"To seek out that which was lost..."
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Newsday April 7, 1996
"A Legacy of Wormwood" By Mary Myco
"...The third angel sounded and there fell a great star from heaven, burning, as it were a lamp, and it fell on the third part of the rivers and upon the fountains of water;
And the name of the star is Wormwood; and the third part of the waters became Wormwood, and many men died of the waters because they were made bitter."
TO CONNECT the third biblical sign of the Apocalypse to the 1986 nuclear disaster at the then-Soviet power station 80 miles north of Kiev, you first have to pronounce that station's name as the Ukrainian: "ChOrnobyl," rather than the generally accepted: "ChErnobyl. "
A Russified version of a Ukrainian word, " Chernobyl" doesn't even appear in either language's dictionary. Nor will you see it on the road signs in the contaminated 36-mile-wide Zone of Alienation circling the gutted reactor. Since Ukraine inherited the Rhode Island- sized region from the late Soviet Union in 1991, all the "e's" have been taped over with "o's" to spell "Chornobyl."
Chornobyl is the Ukrainian word for wormwood, a medicinal herb endowed with magical powers in folklore. And it truly became a force to conjure after the Chornobyl station's fourth reactor exploded on April 26, 1986. The cloud of radioactive wormwood subsequently spewed around the globe seemed like a bitter foretaste of the nuclear holocaust that would end the world.
Luckily, the world is still here. But viewed through the crystal ball of hindsight, the disaster did herald doom for the Soviet Union. Like the badly designed Chornobyl reactor, the Communist empire collapsed under pressure, and the 20-story "sarcophagus" encasing the radioactive reactor core in concrete and steel seems like a fitting tombstone for both.
Eventually, someone will have to devise a semiotic danger sign to ward off the unsuspecting in future millennia, when our languages will have been forgotten but the mess inside the sarcophagus will still be radioactive.
For now, the real epitaph is two miles away in the ghost town of Pripyat, where a mural on one of the dozens of modern high-rises vacantly overlooking poplar-lined streets proclaims:
"The Party of Lenin, The power of the people, Leads us to the triumph of Communism!"
Instead of triumph, the Party of Lenin led the 45,000 people of Pripyat, plus 90,000 more from villages and towns in the contaminated Polissia region, to abandon their homes permanently.
Now, it will take more than two centuries for the cesium and strontium contaminating most parts of the Zone of Alienation to decay away. The deadly plutonium in the six-mile ring closest to the reactor will, as a practical matter, last forever.
Small wonder that no more than 10,000 people work (but rarely live) in the Zone these days. Almost all are in two different places named Chornobyl: the nuclear station, where two controversial reactors Kiev promises to close are still running, and the town 12 miles away, where the administration of the Zone of Alienation performs its dystopian task of running the no-man's land.
The work has incentives. Wages are double to triple the Ukrainian average, while radiation exposure rules limit work to just two weeks a month.
But I still had my doubts. "Don't you worry about the radiation?" I asked my tour guide, Oleksandr Shevchenko.
"Most of the time there's no danger," he assured me. Like all Zone men, he was dressed in camouflage. The uniforms are a nod to male workers' sartorial simplicity rather than safety. Women wear whatever they want.
But everyone wears one of the clip-on dosimeters that Shevchenko showed me. "I don't want to know what it reads," he said, explaining: "If I reach my yearly exposure, they wouldn't let me work here. So if I'm here, I must be OK."
Actually, on the day I visited, the background radiation in most parts of the Zone was normal. After 10 years, 95 percent of the radioactivity has sunk about an inch into the soil, securing it from being blown about in surface dust. Snow, too, is a shield. My winter visit was no accident.
I expected a desolate wasteland. In fact, the Zone is very much alive. The removal of 135,000 humans has created a wildlife refuge with a population explosion of perfectly healthy-looking boar, moose, deer, wolves and smaller animals. I even spotted a rare golden eagle soaring above the treetops in the six-mile innermost ring, drawn by the abundance of prey - and the lack of people.
