On the 26th of April 1986 shortly after midnight, to be precise, at 1:23 GMT, there occurred near the Ukrainian town of Chornobyl a tremendous explosion at a huge nuclear power plant, followed by a gradual meltdown of the reactor No. 4. Source
THERE ARE MANY WEB SITES dedicated to Chernobyl as it is now, but few showing it as it was before the disaster. Without further ado, DarwinCentral presents Chernobyl: Before The Fall.
THE UKRAINE generates 260 billion kilowatt-hours a year, or nearly one-fifth of all the power in the Soviet Union. Nuclear energy makes up 15 per cent of that total today and is expected to grow through the end of the nineties. Correspondent Maxim Rylsky talked with Vitali Sklyarov, Minister of Power and Electrification of the Ukraine, about the republic’s power industry.
Q: What is the Ukraine’s nuclear power industry like today?
A: We are planning to build large power-generating complexes of four to six million kilowatts with huge reactor unit capacities like the Zaporozhye plant in the southern Ukraine. the first phase of which is already in operation. or the Chernobyl plant in the northwestern part of the republic.
I might also mention the power-generating complex on the Yuzhnyy Bug River, which, together with the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant, ensures the most effective utilization of nuclear power.
The Khmelnitskiy Nuclear Power Plant in the western Ukraine and a nuclear plant on the Crimean Peninsula are also under construction.
The Ukraine will be the first republic in the Soviet Union to have a commercial nuclear plant for heat and power. Its capacity will be two million kilowatts. The plant will heat the Black Sea port city of Odessa, which has a population of over one million. The heat from its exhaust steam will be used in growing vegetables, fruit and mushrooms, fish and poultry farming, and irrigating fields with warm water.
Q: Nuclear plants are being built close to big cities and resort areas. How safe are they?
A: The odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years. The plants have safe and reliable controls that are protected from any breakdown with three safety lines. The lines operate independently without duplicating one another. New equipment with higher reliability is being developed. Pilot models are tested under conditions similar to working conditions.
The environment is also securely protected. Hermetically sealed buildings, closed cycles for technological processes with radioactive agents and systems for purification and harmless waste disposal preclude any discharge into the external environment. Nuclear plants are ecologically much cleaner than thermal plants that burn huge quantities of fossil fuel.
Q: Who works at the nuclear power plants?
A: There are several institutes and universities in the republic that train personnel for the plants. Professions and trades concerned with servicing nuclear equipment are also growing in popularity in the Ukraine. Young people come to us willingly.
The main hall of the first energy block at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Below: A new shift coming on duty
By Nikolai Nesvitenko
Photographs by Vladimir Rushnikovsky and Yevgeni Kireyev
Kosyak’s favorite saying is that truth is born out of controversy. (“Truth,” for him. is a turbine.)
WHEN the turbine plant in Kharkov, the second largest city in the Ukraine, dispatches another turbine, 60-year-old designer Yuri Kosyak is sure to see it off.Designing turbines was something he had dreamed of from his early teens. World War II, however, put an end to the dreaming.It wasn’t until 1952 that he became a student at the Kharkov Polytechnic Institute, where he was struck by the idea of designing turbo generators for nuclear power plants.After graduation Kosyak was hired by the Kharkov Turbine Plant. The hardworking and talented engineer was soon appointed deputy, and several years later, head of the design office specializing in turbine units for nuclear plants.That was in the sixties. By that time Kharkov machine builders had made great headway in developing the Soviet nuclear power industry.The capacity of the turbines put out by the plant was growing with every passing year. The creation of 500,000-kilowatt units was a landmark. “However, when we started developing 750,000- kilowatt units,” the designer recalls, ”we realized that a further increase in capacity would be restricted by the physical properties of the materials. It was necessary either to increase the size of the turbine blades, which would increase the stress on them, or to slow down the speed of rotor revolution.”
Kharkov designers chose the second route. They devised turbines with a speed of revolution that was 50 per cent lower than that for ordinary units. It was these new turbines that turned out to be so economical that they served as the prototype for one-million-kilowatt sets. Now Kharkov designers have developed a two-million-kilowatt unit.
BORN OF THE ATOM
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO the town of Pripyat was not marked on the map of the Ukraine. It grew up around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the republic’s first, which began operation in 1977. The plant presently produces four million kilowatts a year.
