18.05.2020

Lead Giant

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KrAZ 256 B1 - 030


The Kremenchug Automobile Plant was in the front line of the liquidity of the nuclear disaster. Then, in 1986, in the early days, more than 300 KRAZ workers went to the dangerous infected zone. They rode confident that they were called up for military training. In fact, they were delivered by special flight to the very hell, in Chernobyl, to eliminate the consequences of the disaster. Among the order of 10 thousand units of various vehicles, a large number of different models of KrAZ vehicles were thrown there. The plant also had experience in creating special equipment for such important tasks. That’s why on June 22, 1986 car manufacturers from the USSR government received a new order.


It was required in a very short time to create special machines that can operate in the zone of high radioactive levels. The equipment should take out the radioactive debris of the 4th power unit destroyed by the explosion and provide building materials with a protective sarcophagus being built over the remains of the fourth power unit. Moreover, the materials needed to be transported directly to the epicenter of the disaster with a high level of radiation hazard.


The KrAZ-256B, a three-axle dump truck with two driving bridges with a lifting capacity of 12 tons, which was successfully used in industrial, road and housing construction, in quarries and mines, and in the construction of dams and canals, was taken as the basis for such a machine. The model was sold in 40 countries. A powerful engine and well-selected transmission ratios provided the car with high traction and speed qualities, great performance and economy. The designers had to solve the problem from scratch. It was important to combine reliability and driver safety with radiation safety, of course. A working group was created in the office of the KrAZ chief designer, which included the best engineers and designers of the car factory. Engineer Viktor Kholyavko was appointed as a lead designer for the liquidation vehicle. To reduce the negative factors of radiation on the driver of the car, it was required to place him in a special sealed radiation-tight capsule and ensure its productive work. Creating the capsule design, at first they tried to place it inside the serial cabin more precisely, on the capsule mounted on the frame, and put the serial cabin without floor on top. One of the reasons for this decision was the requirement of the customer to provide masking of the capsule, and therefore the purpose of the car. But when they began to place the filter ventilation unit (FVUA-100N), they were faced with the need to seriously refine the design of the serial cab. It was decided not to put the cab, that is, to sacrifice camouflage to ensure the timing of the delivery of cars. And most likely it was a very right decision and hide the problem by this time was already pointless.


Making the capsule itself was no easy matter either. It was welded from special puff panels. The outer layers were made of steel sheet 3 mm thick, and the inner space was filled with lead. As you know, lead does not transmit radiation. The thickness of the lead gasket on the floor panels was 30 mm, on the side walls - 25 mm, on the roof - 12. To produce the first sample, a large amount of lead was required. At that moment, it was taken from all enterprises of Kremenchug. And for the manufacture of a batch of machines, we had to urgently arrange the delivery of 60 tons of lead from Kazakhstan. The cabin windows were made of special anti-radiation leaded glass 300x300 mm in size and 75 mm thick with lead frames. But in view of the fact that the supply of glass blocks from Moscow was delayed, it was decided to do the first eight machines without side windows. Imagine what the visibility was for the driver, plus, in addition to everything, the glass blocks were not perfectly transparent, but with a dark yellow tint.
Each capsule manufactured was tested for radioactive permeability. In those places where radiation penetration was detected, additional lead overlays were additionally installed. As a result, the lead capsule was very heavy. Its weight exceeded 3 tons, and, most importantly, it was unevenly distributed on the chassis of the dump truck. I had to solve this issue in conjunction with many others. The designers were forced to abandon the installation of a cabin heater; it was assumed that the work to eliminate the consequences of the Chernobyl accident would be completed before the winter cold. On July 10, the first sample of a special dump truck left the gates of the experimental workshop, and the next day it was run in the Kremenchug area. The car rolled 26 kilometers, according to the test results, they made a number of improvements and sent the experimental car immediately to Chernobyl, without waiting for the manufacture of all the machines.


Victor Kholyavka recalls : KrAZ 256 030 had driven out of the territory of the plant, and we could not get used to the fact that inside the cabin is small, and there was only one window – front one. Visibility on the sides was only carried out with the help of mirrors.  4 pieces of side glasses were put per a car. 2 for rear view and 2 for side view. In all, they were hemispherical. A strong hum was unusual. This was the noise of the air pumped by the filters of the ventilation unit into the capsule. Our doubts about the patency of the car dispersed quite quickly. The car moved confidently in low places in which water flashed through the grass. We drove with the capsule closed door. Moved forward and reverse. They imitated the entrance to the excavator in the role of which was a lone willow. After one or two tests, we quickly mastered driving with this unit. Driving did not cause problems even when maneuvering in reverse. We were guided only by mirrors. 
Over the next week, car manufacturers completed the assembly of the first batch of seven special dump trucks. They were immediately shipped to Chernobyl by rail. The last KrAZ trucks from a special industrial party were delivered on July 27, i.e., almost a month after receiving the assignment. Deadlines, a difficult task, but it was solved and this undoubtedly causes respect. One can only guess what it cost the designers and factory workers, but they knew how important their work was.


A total of 18 dump trucks were manufactured. The car chassis was assembled on the main conveyor, capsule installation for the driver and other improvements were performed in the experimental workshop of the plant. Automobile plant workers involved in the production of Chernobyl KrAZ trucks received high government awards.


The further fate of these cars is not known exactly, but with a high degree of probability it can be assumed that after completing all the work, they ended up in a special burial ground for contaminated equipment, but this is a completely different story.

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