"Your eyes hurt, and there was a metal taste in your mouth. Those are the two things you felt."
March 29, 2011 8:26 AM Subscribe
How do you clean up a massive nuclear disaster? With 800,000 people, 45 seconds at a time. The Liquidators
, Chernobyl's "biorobot" cleanup crew: Part 1
, Part 2
On April 26, 1986, Reactor 4 at the V.I. Lenin Chernobyl
Nuclear Power Plant suffered a catastrophic accident. A series of explosions ejected highly radioactive material from the core, much of it landing on the roof of the adjacent Reactor 3. Authorities first brought in radio-controlled heavy equipment to clean the debris off the roof, but it quickly broke down under the intense radiation. Thus, Plan B: use human beings to clear the debris off the roof. Russian reservists, scientists, and civilians, many protected only by home-made, hand-sewn lead suits, were called to the scene to remove the debris, using shovels, wooden boards, or their (gloved) hands. Some worked for as little as 40 seconds in an effort to limit exposure. Few
wore individual dosimeters.
of a liquidator: "Live men proved to be the only reliable mechanisms able to get this debris down," said Mirnyi. "The radio-controlled vehicles failed: irradiation breached the semiconductors inside them. It was the best plan we had."
with a liquidator: "Time on the roof varied from as short as 45 sec. to as long as 3 min depending on the current radiation level and place you have to work on. Sometimes, especially after helicopter's treatment (they have used special solutions to suppress the radiation/dust by dumping tons and tons of de-activating solution very early in the morning, before we start working there), levels were not as high, so you we were able to work a bit longer. We chopped asphalt which contained pieces of highly radioactive solids sunk into molten asphalt on the explosion day (the asphalt solidified over them after the initial fire was put down...) and tossed them down on the ground, over the roof edge."