Because cesium and strontium have long since passed from the soil into the food chain, both the prey and the predators are radioactive. And if a cesium-packed roebuck bounds out of the Zone into a neighboring forest and dies, its body will leave a patch of contamination where there had been none before.
That's just one way that radionuclides, or radioactive atoms, move around in the wild. Scientists call the process "migration" and try to prevent it by immobilizing radionuclides in one place where a metaphorical eye can be kept on them.
Soil isn't one of those places. Aside from insinuating themselves into the food chain, radionuclides can eventually migrate down to the water table. But early efforts to decontaminate soil with radiation- absorbing plants created a new problem: disposing of the harvest. Smoke from burning would be radioactive. And burial isn't an option either because there is already too much contaminated garbage in the Zone's 800 leaky "graveyards."
That's why so much "hot" debris, such as the huge concrete blocks that spell out the slogan, "The Forest is the Source of Health," still stand in the same place as 10 years ago.
Like nearly everything in this symbol-laden landscape, that sign from a pre-Chornobyl forestry farm has acquired new meaning. Trees, it turns out, are the best and cheapest way of immobilizing radionuclides, which concentrate in bark where they can safely decay away in the centuries of a tree's lifetime. The danger then becomes fires, such as the one that raged through the Zone in 1991.
Once upon a time, according to folklore, the biggest danger in Ukrainian forests was from woodland nymphs called mavky. Mavky lured their victims with beautiful songs, then tickled them to death. For reasons folklore doesn't explain, the only way to ward off mavky was with wormwood, an herb they feared immensely.
Now, 10 years after Chornobyl, few people venture into the wormwood forests of the Zone. Mushroom and berry picking are forbidden; so is hunting. But for the rangers who work in the woods, clearing out deadwood and fighting the radioactive fires that deadwood can start, there's at least one consolation for the risk: They needn't worry about mavky anymore.
The following was taken off of the network news: ----------------------------------------------------------------------
10th ANNIVERSARY OF THE CHERNOBYL CATASTROPHE:
THE DECISIVE FACTS MUST AT LAST BE BROUGHT INTO THE PUBLIC
On April the 26th the catastrophe of Chernobyl will be ten years ago. Again numerous commemorative articles will be published, and there will be demonstrations. But the very backgrounds of that catastrophe, which lie open, at least for a considerable part, will not be dealt with there. We consider it necessary to carry exactly these facts into the public, which also inevitably shall shed an essential light upon the whole green campaign and the movement against nuclear power stations, even alone by their being laid open. This incident, this catastrophe was actually instantly used by the whole green movement and by all parliamentary parties to demand "instant stoppage" of nuclear energy in the Federal Republic of Germany. This relationship between a catastrophe of a nuclear power station abroad, in the present case in the Soviet Union, and an especially heavy- weighted campaign in this country needs indeed to be examined. For this purpose the publication of the backgrounds, among other things, is very helpful. We demand unambiguously an end to the virtual withholding of these facts in the public.
Still during the same year 1986 are published a Soviet report about the technical details as well as publications by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and by the German Association for Reactor Safety (GRS). Except for a short-time mentioning of the main results by some renown newspapers, the reports are not dealt with in the public, especially not by the media which are decisive for the broad public. Therefore here we go into the details of the Russian report and its peculiarities. Already then, during summer 1986 it became clear that the security systems of the reactor were put out of operation within the framework of experiments, and that a heavy manipulation of the reactor had been undertaken. This in turn led to numerous questions.
-The report of the Soviet State Committee-
The report itself contains a sequence of extremely rude interventions into the reactor, of systematic setting aside all provided security installations, so that one must ask oneself what was in the mind of the operators when they manipulated the reactor in this way and executed the most daredevil "experiments" with it. The report on the one hand depicts numerous details of the technical process in this way, in order to sum up the event by the completely unsuitable and appeasing terms of "operating mistake" or "breaking of operating instructions" and in this way to evade all decisive questions. The IAEA, by the way, is an instrument of the so-called Atomic Weapons Nonproliferation Treaty and as such covers up, as it were the most natural thing in the world, the nuclear hegemony of the then two "Superpowers", which means that the supreme nuclear powers are entitled to control all the remaining countries, but not the other way round.
