By Nikolai Nesvitenko
Photographs by Vladimir Rushnikovsky and Yevgeni Kireyev
As seen by Soviet Life Magazine, February 1986
THE UKRAINE generates 260 billion kilowatt-hours a year, or nearly one-fifth of all the
power in the Soviet Union. Nuclear energy makes up 15 per cent of that total today and is expected to grow through the end of
the nineties. Correspondent Maxim Rylsky talked with Vitali Sklyarov, Minister of Power and Electrification of the Ukraine,
about the republic's power industry.
Q: What is the Ukraine's nuclear power industry like today?
A: We are planning to build large power-generating complexes of four to six million kilowatts with huge reactor unit capacities like the Zaporozhye plant in the southern Ukraine. the first phase of which is already in operation. or the Chernobyl plant in the northwestern part of the republic. I might also mention the power-generating complex on the Yuzhnyy Bug River, which, together with the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, ensures the most effective utilization of nuclear power. The Khmelnitskiy Nuclear Power Plant in the western Ukraine and a nuclear plant on the Crimean Peninsula are also under construction. The Ukraine will be the first republic in the Soviet Union to have a commercial nuclear plant for heat and power. Its capacity will be two million kilowatts. The plant will heat the Black Sea port city of Odessa, which has a population of over one million. The heat from its exhaust steam will be used in growing vegetables, fruit and mushrooms, fish and poultry farming, and irrigating fields with warm water.
Q: Nuclear plants are being built close to big cities and resort areas. How safe are they?
A: The odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years. The plants have safe and reliable controls that are protected from any breakdown with three safety lines. The lines operate independently without duplicating one another. New equipment with higher reliability is being developed. Pilot models are tested under conditions similar to working conditions. The environment is also securely protected. Hermetically sealed buildings, closed cycles for technological processes with radioactive agents and systems for purification and harmless waste disposal preclude any discharge into the external environment. Nuclear plants are ecologically much cleaner than thermal plants that burn huge quantities of fossil fuel.
Q: Who works at the nuclear power plants?
A: There are several institutes and universities in the republic that train personnel for the plants. Professions and trades concerned with servicing nuclear equipment are also growing in popularity in the Ukraine. Young people come to us willingly.
|Vitali Sklyarov, Minister of Power and Electrification of the Ukraine.|
|The main hall of the first energy block at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.|
|From left to right: Radiation supervisor Alexander Bayev, metrological engineer Anna Korikova and steam turbine operator Boris Chernov.|
|A new shift coming on duty.|
WHEN the turbine plant in Kharkov, the second largest city in the Ukraine, dispatches
another turbine, 60-year-old designer Yuri Kosyak is sure to see it off.Designing turbines was something he had dreamed of
from his early teens. World War II, however, put an end to the dreaming.
It wasn't until 1952 that he became a student at the Kharkov Polytechnic Institute, where he was struck by the idea of designing turbo generators for nuclear power plants.
After graduation Kosyak was hired by the Kharkov Turbine Plant. The hardworking and talented engineer was soon appointed deputy, and several years later, head of the design office specializing in turbine units for nuclear plants.That was in the sixties. By that time Kharkov machine builders had made great headway in developing the Soviet nuclear power industry.The capacity of the turbines put out by the plant was growing with every passing year. The creation of 500,000-kilowatt units was a landmark.
However, when we started developing 750,000- kilowatt units, the designer recalls, We realized that a further increase in capacity would be restricted by the physical properties of the materials. It was necessary either to increase the size of the turbine blades, which would increase the stress on them, or to slow down the speed of rotor revolution. Kharkov designers chose the second route.
They devised turbines with a speed of revolution that was 50 per cent lower than that for ordinary units. It was these new turbines that turned out to be so economical that they served as the prototype for one-million-kilowatt sets. Now Kharkov designers have developed a two-million-kilowatt unit.
Kosyak's favorite saying is that truth is born out of controversy. (Truth, for him, is a turbine.)
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO the town of Pripyat was not marked on the map of the Ukraine. It grew up
around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the republic's first, which began operation in 1977. The plant presently
produces four million kilowatts a year. The town, which was named after the river along which it was built, is made up mostly
of young people. The average age is 26. Pripyat's residents are not disturbed by the fact that they can see the nuclear
power units from the windows of their apartments. The units resemble a ship with white superstructures on deck. Radiating
from the ship are the openwork pylons of power transmission lines. Vladimir Korobeinikov, Candidate of Science (Engineering),
the plant's chief ecologist, says that even before the first unit was started up, mobile laboratories recorded the
natural radiation background within 50 kilometers of the plant. They tested the flora and fauna, the air and water. Every
year since then the same tests have been made and their results compared. The reactors have in no way affected the health of
the environment. The station is ecologically pure.
