30.04.2020

The stories of the liquidators (Part-1)

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Nikolai Aleksandrovich Steinberg


From 1986 to the present, more than 800 thousand people took part in the liquidation of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. These are people who performed completely different work both on the territory of the station and on the territory of the entire zone. Each liquidator has his own story for the period of his life spent in the zone, his own vision of those events and his own dose received during the time that was spent in the zone. In this article, we will share the story of a person known in narrow circles who worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and was directly involved in the liquidation of the accident at that terrible time.

Steinberg Nikolay Alexandrovich, was born in 1947 in the city of Kirovograd, Ukrainian SSR. In 1971, he graduated from the Department of Nuclear Power Plants of the Moscow Power Engineering Institute. From 1971 to 1983 he worked at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In the period from 1983-1986 he worked at the Balakovo NPP. Steinberg has gone from engineer to deputy chief engineer. After the accident in 1986, in May he became the chief engineer of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. A year later, in April 87, he was appointed deputy chairman of the USSR Gosatomenergonadzor. In August 1991, he was appointed chairman of the State Committee of Ukraine for Nuclear and Radiation Safety. From 2002-2006, Mykola Shteinberg served as Deputy Minister of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine. He is currently engaged in engineering and advisory business, takes part in the work of professional societies and advisory bodies, is the chairman of the Reactor Safety Council under the Chairman of the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine. Also, Nikolai Steinberg was a member of a group of experts who worked to supplement the INSAG-7 report due to the causes of the Chernobyl accident.

Immediately after graduation, I arrived at the Chernobyl construction site. That was March 8, 1971. As I remember, then there was a lot of snow, there was a strong and prickly wind. At that time, the first hostels at the entrance to the city were lining up in Pripyat. At that time there was a good material base. The first microdistrict generally grew before our eyes. Our task was to manage to plant trees. As the saying goes, that a normal man should build a house, raise a son and plant a tree, then we had no problems with the latter. In general, as with children. There were a lot of children in Pripyat. Somewhere in 1972, my mother came to visit me and she was shocked by how many children in our city. At that time, no one controlled the kids as they do now. In the morning I ran for a walk, in the evening I returned. So the mother said that it was some kind of nightmare. Some strollers, children and pregnant women. In fact, Pripyat loved their city very much. It was comfortable, beautiful, everything was within walking distance. After the birth of our second child, we moved to an apartment on Kurchatov Street. They lived then on the third floor. Nearby is the city center. In the center is a beautiful palace of culture. I traveled a lot, but saw few of them.

About the accident itself.

Several reasons coincided that night. Firstly, the shortcomings of the project itself. They are extremely serious. Unfortunately, they were known long before the age of 86. The big problem was that these shortcomings were not communicated to the personnel who worked on the reactor control panel. And the biggest misfortune was also that the designers knew about these shortcomings, but did not understand their consequences. That night, the staff did not feel the line that became dangerous although formally they acted essentially in addition to a couple of violations. Actually, these violations did not lead directly to the accident. As a result, it turned out that the reactor had to be shut off by pressing the emergency "brake", and it began to accelerate and eventually exploded. Today, there is still debate about who is to blame. But for a normal person, this does not fit in my head like that ... That is, here's an analogy for you. I drive a car and I need to stop, I press the brake pedal, and it accelerates. Some absurdity comes out ...

 

On the night of May 6, I went into the engine room. This is a huge room a little over 800 meters long, where turbines and a huge amount of electrical equipment are located. Near the 7th turbine the roof was broken, the stars in the sky shone. Only emergency light worked somewhere on the drain of oil and there was deathly silence, which would be uncharacteristic for the normal operation of nuclear power plants. And there was a wild smell of ozone due to the high ionization of the air.

The third block was in a rather difficult situation. Many systems were damaged due to the fact that without our approval, troops were launched into the territory in the first days to deal with the accident. This led to a number of pipelines being damaged, including industrial water pipelines. There were times when we were completely left without water. That is, a reactor loaded with fuel in such a situation, holding pools that boiled ... It was an extremely difficult situation, and that was it.

