The myth about Chernobyl divers

The true story of Chernobyl divers

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After the release of the acclaimed series "Chernobyl", everyone again remembered the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The Chernobyl disaster is still covered with a huge number of myths and legends. To this day, many people still believe in these very myths and legends. This article will focus on the history of Chernobyl divers who plunged into a pool of water under the reactor itself and helped prevent a second explosion, and then died from the resulting radiation. True, it was far from the case.

At that moment, it was about the threat of a second - steam - explosion, which could occur if magma (the molten core of the reactor) came into contact with water in the emergency steam discharge pool, which was under it. It was necessary to drain water from the pool by opening special valves. But they could only be reached through underground passages - most likely, already flooded with radioactive water, which formed after extinguishing the fire and supplying water to the reactor to cool it.
Many of you know this story or have heard about it at least once. It sounds like this:

Three workers of the Chernobyl NPP volunteered to dive into the radioactive water, realizing the complexity of the situation and realizing that they would definitely receive a lethal dose of radiation. Alexey Ananenko worked at a nuclear power plant and knew where the valves for water drainage are located. According to him, he simply could not refuse to complete this task. The names of two other volunteers are Valery Bespalov and Boris Baranov. Many people still think that in the next few weeks, all three died from acute radiation sickness. The men were buried in lead coffins with sealed lids. Even deprived of life, their bodies were soaked through with radioactive radiation. Many heroes went to feats for the sake of others, having only a small chance to survive. But these three men knew they had no chance. They peered into the depths, where certain death awaited them. And plunged into them.

Some journalists even specified the details of the incident: “Ten days later, Alexei and Valery died in a Moscow hospital. Boris lived a little longer. " English-language publications also wrote in earnest about the death of Chernobyl divers.
Many people continued to think that Ananenko, Baranov and Bespalov gave their lives to prevent the explosion. But due to the adaptation of the Chernobyl disaster in the HBO series, everyone again became interested in this event. And finally, thanks to knowledgeable users of social networks, and direct participants in those events who decided to explain to the viewers that the tragic death was an invention of journalists, everything fell into place.

There were really three of them.

  • Boris Alexandrovich Baranov, shift supervisor of the Chernobyl station.
  • Valery Bespalov, senior control engineer of the turbine shop number two.
  • And the senior mechanical engineer of the reactor shop number two Aleksey Mikhailovich Ananenko.

The task was distributed clearly and clearly: Alexey Ananenko knows how and where the valves are located. He will open one himself, the second he will show to Valery Bespalov. Boris Baranov will help them with lighting and will come to the rescue if someone's valve gets stuck.

The men did wear wetsuits, but they did not have to swim down the corridors: the pumps of the fire engines lowered the water level and it was at most knee-deep. The valves were found, the valves were open, the threat was over.

However, none of the three divers received a lethal dose of radiation. Going out on a mission, they had IK-50 radiometers, a pair per person, and Baranov took DP-5 with him.

In 2005, Boris Baranov died of a heart attack. He was 65 years old. His name was entered in the ChNPP Memory Book.
But Bespalov and Ananenko are still alive. The first continued to work at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the second worked in the State Inspectorate for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine, and then became an employee of the Ukrainian Nuclear Forum.

From the memoirs of Alexei Ananenko:

The order to empty the pool was given to me by telephone by the head of the reactor department V.V. Grishchenko. Since the shift supervisors of the shops are operatively subordinate to the station shift supervisor (SSS), I reported the received SSS command to B.A. Baranov.
B.A. Baranov decided that 3 people would be involved in emptying the pool - one for each valve, plus an observer who should come to the rescue if anything goes wrong. Due to the importance of the operation, B.A. himself acted as an observer. Baranov, one valve was to be opened by me, and the second by V.A. Bespalov.

Everything had to be foreseen to reduce the time spent in the danger zone. Since there was no lighting in the corridor, we took lanterns with us. It was not known whether the plates with the operational names GT-21 and GT-22 remained on the valves, so in order to reduce the time spent searching for valves, I raised the process flow diagram and tried to mentally imagine their location. The fittings could be without flywheels - they took with them a large gas wrench.
By order of B.A. Baranova, they brought us wetsuits right to the control room. For the purpose of dosimetric control, we captured 2 ionization dosimeters of the accumulative type IK-50 (i.e. for 50 roentgens) - one was attached to the chest, the other was somewhere at the ankle levels, i.e. in a place as close as possible to water as the most powerful source of radiation. Protection against aerosols in the air - conventional respirators of the "petal" type.

The operation itself went quickly and without complications. We got to the "two zeros of the first" corridor, B.A. Baranov stayed at the entrance, V.A. Bespalov entered the water - the water level was knee-deep and, trying to move as quickly as possible, moved deeper into the corridor. A fairly large diameter pipe was laid on the floor, and as soon as they reached it, they began to move along it. The water level was at the level of the ankles. As soon as I found myself in the corridor, fears that I would not find the necessary fittings quickly disappeared. And the valves turned out to be with signs. I checked the operational names - everything fits together, an error is excluded. The last fear - that there are no flywheels on the valves or they are jammed in the closed position - also did not come true. They were opened relatively easily, no gas key was needed. By the characteristic noise of water flowing by gravity from the pool, we made sure that the task was completed and the pool was emptied.
When we returned back, we checked the readings of the dosimeters. IK-50 is not a very accurate device and its readings can get lost even from jolting while running. But it has one advantage - it is a direct-reading dosimeter, i.e. by the deviation of the arrow, you can immediately determine the dose received. Unfortunately, the memory did not capture the readings of the instruments. This can only mean one thing - the numbers weren't shocking. If we were talking about dozens of X-rays, I would remember.

Of course, this does not mean at all that the operation was an easy walk. Trying to reconstruct those distant events, I called my friend Valera Bespalov, and he told me about an episode that I did not remember, but which very well characterizes the then situation at the nuclear power plant. According to him, when we on the way to "two zeros first" approached the entrance to the transport corridor of block 4, Baranov B.A. stopped, extended the telescopic handle DP-5 to its full length and stuck the sensor out into the corridor. “I looked over Baranov’s shoulder at the readings,” recalls Valera, “the device was off the charts in all sub-bands. Then a short command followed: "Move very fast!" Crossing the dangerous space, I could not resist, looked back and saw a giant black cone of fragments of an exploded reactor, mixed with concrete chips, spilling out from above through the technological opening from the central hall. The familiar metallic taste of liquid radiolysis appeared in my mouth.

All three liquidators were awarded the Orders of the Red Banner of Labor. In 2018, the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko awarded them with the Order of Courage, III degree. For Baranov, his grandson received the award.

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