The town, which was named after the river along which it was built, is made up mostly of young people. The average age is 26. Pripyat’s residents are not disturbed by the fact that they can see the nuclear power units from the windows of their apartments. The units resemble a ship with white superstructures on deck. Radiating from the ship are the openwork pylons of power transmission lines.
Vladimir Korobeinikov, Candidate of Science (Engineering), the plant’s chief ecologist, says that even before the first unit was started up, mobile laboratories recorded the natural radiation background within 50 kilometers of the plant. They tested the flora and fauna, the air and water. Every year since then the same tests have been made and their results compared. The reactors have in no way affected the health of the environment. The station is ecologically pure.
“I have examined many nuclear power plants in the Soviet Union,” Korobeinikov said. “The radiation environment is unchanged everywhere. However, this does not mean that man’s interference in nature has had absolutely no effect. You can’t expect the environment to remain as it was when a town springs up in a land of lakes and forests, and a huge project involving thousands of mechanisms is built. That is why scientists are studying the total impact the new industrial center is having on the environment.”
For one thing, the plant’s cooling pond, which covers 20 square kilometers, is being monitored. Its warm water is the domain of a large-scale fishery that supplies fresh fish to stores in Pripyat all year round, while its banks have been taken over by anglers. The water is purified with such thoroughness that the concentration of harmful substances is below the threshold of sensitivity of measuring instruments.
Nikolai Fomin, the plant’s chief engineer, believes that both man and nature are completely safe. The huge reactor is housed in a concrete silo, and it has environmental protection systems. Even if the incredible should happen, the automatic control and safety systems would shut down the reactor in a matter of seconds. The plant has emergency core cooling systems and many other technological safety designs and systems.
Boris Chernov, 29, a steam turbine operator, moved to Pripyat after graduating. from a power engineering institute.
“I wasn’t afraid to take a job at a nuclear power plant. There is more emotion in fear of nuclear power plants than real danger. I work in white overalls. The air is clean and fresh; it’s filtered most carefully. My workplace is checked by the radiation control service. If there is even the slightest deviation from the norm, the sensors will set off an alarm on the central radiation control panel.”
Pyotr Bondarenko, a shift superintendent in the department of labor protection and safety review, graduated from the nuclear power department at the Odessa Polytechnic Institute. He maintains that working at the station is safer than driving a car.
“Robots and computers have taken over a lot of operations,” he explained. “Nonetheless, the occupational safety and health agency requires that all personnel strictly abide by the rules and regulations. In order to hold a job here, you have to know industrial safety rules to perfection and pass an exam in them every year.
Town First, Station Second Vladimir Voloshko, the current mayor of Pripyat, was among the first settlers who came to build the town in 1970. Sands, forests and water meadows that’s what this area 150 kilometers from Kiev was like back then.
“We were building the town and the plant at the same time, but the town was moving ahead somewhat faster because the builders wanted to live in comfortable apartments,” the mayor explained. Today the town is made up of people belonging to more than 30 different nationalities from all over the Soviet Union. The streets abound in flowers. The blocks of apartments stand in pine groves. Each residential area has a school, a library, shops, sports facilities and playgrounds close by.
In the morning there are few people around. Only young women pushing baby carriages stroll along unhurriedly. One of them, Galina Sychyovskaya, moved here with her husband, a builder, five years ago. Since then the Sychyovskys have had two sons.
“The town council has given us a good apartment; my husband has a well-paid and interesting job. We don’t even notice that we live close to a nuclear power plant. I’m a librarian. There are already several libraries in town, and another one is under construction. It will house half a million volumes. I take care of the house and look after my children. Our older son goes to nursery school. The younger one is at home with me for the time being because there still aren’t enough day-care facilities for everyone.”
According to Mayor Voloshko, the town hasn’t escaped problems altogether.
“I’d call them teething problems,” he commented. “Pripyat is currently experiencing a baby boom. We’ve built scores of day-care centers and nursery schools and more are on the way, but they still can’t cope with the demand. Another problem is employment for women. We are creating new jobs for them by developing the service industries, which employ women on a large scale. Motor transport is also a headache. Many people in town have their own cars. We’re out of breath from building new garage facilities and parking lots for them. We don’t want the cars to squeeze out the people. We believe the town of Pripyat should be as safe and clean as the power plant.”