The Story of Alexei Breus (Part-1)

Part one.
"No signs of trouble"

Alexey Alekseevich Breus was born on April 17, 1959 in the Krasnodar Krai. In the past, senior reactor control chief engineer at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Reactor Unit 4, liquidator of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, as well as a Ukrainian artist and journalist.


In 1974 he graduated from the art school, and in 1982 he graduated from the Moscow Higher Technical School (now - University) named after Bauman, majoring in Nuclear Reactors and Installations (Department of Academician N.A. Dollezhal, Chief Designer of RBMK-1000 Reactors).


In 1990 he graduated from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, majoring in Journalism.


Since June 1982, he began working at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as an Engineer of the Operational Unit, operator of the Activity Suppression Unit, Reactor Room Operator. Later he became curator of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant for the installation of the reactor and equipment of the fourth unit. After the launch of the fourth block, he worked as a reactor control engineer for the block. At the time of the accident on April 26, 1986 he was senior reactor control chief engineer of unit No. 4. Personnel number 0230.


Alexey Alekseevich was awarded the medal “For Labour Valour” and the Mark of distinction as a participant in the liquidation of the Chernobyl accident. Due to the strong exposure to 120 Rem, doctors forbade him to work in the field of nuclear energy.


After the accident, Breus took up painting, joining the group of independent artists “Strontium-90”, creating paintings on the Chernobyl theme and trying to draw the attention of the authorities and public to nuclear safety issues and the consequences of radiation accidents and disasters. As an artist, he is one of the leaders of the trafrealist movement in art, which originated from the 1980s in the Ukrainian underground.


The following description of the events of several days of April 1986 is based on the contents of the itinerary compiled by me, a former operator of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in 1991 using earlier personal records from 1986. The itinerary reflects the chronology of actions of the employee during emergency operations after Chernobyl disaster. Based on these data, calculations of personnel exposure doses were performed.


To calculate the doses, we used data on radiation levels in the premises of the Power Plant and on the territory of the industrial site in the first hours and days after the accident. They were compiled from dosimetrist measurements taken at that time. Thanks to these data, dosimetrist maps were compiled for the ChNPP premises, in particular for the fourth unit.


Itineraries were compiled in cases where it was impossible to determine the dose of radiation using individual dosimetrist monitoring. For example, on April 26, 1986, night and morning shift personnel mainly used standard personal dosimeters in from of photo cassettes, which were not designed to record large doses of radiation, the maximum was of 4 Rem. It is obvious that in the first hours after the accident radiation doses of the personnel were tens and hundreds of times higher.


The structure of the itinerary:

  • Date and time.
  • Location.
  • Tasks performed and their effectiveness. Who gave the orders?
  • How was the dosimetrist environment evaluated?
  • Who worked with me?
  • People who received acute radiation sickness that I have seen?
  • What was my state of health, odd feelings?
  • Information that does not fit into the proposed outline.


April 26, 1986

from 0:00 to 6:55 in the morning I was at home in Pripyat. At the time of the accident, I slept in my apartment. I have not heard an explosion, noise, or something similar, although my windows faced the Chernobyl NPP and Units were clearly visible as well. A few years later I found out that my neighbor, firefighting team lieutenant Pyotr Khmel (suffered acute radiation sickness of the 2nd degree), was woken up at night and taken to the fourth block, but again, I have not heard noise even in the corridor.


at 7 am I went to the bus stop of the Lazurny pool, from where I was supposed to leave for work, in accordance with the shift work schedule in at that time - I had the first of three working days after two days off (I worked in the second shift). There were a lot of people at the bus stop. I thought that there was some kind of delay with the buses. Before reaching the stop, on the other side of the street I saw a crew bus of the shift supervisor.


Shift Supervisor of Turbine Workshop V.G. Usenko called me to the bus and we immediately went towards the Power Plant.


7: 00-7: 15

We went to the administrative building (AB-1) by the usual route: alongside the Switchyard. Approaching it, I saw a destroyed block from the bus and thus found out about the accident. Before that, no one told me anything about it; almost no one actually talked on the bus. For the first time in my life I felt what the words "hair stand up" mean. The sight of the destroyed block led to the thought of numerous victims under the collapse, I thought about the "mass grave". There was bewilderment: why did they bring us here, what else can we do here?


In the bus besides me went: S.V. Kamyshny (ARS-2), V.G. Usenko (ARS-2), V. Dobrynin (ARS-2), V.G. Kovalev (ARS-2), A.I. Bibikov (ARS-2), A.G. Bakaev (ARS-1), A.F. Kolyadin, G. Kayuda, A. Radko and a couple more people, I don’t remember who exactly.


7:20 a.m.

At the checkpoint located at AB-1 (Checkpoint 1), only those who had passes at this checkpoint were allowed to enter. My pass, like most of the others working on the fourth block, was stored at the Checkpoint 2 (checkpoint from the side of the fourth block), and there was no command from the station's management to let us through the first one. Therefore, we drove to the second one, passing by Power Plant’s fire station.


The security guard at the CP2, warrant officer dressed in a rubberized combined-arms protective kit (OZK), was surprised at our arrival and said that no one was allowed to enter, he let us into nuclear power plant only after we were given a permission from the chief guard.


