Ukraine has declassified new data on Chernobyl disaster

USSR authorities concealed information about three dozen nuclear power plant accidents.

USSR authorities concealed information about three dozen nuclear power plant accidents.


New documents on Chernobyl accident have been published in Ukraine

The Security Service of Ukraine declassified documents of the USSR State Security Committee (KGB) on the tragedy at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which took place on the night of 25-26 April 1986. In the second book of the collection "The Chernobyl dossier of the KGB. From construction to the accident" presented 229 documents, which cover the period from early 1970 to November 1986. Most of them (190) are published for the first time.

Picture of a map of Chernobyl in Ukraine.
Chernobyl accident, Ukraine.

According to Anton Drobovych, Director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory (UINP), new materials will help to better understand the causes of the man-made disaster. The book presents, in particular, a transcript of telephone conversations at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on the night of the accident, a copy of the first report about the accident, information about the beginning of the investigation of the accident by the state security authorities and the construction of the sarcophagus. The presentation of the book took place in the exclusion zone on Monday, June 22.

The construction of the station was supervised by the KGB.

Industrial safety at the Chernobyl NPP was provided by the employees of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR, including those directly involved in economic counterintelligence and protection of scientific and technical achievements of the Soviet Union. Under their supervision since the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the territory of the Soviet Ukraine there were 9,294 people and 40 organizations.

The operational activities of the KGB staff were initially aimed at identifying "unreliable elements": persons of German and Chinese nationality who had been convicted of particularly dangerous State crimes, former members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN, banned in Russia) who had come into contact with visitors from capitalist countries.

The "trusted persons" of the KGB from among the personnel of the Chernobyl NPP were to reveal the facts of negligence and theft of construction materials by the workers, violations of fire and radiation safety rules, and non-compliance with the technological norms of the nuclear power plant operation. With the increasing pace of construction, the number of alarm signals was rapidly growing.

The catastrophe was preceded by poor quality work at the Chernobyl NPP.

Special reports of the Moscow KGB Department to the leadership of the Ukrainian SSR KGB in 1975-1976 indicate cases of poor performance of construction and installation work. Later they could have led to emergency situations at the nuclear power plant. In summer 1975 at the installation site of the radioactive waste storage facility there was a defect that posed a threat to the environment.

At the same time, the agency detected unacceptable deviations from the project during installation of a pressure compensator in the reactor shaft. The accident was prevented. In February 1976, the agency's employees received information about the supply of unusable pipes for circular water supply to ChNPP produced at the Kurakhov Boiler and Mechanical Plant in Donbass. There were no corresponding official conclusions made. The defective products were regularly delivered to the construction site in the following years.

Based on the reports, KGB employees regularly prepared reports in which they reported in detail on the lack of construction materials and details, lack of proper qualification of workers. The party offices and the assembly trust "Yuzhteploenergomontazh" received information about violations of technological norms, which led to the appearance of cracks and faults in the equipment. According to the declassified data, the failure of the plan to launch the first power unit in early 1976 was caused by the shortage and low efficiency of workers and undersupply of equipment.

In numerous special reports of the KGB to higher authorities about continuous violations of norms, standards and rules of both construction and operation of the ChNPP, they also referred to insufficient radiation safety requirements of the plant management. Thus, in one of the reports of March 1981 the employees of the state security bodies were indignant that the station management breeds fish in the pond contaminated with radionuclides and sells it to the inhabitants through the local fish factory.

The Soviet authorities withheld information about nuclear power plant accidents

Among the published documents are reports of accidents that occurred before April 1986. There were 29 accidents at the nuclear power plant from 1971 to 1981. Eight of them were caused by the technical staff. When describing failures and accidents during the construction of the second unit in special messages and reports, KGB employees pointed out the mistakes of engineers in calculations, as well as negligence of builders.

The data showing that "some managers consciously go for gross violations of the technological norms of construction, thinking only about the quickest way to hand over the project, not caring about their future and possible tragic consequences," prompted the head of the Chernobyl district department of the KGB Viktor Klochko during 1978-1979 to send alarming reports to Kiev. After receiving information from the special services, the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine Volodymyr Shcherbytskyy decided to create a commission to correct the situation. 

One of the first events to indicate the possibility of a man-made disaster occurred in February 1979. At that time, due to the automatic protection of the AZ-5, the first power unit was accidentally shut down. The reason was the shutdown of the main circulation pumps that supply water for reactor cooling. The blame was laid on the staff of the Leningrad Design Institute, who included a technically flawed drainage system in their design documentation.

In summer 1979 the KGB received operational data on the emergency situation in the chemical water treatment shop. It occurred as a result of poor quality waterproofing works. Despite the potentially dangerous situation, the Party leadership did not react properly to the incident. In April 1981, another emergency occurred - radioactive contamination of the sanitary zone section, which occurred due to the untimely adoption of measures to prevent leakage of radioactive water by the shift supervisor.

During counterintelligence measures in 1984 the KGB accumulated information about the presence of design defects and extremely low safety level of the RBMK-1000 nuclear reactor. The state security authorities informed about serious shortcomings in the organization and execution of repair work at the ChNPP. After it became clear that the measures taken would not be able to prevent the threat of an accident at Unit 3, Leonid Bekhov, Head of the Sixth Department of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR, informed the Ministry of Energy of the USSR about the situation. As time has shown, it was not possible to prevent potential risks.

The USSR was not ready for a tragedy of this magnitude.

After the catastrophe of April 26, 1986 the KGB of the USSR was considering the version that the explosion of the reactor was caused by the sabotage. However, a thorough investigation made it possible by early May to dispel the version that the sabotage had occurred. The examination of the destruction and intelligence data also did not confirm the facts of the terrorist attack on the facility. After two weeks of investigation into all the circumstances, the human factor was increasingly being called the determining factor in the Chernobyl tragedy.

In the process of operational activities, the KGB repeatedly informed the party and Soviet bodies about shortcomings in the organization of work to eliminate the consequences of the accident. The documents point to the lack of necessary special clothes, gear and equipment for rescuers, unsatisfactory condition of sanitary washing stations, illiteracy of the population in the issues of iodine prevention, poor living conditions of evacuated persons and liquidators. The radiation situation in the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion has not been sufficiently studied. 

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