In this story full of corruption, delusion, and incompetence, the only encouraging factor is the heroism of the men and women who fought to overcome the tragedy. Firefighters, electricians, nursing staff all raced to the field without any safety gear and gave themselves up to radiation. ‘Counting Lives’ was the term of the Soviet Union bureaucracy. Calculate coldly and precisely how many people should expect to die to accomplish a particular mission. Mathematics was as straightforward as the mission was challenging. The lives of three men outweighed the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. As Alexander Akimov noted, ‘Fear is worse than radiation’.
In the past few days, Soviet military helicopters had been circling over the damaged reactor, the roof of which had been swept away, representing a half-shut eye and emitting deadly harmful doses of radiation. Intense steam generation then spread throughout the whole core (fed by water dumped into the core due to the rupture of the emergency cooling circuit) causing a steam explosion and releasing fission products to the atmosphere. These consequences could easily lead to one more radioactive explosion and destroy the whole city, poisoning water supplies for eternity.
Who are Chernobyl Drivers?
Three heroic men sacrificed themselves with no hesitation to open the locked door under the water. These men received the name ‘Chernobyl Divers.’ Prior to the actual catastrophe, the workforce at the nuclear reactor had been reassured of the safety of nuclear power. It was claimed that there was only one big catastrophe in the Soviet Union. But the truth is there were 14 of them, all of which had been hidden, so as not to affect the credibility of the communist project. At that time the fact was hidden that the actual trigger of this disaster was control rods with graphite edges, which had lead to power surges that resulted in Chernobyl explosions.
In the first few minutes after the initial explosion, the Geiger-Muller counters in the central control room were stuck at 3.6 – a safe reading. However, they were only designed to go up to 3.6! The actual reading was 15,000!
Akimov and Toptunov were eager to save the situation, but they didn’t see the full scape of the event. Because of a wrong assumption, they were subjected to the radiation for a while The men both died in sufferings and terrible pain.
The first firemen on the scene were the squad of the power station. There were reports later saying they were unaware of the dangers. Fighting the fire for several hours, they all were exposed to the deadly radiation that caused an extremely sharp pain in the chest. The exposure to such radiation levels caused dizziness, hacking coughing, sickness, etc. On the 6th day, the government called all the recruiters and requested them to apply for a life-threatening operation. They were all told in depth about what was going to happen in the event of a failure. Their families were persuaded to remain silent about the circumstances and given a major payout if their family member passed away.
The team of three who knew the information needed for the completion of this operation went under the water to unblock the door and open the access to the valve. The trio suited up and entered the radioactive waters of the flooded chamber. However, Baranov’s lamp failed and so Ananenko and Bezpalov were forced to find their way by touch and by following the main pipe. All three successfully returned to the ground, experiencing severe radiation sickness, but were proud and happy to see their workmates jump with exhilaration at the news that the valves were now accessible.
The day after, 20,000 tons of radioactive water was drained out, and a later investigation indicated that if this had not been done, a thermal explosion would have happened. All survived after being exposed to hazardous doses of radiation. The first of the three divers died from a heart attack in 2005, others are still alive, one is still working.
Ananenko, Bezpalov, Baranov – actual rescuers of the western world.
You can take Chornobyl weekend tour and see the whole history through your eyes.