Many questions, concerning the responsibility for the incident, the origin of explosions at the reactor remain unanswered, or in the best case are being fobbed off with vague hypotheses.
The reactor was consciously driven into an extremely dangerous situation, a situation known for its dangers, and then on top of it all the complete security mechanisms were put out of operation - allegedly for the purpose of carrying through this experiment, even if the report additionally professes that at least some of these switchoffs were not at all necessary for this experiment. Under such conditions, according also to the knowledge of that time, one could not but know that one exposed the reactor to a dangerous situation, proceeding from which unknown big catastrophes became probable. Nothing, nothing at all has the catastrophe to do with a coincidence of unfortunate accidents. On the contrary. What was conducted there, must have lead directly to a ruinous accident, exactly as driving a car with a speed of 140mph arround a corner very probably leads to carrying the car out of the track.
For some pages the report reads in the following manner: here they undertook this forbidden manoeuvre and violated that rules, and in order to make the experiment possible at all, this and afterwards that security device was put out of operation.
The immediate cause of the desaster was an alleged experiment to use, for internal requirements, the current of the turbogenerator coming to a stop. First of all in general it is astonishing that such a reactor fully equipped with radioactive fuel rods is said to be used by its crew as a simple "test object", normally for experiments of that kind test devices are being used for the first time. The report puts the entire blame on the personnel, on its thoughtlessness. On the other hand it can be seen from the report itself that the experiment was directed by a person who was not a specialist for reactors, but only a "ordinary electrical engineer". He apparently gave his directives to the present operating crew. It reads for example:
"The operators attempted manually to sustain the main parameters of the system - steam pressure and the water level in the drum separators - but they did not entirely succeed in doing so. At this stage they saw the steam pressure in the drum separators sag by 0.5-0.6 MPa and the water level drop below the emergency mark. In order to avoid shutting down the reactor in such conditions, the staff blocked the emergency protection signals relating to these parameters. At the same time, the reactivity continued to drop slowly. At 1:22:30, the operator saw from a printout of the fast reactivity evaluation program that the available excess reactivity had reached a level requiring immediate shutdown of the reactor. Nevertheless, the staff were not stopped by this and began with the experiments." (p. 16/17) 1|
These sentences one must read twice indeed, as they show the whole purposefulness of the proceeding. Who ordered such a reckless way of proceeding at the reactor? That engineer who was not an expert for reactors at all? About this responsibility the report is silent.
After that the security device for the case of both turbogenerators being switched off is put out of function.
The report says: "This meant a further departure from the experimental programme, which did not call for blocking the reactor's emergency protection with the switching off of two turbogenerators." (p. 17) 2|
Shortly after 1 h 23 min suddenly the reactivity of the fuel in the reactor, which had been highly manipulated and forcibly brought down, increases massively. The operator tries an emergency shut-down, which however - says the report - fails.
Then it is said: "According to observers outside unit 4, at about 1:24 there occurred two explosions one after the other; burning lumps of material and sparks shot into the air above the reactor, some of which fell onto the roof of the machine room and started a fire." (p. 17) 3|
Later an attempt to explain these explosions was undertaken using a mathematical computing model, but nowhere they are being explained in a really conclusive manner. Mathematical models have only limited meaningfulness and normally serve to put somebody on the right track leading to the determination of the results. One question, which poses itself in this framework, and which also could show something to the investigation about the backgrounds of the catastrophe, consists in the following: Was a mathematical model about the consequences put up prior to proceeding to the apparent planful manipulation of the reactor? That would seem natural. If such methods of a mathematical simulation are at hand, why not make use of them in advance, in the case of such dangerous processes? In case the simulation existed however: what did it tell?
176 persons were present in the whole plant, of whom a part was in the concerned reactor unit 4. According to the Soviet statements of that time the most part of this personnel must have survived this incident. But at the same time this explosion from the inside is said to have overturned a slab of 1.000 tons. How can men survive such an explosion in the inside?
