The huge power complex constructed in the 1960s in the central Ukraine of the giant Soviet Union was a mammoth project for the benefit of Soviet society. This was the answer to the petition presented to Joseph Stalin from a prominent Soviet scientist, Igor Kurchatov, in 1949. The scientist used...
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The huge power complex constructed in the 1960s in the central Ukraine of the giant Soviet Union was a mammoth project for the benefit of Soviet society. This was the answer to the petition presented to Joseph Stalin from a prominent Soviet scientist, Igor Kurchatov, in 1949. The scientist used knowledge from captured German physicists for the development of nuclear-generated electrical power. It was to be a promising and safe advancement for the USSR. Yet what happened turned what should have been highly beneficial to a large population into an incredibly detrimental catastrophe.
Slow and chilling was the sparse and fragmented news coming out of the Soviet Union several days after April 26, 1986, telling that a nuclear power accident had occurred. The shock of the disclosure, from several international media sources, stood in sharp contrast to the searing fire rapidly launching wave after wave of radioactive particles into the Ukrainian skies from that dangerous early-morning experiment at the V.I. Lenin NPP (Nuclear Power Plant) Reactor No. 4. The city of Pripyat, where the incident occurred, is 11 miles from the larger Russian city of Chernobyl. Unfortunately, the name Chernobyl is forever cemented in everyoneâ€™s mind as the place of the most damaging man-made environmental and nuclear disaster ever to occur.
The city of Pripyat was built in 1977 to house 35,000 to 45,000 citizens, workers and family members connected to the overall operation and support of the power plant. A modern Russian future needed vast amounts of electricity and the large Chernobyl works would contribute to that requirement. Furthermore, the Soviet government was obsessed with staying in the forefront of any nuclear technology. The faulty experiment of that day in April 1986 was the precipitating factor with several contributing engineering and design problems in that power unit. The blueprint design and working nature of a RBMK reactor is, roughly translated, a â€œreactor cooled by water and modified by graphite.â€ The Russians felt more comfortable with this style of control and operation versus the pressurized water-cooled reactor that required a massive containment building.
Economy and speed of construction were paramount in showing the rest of the world that Russia could do it best. Yet a catastrophic explosion occurred during an electrical safety system backup test for the reactors. Inadequate training and incorrect operational procedures resulted in a major critical temperature overheating. The result was that uncontrolled high-pressure steam, mixed with a massive release of hydrogen gas that easily found an ignition source, blew away the No. 4 reactorâ€™s steel and concrete lid. Within its nature, hydrogen gas has a wide flammable and explosive range when mixed with air. Unfortunately, the fierce counteraction punched a hole in the towering buildingâ€™s roof and from that point everything was in a runaway state of destruction.
Much has been told about the long-range effects from the radiation released that fateful day. The directly related widespread environmental damage continues to be documented. What has not been told in sufficient detail is the commitment of the brave firefighters who faced a forceful enemy. And that enemy â€“ radiation â€“ was greater than any fire ever faced by firefighters in the history of firefighting. What follows is a tribute to those who did all they could, suffered the most and paid the ultimate price.
Almost immediately after the reactor blew, alarm bells were ringing in the power plant fire station. The code of the bell alarm system, which the six on-duty firefighters recognized, was that it was of a major proportion â€“ a serious fire in Reactor No. 4â€™s building. A small firefighting crew was all that was maintained around the clock. Fire protection systems would react to any outbreak of serious fire, thereby aiding in the rapid suppression of anything that could threaten the plant and its operation. Russian fire protection authorities did not foresee an explosion as a real threat to the suppression systems.