The liquidation headquarters was in refuge under the administrative building of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. There were bunks, tables, everyone smoked. Although they tried to somehow separate the zones into conditionally clean, etc. but all the same, due to the fact that I had to work in different zones, the indoor levels were still quite large. There were many tables. At each table were several people from a particular ministry. There was no sense of danger at that time. This was not the burden. Loaded the tasks that fell on us. Everything was not stable. There were many problems. It’s impossible to say that everything went smoothly after the liquidation of the accident. In general, in a good way, for a start it was necessary to stop, think and plan everything, but it was not before that. In the habits of our society, the mentality was not so. The main thing is to get involved in the battle, and then we'll figure it out.

Idiocy not because of heroism, but because of misunderstanding.

Once there was a situation when my subordinate had to take measurements near the destroyed reactor. He took the IMR with sensors and drove along the engine room. After a couple of hours, he returned, went into the room, closed the door behind him. His eyes were square. I asked him what happened? He tells me: “You know, there are some tanks there, I turned around them. The dose rate near them is 1800 x-rays per hour, and then my device went off scale. Cassette shanks are visible there. ” The next morning, three officers came to me. They were ordered to organize the cleaning of the very fuel cartridges that we discovered yesterday. I just answered them that if they want to die, it is possible. Nobody could remove anything there. The officers, of course, explained that if they did not follow the order, then shoulder straps would be taken off them in the evening, etc. I then asked to call the higher command to cancel the order. I was told that they would not be listened to and that I had to personally contact the Army General Ivan Alexandrovich Gerasimov. He listened to me, understood everything and the death order was canceled immediately. On this, everything seemed to be over. Question. How could such a task, and then set by one of the former commanders of chemical forces, remove 1800 x-rays per hour with the help of people? And despite the fact that this level was recorded with an IMR at a distance of more than 10 meters. Near there, of course, was over 10 thousand. Levels over 2 thousand X-rays - called death under a ray. That is, to send people to carry out this task is idiocy! Idiocy not because of heroism, but because of a lack of understanding of what task a person poses.

May 11, Sasha Akimov died. On the night of the accident, he was the shift supervisor of the fourth block. When I left, he moved to my apartment. After that I decided to come. Then he took BRDM and came to Pripyat. The impression of course was creepy. The city in which a few weeks ago still boiled life turned out to be empty. While driving along the road to the Pripyat villages, and they were also empty, there was no such feeling. And when I got to the city where independent life had already taken place, children were born, friends all lived it was a very terrible impression ... It is difficult to convey ... First, abandoned strollers all over the city. Secondly, the mass of pets that walked around the city, cats, dogs. Linen that dried on the balconies. People set everything up. You go, there are no people, and traffic lights are burning and complete emptiness. Then I drove through the floor of the city and told myself that I would not come here again.

 

First you had to change the mood. Yet they were depressed in the first ten days. The entire top leadership flew out in the early days. It turned out that the shift worked itself. There is no one deputy chief, no second deputy, no shop managers. That is, people themselves worked. This time. The second question was what would happen to the families. Where to live? How to live? In the first 3-4 weeks, this was a serious matter. Well, the third, perhaps the most serious psychological problem is guilt. No one knew what happened. Yet it was immediately classified. You work at the station itself and do not really understand what is happening. But the feeling of guilt on the team still remained. Today it’s hard to talk about it. Our society does not understand what it means “for the sake of some purpose” to work, fight, give your health. This made it very difficult to establish a tough order in terms of radiation safety and competent behavior. Simply put, they tore a vest on themselves and went into battle.

I recall that about 700-800 people remained at the station by mid-May. Some people have already taken out. Someone had to be treated, people had to be given the opportunity to arrange their family somehow, and extra people were not needed here, so as not to irradiate anyone again. In this mode, we lived somewhere until the end of June until active restoration work began.

In fact, all possible resources were involved. And this is one of the questions “Was it necessary?”. The fact that Chernobyl economically finished off the USSR does not raise any doubts.

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