About the causes of the incident it is said in the Soviet report: "As shown by the analysis presented above, the accident in the fourth unit of the Chernobyl' nuclear power plant belongs to the category of accidents associated with the introduction of excess reactivity. The design of the reactor facility provided for protection against this type of accident with allowance for the physical characteristics of the reactor, including a positive steam void coefficient of reactivity." (p. 22) 4|
(This coefficient describes a characteristic feature of the RMBK- reactor which means that at an increase of the steam content of the cooling water the power may rise under certain conditions.)
And exactly these protective devices were put out of function.
"The accident assumed catastrophic proportions because the reactor was taken by the staff into a non-regulation state in which the positive void coefficient of reactivity was able substantially to enhance the power excursion." (p. 23) 5|
By the explosions and the entire proceeding described here great masses of radioactivity came into the air and were scattered over the European continent by the winds. They led to a serious increase of radioactivity in some nearer regions. The immediate surrounding area had to be evacuated. During the following days the sealing of the reactor building and the extinction of the fire are undertaken with great energy, and with success. The days after the catastrophe are at the same time days of the biggest nuclear protection manoeuvres, of fight against nuclear fire, of confinement and, as far as possible, of decontamination of the environment. The reactor units 1 and 2 in the immediate vicinity of the reactor 4 continue to work for 24 hours even on the day of the catastrophe!!!
This description, too, shows, by the way, that the propaganda, as it went here, had the intention, even though the catastrophe was serious, to make a really mystical matter out of it, aiming at engendering general fear of the big technology. This has nothing to do with a realistic assessment, this is propagandistic intention on principle which benefits all those who pushed for desindustrialization and who are trying to disseminate uncertainty about the material fundaments of society.
The report by those politically responsible of the Soviet Union of that time does not keep completely quiet either about its intentions regarding the political conclusions:
"The fact that the contemporary world is full of potentially dangerous industrial production processes significantly aggravating the consequences of military actions gives a new perspective to the senselessness and inadmissibility of war in today's world." (p. 3) 6|
At that time the possibility of an attack of a potential military enemy against atomic energy plants, and that therefore they should not been constructed, was frequently being discussed. The advocates of this opinion were the same who preached the so-called policy of detente. Very interesting: there happens an alleged "incident", with a Soviet reactor, and the same responsible people warn other countries against their atomic energy plants and industrial plants, that the world was full of them, that is to say more plants apparently should not be erected. So these are de facto threats of the Soviet leadership of that time connected to the occurrence of a catastrophe under very dubious circumstances in their country. * And after that Gorbatchov, under whom the USA gained a decisive influence in the Soviet Union itself, declares that on the occasion of Chernobyl one should cooperate more closely with the IAEA, which possibly should control internationally more strictly the entire atomic industry, also the Russian one.
THE CONCLUSIONS OF THE GRS (ASSOCIATION FOR THE SECURITY OF REACTORS)
There also exists, subsequent to this report, an extensive description of the GRS "New insights into the incident in the nuclear power station Chernobyl .. state: Oct. 1986". Here too the astounding circumstances cannot be concealed, but also here it is attempted to rubricate the whole thing simply under "human error", under "violation of regulations".
Psychology is bothered: The crew had had big ambitions and had been willing to carry through this experiment with greater speed. Other questions, more essential ones, as for the political context, into which the Soviet Union itself wanted to put this aubject, questions for the responsibility of this "experiment program" at the reactor, which was carried through without any responsibility, apparently are not being asked.
Summing up this report says:
"This misconduct consists in conscious and blatant injuries against binding regulations. The frequency and the importance of the mistaken actions indicate that the practice of running the plant was throughout, not only in an isolated manner at April 26th 1986, characterized by an attitude of lack of awareness of security matters." (p. 34) 7|
It is ridiculous to say that irresponsible actions of that kind -such a characterization is not employed by the IAEA or by the GRS! - are to be put down only on a lack of awareness of security matters. Even a nonprofessional would know, that such actions at a reactor are mortally dangerous, not only for the crew. A serious striving for finding out the background of this behaviour cannot be recognized on the part of the IAEA or the GRS. The question who ordered this program of experiments or by which superior authorities these experiments were approved, is not asked. Neither any evidence is published about what statements the responsible people of that "shift" made during the investigations, or if all of them lost their lives at the incident - according to the Soviet description this may hardly be the case.