I have examined many nuclear power plants in the Soviet Union,Korobeinikov said. The radiation environment is unchanged everywhere. However, this does not mean that man's interference in nature has had absolutely no effect. You can't expect the environment to remain as it was when a town springs up in a land of lakes and forests, and a huge project involving thousands of mechanisms is built. That is why scientists are studying the total impact the new industrial center is having on the environment.
For one thing, the plant's cooling pond, which covers 20 square kilometers, is being monitored. Its warm water is the domain of a large-scale fishery that supplies fresh fish to stores in Pripyat all year round, while its banks have been taken over by anglers. The water is purified with such thoroughness that the concentration of harmful substances is below the threshold of sensitivity of measuring instruments. Total Safety Nikolai Fomin, the plant's chief engineer, believes that both man and nature are completely safe. The huge reactor is housed in a concrete silo, and it has environmental protection systems. Even if the incredible should happen, the automatic control and safety systems would shut down the reactor in a matter of seconds. The plant has emergency core cooling systems and many other technological safety designs and systems. Boris Chernov, 29, a steam turbine operator, moved to Pripyat after graduating. from a power engineering institute.
I wasn't afraid to take a job at a nuclear power plant. There is more emotion in fear of nuclear power plants than real danger. I work in white overalls. The air is clean and fresh; it's filtered most carefully. My workplace is checked by the radiation control service. If there is even the slightest deviation from the norm, the sensors will set off an alarm on the central radiation control panel. Pyotr Bondarenko, a shift superintendent in the department of labor protection and safety review, graduated from the nuclear power department at the Odessa Polytechnic Institute. He maintains that working at the station is safer than driving a car. Robots and computers have taken over a lot of operations, he explained.
Nonetheless, the occupational safety and health agency requires that all personnel strictly abide by the rules and regulations. In order to hold a job here, you have to know industrial safety rules to perfection and pass an exam in them every year. Town First, Station Second Vladimir Voloshko, the current mayor of Pripyat, was among the first settlers who came to build the town in 1970. Sands, forests and water meadows that's what this area 150 kilometers from Kiev was like back then.
We were building the town and the plant at the same time, but the town was moving ahead somewhat faster because the builders wanted to live in comfortable apartments, the mayor explained. Today the town is made up of people belonging to more than 30 different nationalities from all over the Soviet Union. The streets abound in flowers. The blocks of apartments stand in pine groves. Each residential area has a school, a library, shops, sports facilities and playgrounds close by. In the morning there are few people around. Only young women pushing baby carriages stroll along unhurriedly. One of them, Galina Sychyovskaya, moved here with her husband, a builder, five years ago. Since then the Sychyovskys have had two sons.
The town council has given us a good apartment; my husband has a well-paid and interesting job. We don't even notice that we live close to a nuclear power plant. I'm a librarian. There are already several libraries in town, and another one is under construction. It will house half a million volumes. I take care of the house and look after my children. Our older son goes to nursery school. The younger one is at home with me for the time being because there still aren't enough day-care facilities for everyone. According to Mayor Voloshko, the town hasn't escaped problems altogether.
I'd call them teething problems, he commented. Pripyat is currently experiencing a baby boom. We've built scores of day-care centers and nursery schools and more are on the way, but they still can't cope with the demand. Another problem is employment for women. We are creating new jobs for them by developing the service industries, which employ women on a large scale. Motor transport is also a headache. Many people in town have their own cars. We're out of breath from building new garage facilities and parking lots for them. We don't want the cars to squeeze out the people. We believe the town of Pripyat should be as safe and clean as the power plant.