People that passed the checkpoint with me were: V.G. Kovalev, A.I. Bibikov, S.V. Kamyshny, V. Dobrynin (all got-ARS-2), A.G. Bakaev (ARS-1), A.F. Kolyadin.


7:25 a.m.

I took an iodine pill (the guard offered me, thanks to him! Saturation of the thyroid with iodine prevents the accumulation of radioactive iodine in it). I went to the NPP site. Past the “Chamomile” canteen, across the railway line, past the compressor station, reached AB-2, went up to the second floor of the sanitary inspection room. On the way, supervisor of the turbine workshop V.G. Usenko gave me a command to go to my workplace, control room of Unit #4.


Passing through the territory of the nuclear power plant, I studied the collapse of the fourth block, located almost in front of me. Light, barely noticeable vapor or smoke rose from it. The bare shiny risers of the steam-water communications were clearly visible (these are pipes through which water exits the reactor), they were located, as expected, vertically (I remember it very well), and if they were tilted, they were tilted towards or away from me - so that for me this gradient was not noticeable. The yellow engines of the main circulation pumps (they pump water through the reactor) were visible, since there were no more walls behind them. One of the engines, as it seemed to me, bent a little. Drums of Separators (reactor cooling water tanks) also became visible. They were below the risers, i.e. below the top of the reactor is the so-called “E” circuit, or “reactor cap” (the established name for this design is “Elena”). Therefore, it seemed to me that the drums, from which water should enter the reactor, had fallen below the reactor, which means that before turning on the emergency water supply, reactor could remain without cooling for a while and therefore could be damaged (as I found out much later, the arrangement of the E circuit and drums of separators was different: the drums remained in place, and Elena, together with the risers installed on it, was higher than the drums. It went up during the explosion). In any case, it was obvious that the communications were badly damaged, the reactor was also probably damaged, and water was supplied to it.


I realized that this is exactly why I am here: the requirement "to ensure the water supply to the reactor in any situation" was recorded not only in the operating instructions for my equipment, but even in my job description, despite the fact that this is a technical and not an administrative document determining the requirements for my training, the amount of necessary knowledge, the frequency of medical checks, fixed equipment, relationships with superiors and subjects, etc.


Of course, today, you can talk about the necessity or inappropriateness of supplying water to the reactor in that situation. Now, years after the disaster, I believe that this still had to be done. Chernobyl personnel were accused of a number of violations, which supposedly led to the explosion. If we hadn’t tried to supply water to the reactor on April 26, 1986, we would be accused of another violation. Again.


On the right of the collapse a large stream of water fell on broken concrete slabs, which confirmed my assumption that water is supplied to the block. So, there is hope that the reactor is not destroyed, although damaged. Therefore, I decided that the black pieces on the ground that had the size of a fist were apparently smoked concrete slabs, but not the fragments of graphite from the reactor, as others later claimed. Whether it was graphite, I’m still unsure, but the pieces lying on my way really looked like fragments of graphite blocks.


I must admit, I was dominated by the fact that those who arrived in the morning at the destroyed block are needed here for some reason: since we were brought here, it means that something else can be done, not everything is lost, there is hope. Perhaps because of this, contrary to some facts and speculations, I did not want to agree that the reactor was completely destroyed. Instead, I looked for arguments to confirm that the reactor can still be affected and at least somehow, we can suppress the danger posed by it.


7:30 a.m.

After dressing in a sanitary inspection room in a white uniform, I entered restricted area, took my personal dosimeter and put it on a button on my chest, as expected.


Along the corridor at +9 m point (so-called "golden corridor” passing through all four Chernobyl NPP units at about the third-floor level, at an altitude of 9 m), I went towards the fourth block with A.G. Bakaev (ARS-1).


Before the fourth block, I went to the control of radiation monitoring systems where I was told that the control room-4 is not destroyed and I can go there. They gave me a respirator which I put on. In the corridor on the way to the control room-4 there was a small collapse - only in one place, which surprised me: inside the heavily destroyed block, as I saw it from the outside, there remained almost intact passages and rooms!


7: 30-8: 00

I was in the control room-4. From time to time I was walking to the right non-operational control room (an adjacent room that does not require the presence of an operator) to look at the dashboard, I was primarily interested in the water level in the drums of separators, which, in essence, are the main tanks with a supply of water for cooling the reactor. From the senior block control engineer M.U. Gashimov (ARS-2) I learned that work is to ensure cooling of the reactor. By order of the shift supervisor V.A. Babichev (ARS-2) I was involved in these works. It was impossible to determine how effective the water supply to the reactor was and whether it even reached it.


The senior turbine control engineer A.I. Cheranev (ARS-1), who was brought to the unit at night, told me that at the control room-4 the dose rate is 800 micro-roentgen per second (mR / s), and the maximum level was near the puddle behind the workplace of the senior reactor control engineer, where the lining from the ceiling collapsed a bit. I immediately estimated that 800 mR / s is exactly 1000 (thousand!) times more than the maximum permissible level established by the then norms for NPP personnel (current Ukrainian standards are more rigid). I also estimated that the dose of 800 mR / s is about 30 Roentgens, but I did not try to calculate the dose in more detail. Further, I did only a qualitative assessment of the radiation level and only supposedly: “tolerable”, “high”, “too high”. There was no dosimetrist.


© Breus A. A


The end of the first part.

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