Chernobyl was one of the worst nuclear disasters the world has ever seen, resulting in widespread contamination throughout Europe.
Workers on the cleanup site immediately following the accident had to record their radiation levels using a dosimeter, or device that measures a person’s dose of radiation.
The former deputy director of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Alexander Kovalenko, said management officials used to hide their dosimeters in less contaminated areas so they would be permitted to stay on the job site.
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In July 1986, Alexander Kovalenko was called to assist with the cleanup of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters. Three months earlier, the core of a reactor had opened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, sending plumes of radioactive material coursing through the air.
As the plant’s newly-appointed deputy director, Kovalenko’s job was to ensure workers’ safety.
Read more: The former deputy director of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant says the HBO series got its villain right, but its hero wrong
By day, he worked tirelessly to protect staffers from radiation released by a steam explosion and subsequent fires. At night, he slept for about three to four hours in an abandoned mental institution. His roommate was Chernobyl’s chief scientific investigator, Valery Legasov — now the protagonist of a new miniseries on HBO.
The job was so high-stakes, Kovalenko said, that management officials found ways to under-report their levels of radiation in order remain on the job site.
“I was amazed at people’s behavior,” he said. “No one was waiting for [an] order. … People worked not from fear, but from conscience. No one thought about punishment or rewards and money.”
Kovalenko’s assignment involved exposing himself to radiation, but there were rules to protect his safety.
Each cleanup worker was given a dosimeter to record their levels of radiation exposure. Every other day, staffers had to present their dosimeter to a monitoring service for inspection, he said. Workers that accumulated radiation above a certain threshold (about 25 roentgens) were asked to leave the contaminated area — what Kovalenko called the “dirty zone.”
That was a problem, said Kovalenko, since it meant constantly training new specialists, who were hard to come by.
Kovalenko said specialists had to be capable of operating a nuclear reactor and familiar with the aisles, corridors, and galleries of a nuclear power plant. If the cleanup wasn’t successful, he said, the Soviet Union might have stopped operating all of its RBMK reactors (the kind used at the Chernobyl plant).
His personal mission became twofold: to prevent staffers from becoming “burned,” or irradiated, and to stick around long enough to finish the cleanup. Because of that, he said, managers at the plant were willing to incur higher levels of radiation to protect their staff.
“We did not want to quit what we started,” he said. “I, like almost everyone in management, hid the dosimeter in the ‘clean zone,’ [an area outside the power plant determined to have safe levels of …read more
Source:: Business Insider