Fifteen years ago the town of Prypyat wasn't on a map of the Ukraine.
|Poytr Bondarenko, Shift Superintendent|
|As seen by Soviet Life Magazine, September 1986|
On the night of April 25-26, during the routine shutdown of one of the four reactors at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (about 130 kilometers north of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital), the reactor's power suddenly increased. Significant release of steam and the subsequent reaction created hydrogen gas, which exploded, and a fire. The reactor was damaged, and there was a radioactive leak, mostly of iodine-131. The accident occurred at 1:23A.M., and by 5:00 the fire was extinguished. Two people died at the moment of the accident: automatic systems adjuster Vladimir Shashenok and nuclear plant operator Valeri Khodemchuk. About 300 people were affected by radiation, and some of them died later.
|'Blind chance sweeps the world along.' Of the 41 operational reactors in the Soviet Union, chance chose the newest, which went into service in 1983 (the USSR put the world's first reactor into operation in 1954)|
It was the 152nd accident recorded at the more than 370 nuclear reactors operating in the world today. "Blind chance sweeps the world along." Of the 41 operational reactors in the Soviet Union, chance chose one of the newest, which went into service in 1983 (the USSR put the world's first reactor into operation in 1954).
On the night of April 25-26, during the routine shutdown of one of the four reactors at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (about 130 kilometers north of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital), the reactor's power suddenly increased. Significant release of steam and the subsequent reaction created hydrogen gas, which exploded, and a fire. The reactor was damaged, and there was a radioactive leak, mostly of iodine-131. The accident occurred at 1:23A.M., and by 5:00 the fire was extinguished. Two people died at the moment of the accident: automatic systems adjuster Vladimir Shashenok and nuclear plant operator Valeri Khodemchuk. About 300 people were affected by radiation, and some of them died later. An earlier fire in a similar graphite reactor at Windscale in Great Britain had raged for 12 hours, and the radiation leak had caused about 260 cases of thyroid gland cancer, 13 of which resulted in death.
U.S. experts know from the experience of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant accident how difficult it is to ascertain the causes of such incidents. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) received information about the Three Mile Island accident almost two months later. The IAEA and the governments of other countries received information about what had happened at Chernobyl on April 28.
Immediately after the Chernobyl accident, sources abroad suggested that the breakdown had occurred as a result of inadequate reactor safety precautions. After analysis, however, U.S. experts declared (according to The New York Times, May 19, 1986) that the damaged reactor had enough of the latest safety systems, systems similar to those used at American reactors.
Victor Gilinsky, a physicist and a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. who had studied the technical documents of the Chernobyl reactor, said that the results of such a comparison could score many points for U.S. reactors but that they could show the advantage of Soviet reactors, too.
Sources abroad also suggested that the crippled reactor had had no containment system. But Dr. Edwin Zebroski, chief nuclear scientist at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, attested that the Chernobyl reactor had been inside a massive dome 200 feet long, 70 feet high and 70 feet wide. Zebroski had visited Soviet reactors and analyzed the design drawings. Assessing the sturdiness of the protective structure, he said that it had steel walls 12 feet thick, reinforced with concrete walls 6-8 feet thick.
In the opinion of many Soviet and foreign authorities, the accident and the course it assumed were unlikely, almost impossible. And yet it did happen, and it developed as no one could have predicted.
In the morning, access to the contaminated zone (the plant and the area around it) was barred. All those who had received radiation injuries were sent to the best clinics in Kiev and in Moscow. A plan for evacuating people from a 30 kilometer zone around the plant was immediately drawn up. There was no direct threat to the life and health of the people in this zone: The maximum level of radiation in it on April 26 was 10-15 milliroentgens per hour. Yet the authorities decided to evacuate the people.
|Fire trucks are en route to Chernobyl to carry out cleanup work.
Here the advantages of organizational centralism, which is quite often sharply criticized for insufficient flexibility, came through. Easily surmounting interdepartmental barriers, the orders of officials and party leaders helped to carry out many tasks most effectively, according to a U.S. correspondent. In a very short time 2,172 buses and 1,786 trucks were provided, nearly 4,000 drivers mobilized, the reception of the evacuees in new places organized and accommodations reserved in hotels and boarding houses.
As a result, the 40,000 inhabitants of Pripyat, a town near Chernobyl, were evacuated in about three hours. It took more time to evacuate the people from villages because the farmers did not want to leave at the height of their spring work. Nevertheless, 26,000 people were evacuated from the 50 villages that were in the zone of increased radiation. As the people arrived in the new places, they were provided with housing, three free meals a day and a 200-ruble allowance. Kitchen garden plots were allotted in the villages. Most of the evacuees in the very first days went to the jobs given them by the local authorities. No one paid a single kopeck out of his or her own pocket for the evacuation.
|Cars leaving the 18-mile zone around the plant are checked for
Not all of the leaders coped with the emergency situation. The conclusions, like everything linked with the accident, were quick and drastic. Two executives of a transport association were removed from their post for failing to provide work in time, to pay wages and to issue clothing to the association's 200 evacuated workers. One of them was expelled from the Communist Party, and the other received a strict party reprimand. It wasn't all smooth sailing. But corrections were made immediately thanks to the central leadership, which directed the entire potential to solve a twofold task: first, to eliminate the effects of the accident and then to ensure the safety of the people and provide them with the essentials.
