5 reasons why the Chernobyl disaster got so out of control

From Sputnik News, April 26, 2015

On the 29th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in what was then the Ukrainian SSR, Vladimir Bronnikov, who headed the original containment operation at the plant, told RIA Novosti Ukraine why the accident became such an enormous disaster.

1. The Plant Lacked a Safety Culture

There is still no single theory to why the Chernobyl disaster happened which nuclear experts agree upon. According to Bronnikov, the accident was due to an error by the plant’s control room to turn off the power unit when the accident occurred.

“The idea of the experiments was to see what happens when there is a blackout and the energy system collapses.  But then there were several other accidents and the control room demanded that the power unit is kept turned on, as they tried to take it out of the iodine pit at any cost,” Bronnikov said.

According to Bronnikov, the plant’s construction also contributed to the accident in that the developers did not provide information of what to do during an accident to the operators.

“When we realized what happened and, so to say, cornered the designer, he said, ‘Yes we generally guessed and understood, we were getting ready but didn’t have time to analyze and calculate it to the end.'”

2. Rescue Workers and Experts Did Not Know How Bad It Really Was

The first people to arrive at the accident site were firemen. They tried to extinguish the fire with no protection other than their helmets and tarpaulin uniforms.

“I only realized the scale of what happened the following night, when some of the personnel got home from the plant and told me what happened. I didn’t believe them and thought they were lying. The next morning I began my job as the station’s chief engineer. It took my group about five days to realize the scale of what happened,” Bronnikov said.

Within hours it turned out that accident was no ordinary fire. By the morning, the firemen began to faint from radiation sickness. 136 plant employees and rescue workers got an enormous dose of radiation and 28 of them died within months of the accident.

3. No One Was Prepared for Evacuation…

The Soviet government kept silent on the accident. The first mention of the disaster in the media was on a local radio station in Pripyat 36 hours after the accident. The station’s announcer told residents to pack up for a temporary evacuation.

The city was evacuated quietly the following day. People were told that they would be leaving for one or two days, and to not take personal belongings with them so as not to overburden the buses evacuating them.

On April 28, two days after the disaster, a message went out on the TASS newswire: “An accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. One of the reactors is damaged. Measures are being taken to eliminate consequences. Necessary aid has been administered to victims. A government commission to investigate the event has been created.”

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev only admitted that a disaster had occurred when it was impossible to hide. A nuclear power plant in Sweden detected elevated radiation levels, which they traced to Ukraine. Swedish and American experts initially thought that a nuclear war had begun, but measuring the radioactive spectrum showed that the radiation was from a power plant.

4….Or How to Deal With the Disaster

For the first few days, the liquidation efforts at the plant were intended to reduce radioactive emissions and cool down the reactor. There were fears that the heat from the nuclear fuel would cause a meltdown of the reactor and another massive radioactive emission.

“As a result of the accident, the remains of the active zone melted, a mix of melted metal, sand, concrete and fuel fragments flowed into facilities under the reactor, but it did not come out of the reactor. It just settled on the bottom and stayed there. We were afraid it would go through the foundation, as calculations showed,” Bronnikov said.

Helicopters were used to extinguish the flame. They dumped sand and clay on the reactor, as well as fire retardant chemicals that would also prevent a chain reaction. At the time, no one knew that this only made the reactor hotter, and the fire was not extinguished until May 9.

Despite mistakes that were made, Bronnikov says that the people who took part in the liquidation were very professional and had to make momentous decisions.

“If it wasn’t for the personnel understanding their responsibility and the problems before them, the consequences would be unknown. The personnel acted very fittingly. The professional workers did not panic.”

5. And No One Knows What to Do About it Even Now

Chernobyl, the city of Pripyat
Pripyat after disaster

The 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the accident site was eventually expanded to include neighboring Belarus where 20 percent of the country’s land area was contaminated. In Ukraine, contamination affected 50,000 square kilometers of land across 12 regions. Hundreds of villages were relocated and around 5 million hectares of agricultural land was deemed contaminated.

As many 4,000 people were killed by the disaster or are continuing to die, mostly due to cancers, according to the World Health Organization. Greenpeace says that as many as 10 million people were affected by the radiation.

Today, a second sarcophagus is being built to contain the radiation still being emitted by the reactor. The original casing built in 1986 is crumbling due to age.

Funding shortfalls due to overshooting costs threaten the project and funding is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. The Ukrainian government’s dire economic situation is adding to the problem and the project may be frozen if it does not obtain adequate funding.


Interview with Chernobyl cleanup survivor, Natalia Manzurova


Natalia Manzurova, shown here in 1988 in the “dead zone”
of Pripyat, is one of the relatively few survivors among
those directly involved in the cleanup of Chernobyl.

In memory of all those affected by the nuclear accidents at Fukushima and Chernobyl :

Shortly after the Fukushima nuclear accident occurred in March 2011, Natalia Manzurova granted this interview with aol.com. She is one of the few survivors among those directly involved in the cleanup of Chernobyl. Just after the nuclear catastrophe, the 35-year-old engineer was told to report to the wrecked plant in northern Ukraine. She spent 4 1/2 years helping clean the abandoned town of Pripyat, which was less than two miles from the Chernobyl reactors. Several years after working there, she developed a benign thyroid tumor. Half the thyroid was removed. Around the time of the operation, the government passed a law saying the liquidators had to work for exactly 4 1/2 years to get their pension and retire. The law concerning benefits kept changing because the government did not want to admit to what extent the liquidators were being affected. It would have looked bad for the industry. “The nuclear industry is dangerous. They want to deny the dangers.” Manzurova became disabled at age 43. Today she is an advocate for radiation victims worldwide.

