Underwater intelligence officers in Chernobyl: we were on a government task
Underwater intelligence officers in Chernobyl: we were on a government task

After the Chernobyl accident, the Kiev expeditionary detachment of underwater technical works received another government task. Before the commissioning of the first and second power units of the Chernobyl NPP, it was necessary to undertake a survey of all hydraulic structures. Subsequently, almost every second diver who took part in the task died of radiation.

Yuri Rumyantsev is the Colonel of the Medical Service and a participant in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. When he received the award “For kindness and compassion”, there was a whisper in the audience. The participants in the celebration seemed to be asking each other what the sailor was doing to eliminate the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Indeed, Yuri Vladimirovich was in a naval uniform at the presentation of the award. Seeing the surprise in the audience, he smiled modestly. His memory reminded him of a 34-year-old picture. The surprise on their faces was familiar to him.

A similar reaction was to the appearance of officers in diving suits soon after the accident on the territory of the ChNPP. However, then the expeditionary detachment of intelligence divers was very much awaited at the Chernobyl NPP plant and carefully prepared for his arrival. The members of the detachment were the experienced divers. And almost every expedition took place at the risk of their lives.

A closed loop water supply system for reactors

Yuri Vladimirovich picks up a photograph of the station and shows the objects on it that seem incomprehensible. In fact, they are of great strategic importance in the operation of the nuclear power plant. They constitute a closed loop water supply system for reactors: a cooling pond, sluices, receiving chambers, water pipes. If there was a blockage somewhere in it, the risk of an inevitable catastrophe immediately arose. The reactor was explosive without cooling.

The members of the commission on liquidation of the accident at the NPP were well aware of this. Therefore, the detachment, commanded by the Captain of the 1st Rank A.Babenko, included professional divers. Each of them understood perfectly well that the expedition to the ChNPP was a government task. And to fulfill this task was a matter of honor. Nobody thought that they would have to stay in radiation water for 10-12 hours a day. Instead, there were plans in their heads how to quickly and efficiently clean the hydraulic pipelines. It was necessary to clarify which of them suffered the most from the accident. So, we dive directly under the objects.

Someone needs to take responsibility

Yuri Vladimirovich warmly talks about those with whom he had to carry out a government task. For example, the foreman of the diving expedition Sergei Martz served in the Baltic Fleet. He is a deep-sea diver. So, he repeatedly had to dive into the stormy sea, and rescue submarine crews. When he learned about the Chernobyl accident, he appealed to the command with a request to send him to Chernobyl. He wrote in a statement: “I want to be where I can be of greater benefit.”

Yuri Rumyantsev was also included in this detachment as a military doctor. He was a teacher at the Kiev Higher Naval Political School at that time. He lectured on the problems of life support for diving specialists. At one time, Rumyantsev graduated from a medical school and served as a medical assistant in urgent naval service. Then he entered the Leningrad Military Medical Academy. He practiced on a submarine and received a specialization as a military doctor on a naval ship.

It is quite understandable that his appointment to the detachment for the survey of hydraulic structures of the Chernobyl NPP was logical.

Someone needs to take responsibility and check the condition of the station’s hydraulic structures.

Colonel of the medical service Rumyantsev, together with health workers, developed an instruction on the safety of divers. It was critically needed in the face of a possible increase in the level of radioactivity in water to cool the reactors. But, as it turned out later, the instruction and the realities of the task are different things.

For example, a dredger, which was standing next to a NPP, was out of order due to the high level of radiation. The system of hydraulic structures was also contaminated with radiation. And all military divers knew about it. Putting on diving suits and spacesuits, they had to use shovels to clear the pipes and grates of the receiving chambers from debris.

Sealed sensors for radiometric monitoring of the state of the aquatic environment were placed on the underwater “armor” of the sailors. The sensors had to give a signal to the dosimetrist, who watched every step of the divers on the shore. A sensor signal was the warning of approaching a high radiation area. But for some reason the sensors were silent all the time.

Little-known feats of divers

Recalling the details of the survey of hydraulic structures, Yuri Vladimirovich said:

“We worked 12 hours a day. Exhausted and tired underwater intelligence officers instantly fell asleep in the cockpit of the ship “Uzbekistan”. This vessel was at the disposal of the sailors of the diving station. We looked at the sensors before the end of each watch. They recorded the minimum levels of radiation received. The guys and I were completely at a loss. Nobody knew whether to be happy about it or to be on the alert.

Somehow we decided to conduct an experiment. The sensors were placed near the pipe. According to radiation scouts, the contamination reached over a thousand roentgens. Our devices showed only tenths of an X-ray there. The conclusion became obvious to everyone. In fact, the radiation pollution of the water into which the divers descended every day was very high. After the experiment with the pipe, each of us was well aware of this. However, we deliberately took such a risk to our lives.

The servicemen also did the same, installing robots to dump debris from the roof of the destroyed reactor. Even the steel mechanisms quickly failed due to the hellish radiation. People were stronger. The sailors of our detachment were the same. How happy we were when we completed this difficult and extremely dangerous job. Hearing the good news that a test run of the first power unit of the NPP was carried out, we jumped like children. Unfortunately, almost every second diver subsequently died of radiation …”

Now, the Colonel of the Medical Service Yuri Rumyantsev is the head of the Military Medical Institute. He is the Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Military Medical Academy for Academic Affairs. Yuri Rumyantsev is the Honored Education Worker of Ukraine, Doctor of Medical Sciences, and Professor. His participation in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident was marked with many awards, including the medal “For Courage”.

Yuri Vladimirovich is especially proud of the distinctive sign “A hero of Chernobyl”. He also has a rare sign. Only 20 participants in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident received this sign. Each award is a symbol of a little-known feat of military divers who carried out a government mission.