Schools ended their classes two weeks earlier than usual, and the children immediately went off to Young Pioneer summer camps, including the best ones on the Black Sea coast. Fifteen hundred children from the accident zone soon arrived there. Their parents' trade unions paid for their stay in the camps and their transportation. Among the first children to arrive at Artek, the most famous Black Sea children's camp, were the daughter and son of operator Valeri Khodemchuk, who died during the accident. To help the children get over what had happened, their mother, Natalya Khodemchuk, who had worked as a pumping station operator at the plant, was put on the staff of Artek.
Local firefighting units were the first to attack the flames engulfing reactor No. 4. Dozens of fire engines soon came to their aid from Kiev and from the region. In three and a half hours 50 fire crews prevented the next reactor from catching fire and extinguished the fire in the damaged reactor.
A group of specialists flew from Moscow to Chernobyl in the morning. They were followed by a government commission, which had to make decisions without having had any experience with such accidents. The first decision was to evacuate people from the danger zone. The second was to localize the spread of radioactivity. A considerable part of the work in eliminating the consequences of the accident fell on the armed forces.
After the accident, the plant's environs resembled a war games area-helicopters (lined inside with lead slabs) in the sky and personnel carriers (whose armor lessens exposure to radiation) on the ground. A site for helicopters was set up 12 kilometers from the plant. Throughout the day helicopter pilots, flying 200 meters above the plant, bombarded reactor No. 4 with sacks of sand, marble chips, dolomite, lead and boron to seal it off.
About 5,000 tons of such materials were dropped on the reactor's core. The lead melted and formed a film over the hot graphite. But the 5,000-ton seal created a new danger that the reactor might crash into the water-filled bubbling pond beneath it. The water had to be removed immediately. Hundreds of fire engines now participated in this operation. But the task was fully accomplished only after divers had opened the special gate valves in the pond.
|The light YAK-40 makes regular trips to the Chernobyl zone (crew commander Fyodor
Goruainov, right) to seed clouds with granulated carbonic acid and silver iodide to control rain. New machines and
equipment continue to arrive in the accident zone. Technicians conduct regulare checks of radiation within the 18-mile
zone around Chernobyl.
After the graphite rods had been cooled, ending the danger of a chain reaction. workers began to lay a concrete foundation from below to prevent a meltdown of the reactor's core through the ground if the uranium heated again. Preparations began for walling up the reactor with concrete from all sides, "burying" the source of radiation in a concrete "sepulcher." Unlike the sepulchers of the Egyptian Pharaohs, this one will be under constant control, including automatic regulation of the processes taking place inside the reactor, for many years.
From the ground, on a deblocking machine, soldiers using a manipulator repeatedly extracted pieces of graphite from the reactor itself. But in general more use was made of remote-control equipment. The Chelyabinsk Tractor Works, for example, delivered a 19-ton bulldozer via an IL-76 plane The bulldozer was fitted out with radioelectronic equipment in Kiev and brought to Chernobyl, where it helped rake up radioactive debris.
Before the reactor's burial it was carefully examined by IAEA Director General Hans Blix and the IAEA Nuclear Safety Department head, Maurice Rosen. Both were invited to the USSR by the Soviet Government. From Moscow they flew to Kiev, and from there to Chernobyl. where they flew by helicopter to the reactor and examined it through the destroyed roof from a distance of 800 meters.
Using a personal dosimeter, Blix established that during his trip to the USSR he had received a dose of radiation roughly equivalent to that of a dental X-ray. Rosen compared the magnitude of his radiation-10 milliroentgens-with the dose of radioactivity an airline passenger receives during two flights from Europe to America.
|Workers are checked for radiation before leaving the plant area.
For doctors the accident and its aftermath were both torture and an education. They had previously known about radiation sickness only from lectures and textbooks. It was torture because after the accident they saw for the first time severe cases of radiation sickness, some of which they could not help. It was an education because when they faced the real and imagined consequences of the accident, they had to quickly mobilize all resources and reorganize all work.