Chernobyl Cleanup Survivor’s Message for Japan: ‘Run Away as Quickly as Possible’
by Dana Kennedy, aol.com, 22 March 2011

Natalia Manzurova, one of the few survivors among those directly involved in the long cleanup of Chernobyl, was a 35-year-old engineer at a nuclear plant in Ozersk, Russia, in April 1986 when she and 13 other scientists were told to report to the wrecked, burning plant in the northern Ukraine.

It was just four days after the world’s biggest nuclear disaster spewed enormous amounts of radiation into the atmosphere and forced the evacuation of 100,000 people.

Manzurova and her colleagues were among the roughly 800,000 “cleaners” or “liquidators” in charge of the removal and burial of all the contamination in what’s still called the dead zone.

She spent 4 1/2 years helping clean the abandoned town of Pripyat, which was less than two miles from the Chernobyl reactors. The plant workers lived there before they were abruptly evacuated.

Manzurova, now 59 and an advocate for radiation victims worldwide, has the “Chernobyl necklace” — a scar on her throat from the removal of her thyroid — and myriad health problems. But unlike the rest of her team members, who she said have all died from the results of radiation poisoning, and many other liquidators, she’s alive.

AOL News spoke with Manzurova about the nuclear disaster in Japan with the help of a translator on the telephone Monday from Vermont. Manzurova, who still lives in Ozersk, was beginning a one-week informational tour of the U.S. organized by the Beyond Nuclear watchdog group.

AOL News: What was your first reaction when you heard about Fukushima?
Manzurova: It felt like déjà vu. I felt so worried for the people of Japan and the children especially. I know the experience that awaits them.

But experts say Fukushima is not as bad as Chernobyl.
Every nuclear accident is different, and the impact cannot be truly measured for years. The government does not always tell the truth. Many will never return to their homes. Their lives will be divided into two parts: before and after Fukushima. They’ll worry about their health and their children’s health. The government will probably say there was not that much radiation and that it didn’t harm them. And the government will probably not compensate them for all that they’ve lost. What they lost can’t be calculated.

What message do you have for Japan?
Run away as quickly as possible. Don’t wait. Save yourself and don’t rely on the government because the government lies. They don’t want you to know the truth because the nuclear industry is so powerful.

When you were called to go to Chernobyl, did you know how bad it was there?
I had no idea and never knew the true scope until much later. It was all covered in secrecy. I went there as a professional because I was told to — but if I was asked to liquidate such an accident today, I’d never agree. The sacrifices the Fukushima workers are making are too high because the nuclear industry was developed in such a way that the executives don’t hold themselves accountable to the human beings who have to clean up a disaster. It’s like nuclear slavery.

What was your first impression of Chernobyl?
It was like a war zone where a neutron bomb had gone off. I always felt I was in the middle of a war where the enemy was invisible. All the houses and buildings were intact with all the furniture, but there wasn’t a single person left. Just deep silence everywhere. Sometimes I felt I was the only person alive on a strange planet. There are really no words to describe it.

What did your work as a liquidator entail?
First, we measured radiation levels and got vegetation samples to see how high the contamination was. Then bulldozers dug holes in the ground and we buried everything — houses, animals, everything. There were some wild animals that were still alive, and we had to kill them and put them in the holes.

Were any pets left in the houses?
The people had only a few hours to leave, and they weren’t allowed to take their dogs or cats with them. The radiation stays in animals’ fur and they can’t be cleaned, so they had to be abandoned. That’s why people were crying when they left. All the animals left behind in the houses were like dried-out mummies. But we found one dog that was still alive.

Where did you find the dog and how did he survive?
We moved into a former kindergarten to use as a laboratory and we found her lying in one of the children’s cots there. Her legs were all burned from the radiation and she was half blind. Her eyes were all clouded from the radiation. She was slowly dying.

Were you able to rescue her?
No. Right after we moved in, she disappeared. And this is the amazing part. A month later we found her in the children’s ward of the (abandoned) hospital. She was dead. She was lying in a child’s bed, the same size bed we found her in the kindergarten. Later we found out that she loved children very much and was always around them.

How did working in the dead zone begin to affect your health?
I started to feel as if I had the flu. I would get a high temperature and start to shiver. What happens during first contact with radiation is that your good flora is depleted and the bad flora starts to flourish. I suddenly wanted to sleep all the time and eat a lot. It was the organism getting all the energy out.

How much radiation were you subjected to?
We were never told. We wore dosimeters which measured radiation and we submitted them to the bosses, but they never gave us the results.

But didn’t you realize the danger and want to leave?
Yes, I knew the danger. All sorts of things happened. One colleague stepped into a rainwater pool and the soles of his feet burned off inside his boots. But I felt it was my duty to stay. I was like a firefighter. Imagine if your house was burning and the firemen came and then left because they thought it was too dangerous.

When did you discover the thyroid tumor?
They found it during a routine medical inspection after I had worked there several years. It turned out to be benign. I don’t know when it started to develop. I had an operation to remove half the thyroid gland. The tumor grew back, and last year I had the other half removed. I live on (thyroid) hormones now.

Why did you go back to Chernobyl after getting a thyroid tumor?
Right around the time of my operation, the government passed a law saying the liquidators had to work for exactly 4 1/2 years to get our pension and retire. If you left even one day early, you would not get any benefits.

Really? That seems beyond cruel.
It’s why the nuclear industry is dangerous. They want to deny the dangers. They kept changing the law about what benefits we’d get because if they admitted how much we were affected, it would look bad for the industry. Now we hardly get any benefits.

Did your health worsen after you finally finished work at Chernobyl?
I was basically disabled at 43. I was having fits similar to epileptic fits. My blood pressure was sky high. It was hard to work for more than six months a year. The doctors didn’t know what to do with me. They wanted to put me in a psychiatric ward and call me crazy. Finally they admitted it was because of the radiation.


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