical experience. Young people who arrived at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just a year after the accident, were subject to all the safety requirements, students described their observations and discoveries in diaries that have survived to this day.
The most creative piece of an unusual summer vacation in Chernobyl was the student newspaper “Stalker”, which, along with the practical experience of students, captured their everyday life and holidays. This material is based on its chronicle.
“Childhood ended immediately as soon as we crossed the exclusion zone,” students of the Obninsk Institute of Atomic Energy, who arrived at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the summer of 1987, recalled. All at once somehow simultaneously matured. It was impossible otherwise. Anyone who somehow became involved in the Chernobyl tragedy – it changed once and for all.
A special squad of students fully felt this on themselves from the first day of the “summer vacation”. It was formed mainly from dosimetrists. It was difficult to get into it – the best were selected from the mass of received applications. The local committee of the Komsomol was engaged in selection, presenting trips to Chernobyl only to the most worthy. The detachment had its own commander and its commissioner, all as if in the charter.
The first was with experience in Pripyat immediately after the Chernobyl accident, as they say, the combat commander was Nikita Konstantinov. The Commissioner was one of the volunteers who helped build houses in the Kiev region in the summer of 1986 for migrants from Pripyat, Chernobyl and the nearest villages. They did not think about the name of the detachment for a long time, then every second read the Strugatsky brothers, so it was decided to draw a parallel between “Picnic on the sidelines” and name the student detachment “STALKER”.
Student teams in Chernobyl
Students arrived at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on June 30, 1987. The shock of the abandoned Pripyat was the first thing that everyone would remember. The external emptiness, and the internal emptiness from the dead landscape that once struck everyone in the once noisy city life – such emotions remain in memory for a lifetime.
Then there was an acquaintance with Chernobyl employees. Their calmness, confidence and, until automatism, a well-functioning, almost autonomous working capacity also surprised students a lot. Children’s vanity and mockery of each other about funny bonnets on his head ended as soon as everyone was given passes to the Zone. Almost everyone was seized with pride and excitement upon receipt of the personal dosimeter DP-5, as if they, as fighters at the front, had been given personal weapons to fight the enemy.
Radiation, in fact, was the same enemy, only invisible, and therefore it was more difficult to deal with it. Emotions faded into the background on the first day of work. His workplace was determined by production necessity for everyone. You should be where you would bring the maximum benefit.
Harsh army law spread throughout the exclusion zone. Tests for courage, endurance, and professionalism began with a checkpoint, where young guys from the first group of the student squad stood up as the dosimetrists for the entire shift – in dust, in the hum and soot of cars, in the heat, in a deadly uncomfortable respirator, without squatting for a minute. The conveyor through the checkpoint was the equipment to be processed.
The students had the hardest responsibility: not to let radioactive dust pass through the checkpoint to a clean area. Sometimes a man’s integrity was required, sometimes toughness, because not every driver understood that everyone had their own work front, and the situation that had developed at that time in the zone did not endure haste. It must be said that the students did everything with honor that they were entrusted with.
The Department of Radiation Safety in Pripyat was the place of deployment of the second group of students at the OIAE. Later this brigade would be called the most disciplined in the Zone. Its difference was mobility, strict discipline, clarity in the implementation of the task, the utmost organization. The merit in this was primarily the head of the radiation safety department V.V.Zhilinsky. You couldn’t work on another dosimetric – he was responsible for all the people working in the Zone.
Students with RB armbands on their sleeves worked in a radiological reconnaissance unit — they prepared cartograms of various Chernobyl facilities, were on duty at sanitary inspection rooms, prepared reports and an analysis of the radiation situation in the Zone. They had no right to make mistakes and concessions in work.
The third group of students worked under the guidance of S.K.Revina in a real scientific laboratory – the department of external dosimetry at the laboratory of the environment. Future young specialists analyzed soil pollution in the exclusion zone, studied water arteries and monitored the air condition.
The guys had to go to the area of direct explosion of the fourth power unit – to the remains of an atomic reactor – to take radioactive samples. Similar soil samples were taken from the territory of the “red forest”. Similar dosimetric measurements were carried out from a helicopter — students risked no less than their senior colleagues, but not once, nor any of them did succumb to panic — work was more important, whatever fears and risks.
It is worth saying that students were completely trusted – their studies sometimes surprised older, and therefore more experienced colleagues. Nevertheless, the results of drinking water quality carried out by students, as well as the agricultural prospects of the soil, the degree of radiation hazard with the usual inhalation of contaminated air, formed the basis of the analytical workflow prepared by the scientific collegium at the Chernobyl operational headquarters.
Leaving Chernobyl, students of the OIAE wrote in their newspaper “STALKER” the following words: “Trust obligates, and trust in the Chernobyl Zone obligates three times. I’d like to believe that we justified the trust”.
Years will pass, the uninhabited streets of Pripyat, grass growing through the tile of the sidewalk that no one walks on, abandoned villages flickering in the window of a helicopter will forever remain in the memory of young volunteers from among the students of the Institute of Nuclear Power Engineering. And the invaluable experience of solidarity, self-sacrifice and friendship was left behind — all this cannot be destroyed by radiation, it cannot be washed away like radioactive dust, it is like Chernobyl for life.