Special departments were set up at hospitals where victims of the accident and its aftermath were brought, and the hospitals themselves were promptly supplied with special equipment. Their personnel was reinforced, mainly by experts in laboratory analysis. Nearly 230 additional four-person medical teams were formed in the Ukraine, and almost 1,900 doctors and paramedical personnel worked in neighboring Byelorussia.
|Streets of towns and villages near Chernobyl are regularly sprayed with
The Ministry of Health of the USSR decided to check for radiation everyone who complained about their health. During the first three weeks after the accident. nearly 220.000 people were checked for radiation in the Ukraine. Only workers at the nuclear power plant and people who participated in eliminating the aftermath of the accident required hospitalization.
While a great number of people were being given medical checkups. doctors in clinics fought to save the lives of the patients with acute radiation sickness. American doctors Robert Gale and Paul Tarasaki gave them a lot of help. By the time they arrived in Moscow. Soviet doctors had performed six bone marrow transplants. Altogether 19 transplants have been made.
Angelina Guskova, head of a department at Moscow's Hospital No. 6. where the first and most severe cases of radiation sickness were brought, said that no country in the world could cope with this situation single-handedly. There isn't a country that has enough experience to do so.
|Banks of the Pripyat River were built up to prevent contamination of the water|
Doctors and other specialists developed procedures to check foodstuffs. Milk was tested three times-on the farm, at the dairy and before delivery to shops. Nearly 100 food products were tested every day. Special attention was paid to the markets, even in cites situated far from the affected zone. Most markets sell products not only processed on nearby farms and grown in nearby fields, but also brought from other regions of the country. Every vender, no matter from where, was checked. Because it was spring, market trade was growing fast. so the controllers were busy day and night.
A total of 2.827 checks were made in Moscow's markets on May 11. All products were clean. On the next day 3,501 checks were made. and only two batches of contaminated merchandise were discovered. On May 13 inspectors made 4,621 checks and banned only one batch. On May 14, 2,726 checks were made and seven batches banned. On May 15, 3,123 checks were made and six batches banned. On May 16. 2,920 checks were made and three batches banned. On May 17, 3,071 checks were made and one batch banned. On May 18, 3,001 checks were made and not a single batch was banned. On May 19, 3,017 checks were made and nothing was banned On May 20, 3,008 checks were made and one batch was banned.
|Food products and equipment, such as delivery trucks, are checked for possible
Meanwhile, a large-scale decontamination operation was conducted in the 30-kilometer zone around the plant. The zone was divided into three sectors. Radiation levels on the surface and in the air were monitored several times a day. Every day they fell by five per cent. Decontamination teams comprised leading experts. most of them volunteers. Early in June residents of some villages in the 30-kilometer zone were allowed to return home.
Will the accident affect this years harvest in the Ukraine and Byelorussia? Oleg Shchepin, First Deputy Minister of Health, responded to that question. Iodine-131, the main radioactive substance released from the crippled reactor, has a half-life of eight days. As plants grow. they absorb about one-tenth of one per cent of radioactivity. This amount is so small that it presents no health hazard. By the time the new crop is harvested, it will be absolutely safe.
|In Minsk, capital of Byelorussia, Gina Zhuk checks strawberries with a
As regards radioactive dust, which cows might ingest with grass, experts believe that there will be no radioactivity if their milk is processed into butter or cheese. So the accident will have little effect on the harvest in the Ukraine.
While cleanup work was in full swing in the 30 kilometer zone, farmwork usual for that time of the year went on outside it. Experts played safe, however. More than 800 laboratories monitored the condition of soil throughout the republic. They also constantly monitored radiation levels in the air. This job was done by 188 fixed and 38 mobile monitoring stations and specially equipped planes.
|Conditions remain normal in Kiev, along the main street, Kreshchatik.
To prevent radioactive fallout from being washed down into the Pripyat and the Dnieper rivers, their banks were shored up. The aircraft monitoring the situation in the air prevented rainfall over the affected zone. Light planes using silver iodide induced rain far from the area, while heavy aircraft using granulated carbonic acid dispersed clouds moving toward Chernobyl. In spite Of heavy cloudiness in the Ukraine in May. there was practically no rain in Chernobyl in the first month after the accident.
