Thirty-five years ago, in April 1986, the largest disaster in history occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. It was possible to significantly reduce the number of victims and adverse consequences thanks to the courage of the liquidators. Until now, many enterprises employ people who know about the accident firsthand. Among them are employees of the Gazprom Dobycha Urengoy company. We decided to talk with them in order to remember how everything was, and to thank those involved for not letting down, not flinching.
On the night of April 26, 1986, an attempt to safely shut down the reactor of the fourth power unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant failed. At half past one in the night, an explosion thundered. 190 tons of radioactive substances got into the air, including isotopes of uranium, plutonium, iodine, as well as cesium and strontium. The cloud from the burning reactor carried these substances thousands of kilometers away. The entire population – more than 116 thousand people – was evacuated from the thirty-kilometer exclusion zone around the nuclear power plant. In subsequent years, another 270 thousand were resettled.
– I was ten years old then, I lived in the city of chemists Novomoskovsk, Tula region, which was seriously polluted. I remember how my brother and I were forced to drink a glass of milk with two drops of iodine every day and were not allowed to walk on the grass. A year later, unusually huge burdocks grew in the vicinity, ”recalls Maxim Dmitriev, head of the emergency and recovery operations department of the Gazprom Dobycha Urengoy company.
The technique was buried in the pit
Maxim learned the details of the April tragedy near Pripyat when he was already a student from the stories of the teachers of the military department of the Moscow Institute of Chemical Technology – former officers-liquidators.
– They talked about off-scale radiation and its consequences; about the advantage of domestic equipment over imported semiconductor equipment; about the disposal of graphite rods, scattered after the explosion for many kilometers; about how they buried new equipment in huge pits, because it was irradiated. These stories now and then featured a major general with a memorable surname – Tarakanov.
Later, already working in a gas corporation, I happened to meet him in Moscow. At a lecture on man-made disasters, he told how he led the operation to remove highly radioactive elements from especially dangerous zones of the nuclear power plant and how grateful to his soldiers who completed the task. Nikolai Tarakanov, by the way, often appears in documentaries and feature films about Chernobyl, he is a real hero, – says Maxim Dmitriev.
The city of Chernobyl in the Ivankovsky district of the Kiev region is located on the Pripyat River, not far from its confluence with the reservoir. The name of the city is translated as “black grass”. Before the accident, about 48 thousand people lived in Chernobyl.
– It was a warm day. Output. My mother and I gathered for the market in a neighboring town, stood for a long time at the bus stop and marveled at the endless column of empty passenger buses that drove past us towards Chernobyl. Only after some time did we learn about the tragedy. I was 15 then, I was finishing school. The younger brother, along with other children, was taken to a health camp. Our neighbors left for liquidation, and after three months they were gone. They did not tell anyone about the high dose of radiation, but at the same time the builders completely changed the roof in our house and the blind area near the road, even though we lived a hundred kilometers from the accident site. We went to the forest for berries, swam in the river. Now all this affects – the bones hurt, – says the assistant to the teacher of the Rosinka kindergarten Veronica Kumina.
Thousands of people from all over the Soviet Union fought an invisible enemy for four years.
– The deputy commander of the company Zabaev, you are leaving for the brigade of radiation, biological and chemical protection to eliminate the consequences of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as deputy battalion commander for political affairs, – the chief of staff of the tank regiment read the order to 24-year-old senior lieutenant Ivan Zabaev.
On March 12, 1987, the officer arrived in the village of Oranoe near Chernobyl, where the tent camp was located. Here is what Ivan Zabaev, a graduate of the Sverdlovsk Higher Military-Political Tank-Artillery School, chairman of the united primary organization Gazprom Dobycha Urengoy Trade Union, tells about those events:
– The tents were in even rows. In the morning, the camp came to life, after the formation of long columns went towards the station. At the border of the exclusion zone, we changed to “dirty” cars. I have done this way 62 times.
When I first found myself at the scene of the tragedy, I was struck by a huge concrete block of the station building, the walls of which could withstand the plane crashing into them. Against the background of the sky, the chimney of the power unit and the protective sarcophagus rose high. And inside the blocks there are more than five thousand rooms without windows. They were guided mainly by the colors of the corridors (bronze, silver and gold), and from them along the vertical stairs. A sense of danger appeared, but after a week it dulled.
First, the fighters and I reinforced the ceiling of the reactor hall wall. The radiation was so powerful that a person was allowed to be in the danger zone for two minutes per shift. During this time, you can climb the stairs and carry a bucket of mortar, lay a couple of bricks or a roll of lead. Two hundred people lined up in a chain and, one by one or in pairs, ran to the ceiling in order to do their part of the work. Sleep – no more than five hours every day. Tools – a jackhammer, saw, ax, shovel and garbage bags. They drank water only directly from the bottle. An invisible enemy is around – alpha, beta and gamma particles. And from the protection of the jacket and “petal” – a round white respirator.
Everyone understood that radiation was dangerous, there were no illusions about the consequences, but they selflessly carried out the assigned tasks.
Awarded 19 years later
For almost three months Ivan Zabaev worked with a battalion of soldiers at the station, and when the registration dose exceeded twenty-one roentgens, he was transferred to decontamination of villages in the exclusion zone, which, in general, was also unsafe. After such a business trip, health problems are assured. Ivan Vasilyevich was sent to the medical battalion for rehabilitation and examination at the Moscow Institute of Radiology. It would seem that the hero’s reward is guaranteed. However, the medal “For Military Merit” was awarded to Ivan Zabaev only 19 years later.
35 years have passed since the disaster. Humanity rejoices in the sun, flies into space, uses natural resources, drinks tap water and rarely remembers that tragedy. But if it were not for the heroism of the liquidators, radionuclides could spread over a much larger territory, destroying all living things. That is why it is so important to remember the lessons of Chernobyl and be grateful to those who stopped the raging atom.