Erasing all these points it is said only: "The behaviour of the personnel in connection with substantial weaknesses of the design of the plant was the cause for the incident at the nuclear power station of Chernobyl." (p. 33) 8|
Weaknesses of the personnel and weaknesses of the construction -this is the whole litany, an utterly cheap litany which by no means does justice to the quality of the things. Equally naive are the proposals by which events of that kind shall be prevented in the future:
"Training of the personnel stressing especially the understanding of the processes in the reactor and during the operation of the reactor, including training at simulators which represent also the processes during heavy incidents in a realistic manner." (p. 32) 9|
Can one assume seriously that the crew which had been working successfully for years at the reactor (says the report itself) does not know the dangerous potential residing in it?? The regulations for the operation of the reactor do indeed show the danger of the reactor at low power level .
Then it reads in the report of the GRS: "As a conscious bringing about of the incident can be excluded, the behaviour of the personnel becomes understandable only if one assumes that it did not know sufficiently the behaviour of the reactor at low power levels." (p.34) 10|
This formulation shows that even the editors of this report had to deal with the question of a conscious bringing about of an heavy ruinous incident, but why this possibility is excluded in face of the whole chain of actions which made it possible, stays without any detailed argumentation.
1| 2| 3| 4| 5| 6| USSR State Committee on the Utilization of Atomic Energy The Accident at the Chernobyl' Nuclear Power Plant and its Consequences. Information Compiled for the IAEA's Experts' Meeting, 25-29- August 1986, Vienna Part I. General Material Draft August 1986
7| 8| 9| 10| Gesellschaft fuer Reaktorsicherheit (GRS) mbH, Koeln/Garching Neuere Erkenntnisse zum Unfall im Kernkraftwerk Tschernobyl. Stand: Oktober 1986 (2nd ed. Febr. 1987) (The quotations from this publication were translated by us).
*Note: The German translation of this passage is even more outspoken. It uses the expression: "satiation" - (of the contemporary world with potentially dangerous industrial production processes etc.) It is not clear if this expression stems from the Soviet original and subsequently was weakened by the English translation, or if the German translator introduced it into the context.
NEUE EINHEIT Zeitschrift fuer Politik, Oekonomie und Kultur - Extrablatt Nr.25 - ----------------------------------------------------------------------
soc.culture.soviet,alt.current-events.russia Subject: Re: Russia prepares for nuclear war Date: Thu, 11 Jan 96 23:01:32 EST
Jane's Defence Weekly December 16, 1995 (Vol. 24; No. 25; Pg. 5)
Russia 'is still preparing for war with USA'
By Barbara Starr
Preparation for nuclear war with the USA appears to remain a high Russian priority, according to statements by US intelligence community officials recently made public.
One sign is a new Russian underground command and control centre, known as Kosvinskiy Mountain, that has been built in the Urals. It is "one of the main new elements" of the Russian underground nuclear command and control architecture that has emerged since the Soviet Union dissolved, US Navy Adm William Studeman, then Acting Director of Central Intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year.
The statements were in reply to SASC questions following public hearings in January. The answers and parts of the classified closed hearing that followed the public session, were released recently.
"While some of this construction appears to be the continuation of programmes started long before the break-up, it still appears to be high-priority to correct perceived vulnerabilities in their nuclear command and control system," said Adm Studeman.
"Preparedness for nuclear conflict with the United States - not withstanding the end of the Cold War - remains a resource allocation priority."
Lt Gen James Clapper, who was Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency during the hearing, told the committee the bunker facility "will be a new part of Russia's multi-billion dollar effort" to modernize its nuclear infrastructure.
The Russians appear to be seeking to improve their ability to absorb a nuclear strike, reducing their incentives for early nuclear use.
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