Water in rivers and in open reservoirs was examined every hour, and three times a day the Ukrainian Ministry of Health issued bulletins on the quality of the water. Radiation in the water never exceeded normal levels. Radiation levels in the air in Kiev, with its population of nearly 2.5 million, were always normal, too.
Late in May a group of foreign ambassadors arrived in Kiev on a trip organized by the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs to acquaint there will, the progress trade in eliminating the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Alexander Lyashko, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Ukraine, told the ambassadors that the radiation level in Kiev was 0.18 milliroentgens pet hour. American Rosalyn Yalow, Nobel Prize winner, said that passengers flying from Europe to America received a larger dose of radiation that the residents of Kiev and its environs.
"Everything we saw and heard from witnesses reassured us, and I am going to report to my government that the situation in Kiev has stabilized and that there is no danger to people's life," said Federico S. Bravo, Argentina's ambassador, a doctor by training.
|A worker in protective clothing sprays buildings near the plant with a
Not everyone was reassured, however. Three days later the government newspaper Izvestia published a letter by Jörg Kastl, Ambassador to the USSR from the Federal Republic of Germany, Kastl wrote that the Soviet Government could not evaluate the scale of the accident or control the disaster in Chernobyl, and that the FRG and other countries were concerned about the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident. In a comment following the ambassadors letter. Izvestia quoted an official of the FRG chancellery as saying that the accident at Chernobyl created no threat to the life and health of the population of the Federal Republic.
Neither Izvestia nor Kastl knew at the time that an accident leading to the release of radioactivity had occurred at a nuclear power plant at Hamm, the FRG. and that it was followed by an accident at the nuclear research center at Karlsruhe, as a result of which radiation levels in the area increased by 20 times. Later Italian Civil Defense Minister Giuseppe Zamberletti admitted that the increase in radiation levels near Milan. earlier thought to be the result of the Chernobyl accident, might be the result of the accident at Hamm.
While Kastl was writing a letter to Izvestia, Theo Sommer, publisher of the newspaper Die Zeit, interviewed Hans Blix upon his return from the USSR.
|Conditions remain normal in Kiev, at the Bessarabia Market.
"Did you get the impression that after the initial confusion the Russians expertly rectified the situation? Did they do everything right? Were they fast enough?" Sommer asked.
"My answer is yes, Blix replied. We had the impression that the people who fought the accident and its aftermath have a lot of control and authority, and they could do everything they considered necessary."
"Most of the preventive measures taker in Western Europe were unnecessary," Blix said.
Two days earlier, when asked about the consequences of the Chernobyl accident for other countries. Morris Rosen told Der Spiegel magazine that the dose of radioactivity received by the population of neighboring countries would have no serious consequences.
Panic continued to grow in the West, however. Rumors circulated that tens of thousands of people may eventually die as a result of the Chernobyl accident. No wonder Dr. Gale wrote in the Los Angeles Times late in May that one should exercise caution in determining the medical consequences of the Chernobyl accident. The flood of contradictory views and speculation about the accident proved that Dr. Gale was right when he said that one would not gain much but could lose a great deal by making rash judgments and spreading rumors.
In the early 1970s Konstantin Simonov, a leading Soviet poet, wrote a poem with this title. The phrase is now a proverb. And proverbs express a nation's spirit as truthfully as one's eyes express one's soul. The newspapers paraphrased this proverb for their mail concerning the accident at Chernobyl.
The number of letters snowballed from day to day. On May 18 Pravda had to report that applications to go to Chernobyl should be addressed not to its offices.. but to Soyuzatomenergo, 7 Kitaisky Proyezd, Moscow. Izvestia had to remind its readers where to send donations for the victims fund.
Individuals and collectives alike offered their help. The offers came from all over the country, even from places that could in no way be affected by the accident.
"I'm ready to do anything I can to help eliminate the consequences of the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant," wrote K. Arustamov, a mechanical engineer for gas turbines, pumps and compressors from Moscow.
"I am a physicist, aged 30, healthy and fit for any job. During my vacations I want to work without pay at Chernobyl to wipe out the effects of the accident. I am ready to go at once."Paskushov. from Grozny.
"Do they need a diesel locomotive driver at Chernobyl?"—Mutchayev, from Kandalaksha.
From the town of Alagir, a team of bulldozer and excavator operators asked to be sent to Chernobyl.
