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Publications · Taming the nuclear monster. Nuclear disasters of the century. Historical sketch. Section 9.9 The special operations of the MoD task force.

Knowledge and experience to save the World


When the task force was first formed, it was, right from the start, necessary to solve really important problems relating to the assessment of the radiation situation on the industrial area of the NPP both on the instructions of the Government committee and at the request of the other agencies participating in assessing the condition of the reactor and liquidating the consequences of the disaster. A participant in one of these land-air operations, captain (in 1986) of the MoD’s Chemical, Biological and Radiation Defence Forces, Evgeni Mikhailovich Ryzhykov (Yaugen Ryzhykau), recalls:

“Following the two explosions of the night of 26 April 1986, which led to the disintegration of the Number 4 power unit, after the heroic attempts made to extinguish the fire, the release of radioactive substances began to drop, reaching its minimum level on 30 April. If the fire-fighters had not extinguished the fire in the plant and machinery building in the hours immediately following the explosion, the spread of the fire to the electro-generators in the machine hall, could have led to a stoppage of the same and, as a result, the interruption of the electricity feed to the main circulation pumps, and then to a repeat of the accident at the third or even second power unit...then the disaster would have reached a simply global scale.
However, a few days after the explosion the attempts to bury the destroyed reactor with sand, lead and boron compounds, heat loss from the surface was reduced, and as a result, the fuel mass heated up. This led to a further rise in the temperature inside the reactor up to 3000°C, according to some hypotheses, and the daily release of radioactivity began to increase, on 5 May reaching almost the same maximum level as on the day of the accident, 26 April. And once more a plume of emissions from the reactor became visible.
The reactor was destroyed and burning, the control apparatus was not working, access to the structures and to the area near the reactor was partially blocked by wreckage, and, indeed, the radiation level was such that approach was impossible. There was no roof above the reactor and the shaft was almost stopped up with sand and other materials dropped from the helicopters. The fuel, it seemed, had melted and flowed into the sub-reactor tructures, but had not (yet) penetrated the pressure-suppression pool,
where there was a lot of water and yet another explosion was possible.


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