Evacuees from the danger zone were resettled according to plan. But even if there had been no such plan, they would not have been left without a roof over their head, judging from the letters to the newspapers. ''Prepared to put up any family. Waiting for reply," the Nuzhdovs from Alma-Ata wrote to Izvestia. In Uzbekistan, Markhamat Aminova, head of a department at the republic's university, told the district party committee that she, her brothers and their father were ready to accommodate up to 25 children of school age.
Donations were another way of expressing sympathy with Chernobyl victims. The State Bank opened a special account, No. 904, and deposited the contributions that poured in, from a few rubles to several thousand. Teams and other work collectives sent bonuses they had received. Sometimes there were receipts for work done on Sundays. In May the popular actor Mikhail Ulyanov, pop singer Alla Pugachova and others gave a concert in the Olympic Sports Complex attended by 30,000 spectators. All the proceeds went to Account No. 904. The next day Moscow Radio announced that the well-known poets Rimma Kazakova, Bella Akhmadulina and Robert Rozhdestvensky were arranging a reading at the Literary Club. with receipts to be donated to the Chernobyl Relief Fund. At the same time Literaturnaya gazeta carried a letter in which Archimandrite losif Pustoutov and Chairman of the Executive of the Trinity Church of Moscow Region M. Rogachev said that, on behalf of their congregation and executive, they were donating 5,000 rubles to help eliminate the consequences of the Chernobyl accident.
Three days after Izvestia's report about Account No. 904, it had grown from 6.5 million rubles to 38.4 million.
Certainly those who contributed money or offered hospitality to evacuees—whether they are members of the Communist Party or not. whether they are workers or writers. atheists or believers—they were all perfectly well aware that their money or housing weren't essential. They knew that the state would provide everything necessary and would not leave the victims in the lurch. But knowing that, they still wanted to help. It is probably not for nothing that the expression "there is no alien woe" has become a proverb in the Soviet Union.
So what about nuclear power now? This was the question that the accident posed for the public, scientists and the country's leadership. The public reaction was mixed. Some of the letters written to Pravda were against nuclear power. The newspaper therefore approached Academician Valeri Legasov, deputy director of the Institute of Atomic Energy, and asked him to comment on this controversial issue. He was one of the scientists who immediately flew to Chernobyl to deal with the accident.
Legasov is convinced that nuclear power plants are the crowning achievement of power engineering and that the future of our civilization is inconceivable without nuclear power. That is not the professional narcissism of an atomic scientist. A witness of the April 26 drama, he is not inclined to minimize the problems raised by the accident. "We must draw all the lessons from it, technical, organizational and psychological. People died in the accident, and tremendous material and moral damage was done, but I believe that this tribulation will make nuclear engineering more dependable."
Perhaps these words "more dependable" may seem out of place after what happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. But they make scientific and statistical sense. According to scientists, the probability of accidents at large industrial systems, nuclear power plants included, is less than in simple systems, although if anything does happen, the consequences are graver and take longer to eliminate. Besides, statistics show, as Hans Blix said, that we have the experience of 4,000 nuclear power years. Nuclear power has to develop. Soviet scientists believe, and nothing will stop its advance. True, additional measures should be taken to guarantee greater safety and to prevent accidental breakdowns, scientists said at a press conference on Chernobyl.
|Conditions remain normal in Kiev, along the main street, Kreshchatik.
The Soviet leadership believes that future world economics is hard to imagine without nuclear power development. The indisputable lesson of Chernobyl, said Mikhail Gorbachev, is that the reliability and safety of nuclear equipment have assumed paramount importance.
Safety is being enhanced now at all nuclear power plants in the Soviet Union, whether operational or under construction. The Soviet Union believes that leading nuclear power countries should cooperate within the IAEA to develop an economically viable and at the same time more foolproof reactor of a new generation. In short, reliability and safety in nuclear engineering today have top priority.
Gorbachev also proposed that international conditions favoring the safe development of nuclear power be created, based on close cooperation of the countries concerned. He further suggested that the United Nations and its specialized agencies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), be more closely involved in the safe development of peaceful nuclear activities. On behalf of the IAEA. Maurice Rosen described this proposal as one that merits the closest examination.
The support expressed for this Soviet proposal by a number of IAEA countries raises hopes that countries of different social systems might join their forces and make nuclear power safer, with no accidents at nuclear power plants troubling the world. The outlook would be more optimistic if the other Soviet proposal, on ending nuclear tests (none have been conducted in the USSR for a year), were supported by all countries possessing nuclear weaponry. That would offer real hope for preventing the absolute accident—a global nuclear disaster.