Young Jerry

Russian Occupants Didn’t Understand Why They Captured Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant

I’ve worked at Chornobyl for almost 25 years and watched its occupation through online surveillance cameras.

When I, the head of the CNPP professional committee, heard about the war, our border guard’s post had already been injured by a rocket hit. To slow down the enemy, our Ukrainian soldiers destroyed both Dnipro Bridges, which the workers of CNPP used to get to work from Slavutych.

Starting at midnight, Russian troops advanced toward CNPP from the Prypiat direction. There was one road left toward Prypiat, everything else was overgrown. That one road in the Exclusion Zone was kept up for tourists.

That’s why the enemy was coming at us directly.

Heavy tracked vehicles stirred up radioactive dust. Our Automatic Radioactive Background Control System, ARBCS, responded to it, recording an essential, but not critical increase in the radioactive background.

In our Slavutich office, we had access to our video surveillance cameras at the Plant, so we saw live what was happening there. In front of our eyes, invaders’ tanks, APCs, and other heavy equipment freely surrounded it.

As soon as our personnel heard about fights in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, the Head of the Plant, Valentyn Geiko, launched the Emergency Response Plan.

Operational staff per shift is anywhere between 60 and 70 people. They monitor, take samples of rare radioactive waste, and control radioactive contamination. When the fighting started, this personnel took cover in the security building and waited out the first disastrous hours.

The National Ukrainian Guard, which defended the CNPP, had only automatic weapons for counterattacks. According to International Agreements, fighting is not permitted on the territory of a nuclear plant. This must have been why they got the order to put down their weapons.

And so, CNPP was taken under the control of Russian soldiers without any bloodshed, and our colleagues became hostages. Around 170 members of the National Guard ended up in the storage area.

The enemy negotiated with Valentyn Geiko. Basically, he represented Ukraine. First, the sides agreed to separate civilian staff from the military, the occupants would take the first-floor dining hall, and the workers would eat on the second floor.

In a few days, the actions of the enemy caused damage to cell phone towers, and the connection in the CNPP was lost. But our shift manager turned the radio on and was on air for our National TV through the speakerphone. This way people stayed updated on the situation.

Moreover, the morning for the personnel started with the National Anthem of Ukraine, and the occupants had to listen to it. Obviously, they didn’t like that, but the shift manager explained that this is how we checked the radio connection, so people could listen to updates over speakerphones.

The shift workers told us that overall, the occupants were mostly quiet, and didn’t understand why they were there, why they needed a disabled CNPP. The shift manager explained to them that for the sake of their own security it’s better for them to stay out of CNPP business.

And so, they did.

A Brief Hazard Overview at CNPP

Right now, there are two most dangerous areas at CNPP.

The first one is the Shelter, an ark built a few years ago. Under it, there is a sarcophagus that protects the damaged fourth reactor. It contains tens of tons of highly active magma-fused mass of radioactive materials.

People who built the sarcophagus were heroes even though it was done halfway from a distance. Reinforced slabs of concrete were placed on top of each other by specially designed robots. Obviously, the slabs could not be welded.

One of the current tasks for the CNPP personnel is dismantling unstable components of the fourth reactor. This way if a missile or artillery strike damages the ark, the reactor might fold like a house of cards. Mass depressurization and dust explosion at an unpredictable distance will be the result.

The other Red Level Hazard is nuclear fuel. There are approximately twenty thousand used fuel tubes gathered from three nuclear reactors, and they have been in service for many years.

They are kept in Fuel Storage #1 compactly. It’s a “wet type” storage, where used fuel is placed in saline solution. Specialized pumps provide water circulation and cooling.

Damage to the system will cause radioactive water leakage. Thousands of tubes with used nuclear fuel will be deprived of cooling capacity and melt along with a few meters long constructions containing this fuel. Such a chain reaction might lead to unpredictable consequences.

On the territory of CNPP, there is also a modern, safe “dry shelter.” Specialized long dry concrete tubes are used to store nuclear waste. However, only 10% of used nuclear fuel has been transferred there.

Besides CNPP personnel, nuclear waste is under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. They organize regular checkups and control the state of nuclear fuel online with special sensors.

When the invaders occupied the territory of CNPP and took over the facility, they damaged the Satellite Dish which transmitted the status of nuclear fuel and radiation levels to the IAEA.

In response, the IAEA expressed their concern about losing the online connection and fatigue of our personnel who services the plant which may result in a state of emergency.

I am convinced that the IAEA, being the operator of multiple nuclear stations around the world, has unquestionable influence on Russia. The IAEA could have revoked the country’s permit or license to operate nuclear facilities until it fulfills the requirement to vacate our nuclear facility, move the troops 30 kilometers out and stop any military operations or vehicle transit on the territory of nuclear stations of Ukraine.

As a result, Russian soldiers brazenly parked their equipment on the territory of CNPP basing their argument on the necessity of our own safety.

Life on occupied CNPP

As time went on, our people adjusted to the situation. The nature of their typical daily duties involves spending most of their time in front of computer screens, monitors, phones, and remote controls. Consequently, they slept where they worked: in the chairs, on the tables, and so on. Instead of 12 hours they ended up working 600 hours in total.

Three women who serviced the dining hall area showed symptoms of exhaustion first. Now they had to cook not only for the shift workers as before but for 170 members of the National Guard and 30 firefighters. Then the women from the National Guard and four civilians who asked earlier to wait out the war at the shelter decided to help.

As ahead of the Professional Committee, I was looking for ways to help our personnel. Beside the unwillingness of the enemy to cooperate with us, the destroyed bridges made it impossible to organize any deliveries to the exclusion zone as well.

So, we gave emotional support over the phone and started helping the employees’ families: delivering humanitarian help and organizing landline phone calls between the hostages and their family members. It was very important to them.

At one point the workers of RosAtom, a key Russian nuclear industry enterprise, arrived at the CNPP. They wanted to sort out the situation and put their own management in charge, particularly some of the Nuclear Industry veterans.

However, nothing came of it. The head of the shift at CNPP quickly explained that it’s a unique facility at a stage of termination of its operation. There are different technological processes and tasks other than at a typical Nuclear Power Plant, plus all the documents and guides are in Ukrainian. Finally, the occupants dropped the idea.

Since the representatives of RosAtom were there, Russian propaganda used the opportunity to shoot a video about the heroic capture of the CNPP by Russian soldiers. They streamed another fake about CNPP personnel of allegedly making some terrible dirty bomb or other such claims.

There was an attempt at staging the occupants passing out humanitarian help to our staff, but it fell through because the workers refused to come out and accept it.

Unprecedented amount of work fell on the Electrical Department. Under the military attacks two high voltage lines were damaged to begin with, followed by the remaining line supplying electricity to the plant and the city of Slavutich.

We had to launch generators powered by diesel to supply the facility with emergency electricity. It’s not a simple process.

We had enough fuel to last 48 hours. Our engineers warned that once we run out the following developments will be unpredictable. Then the occupants delivered a few gasoline tankers in a hurry and had to fill up the generators for 5 days.

They got annoyed that diesel fuel was wasted on “our needs” and told us that if we don’t fix the problem, they would forcefully hook up CNPP to Belarussian electrical lines.

Ukraine transitioned to European electrical lines in the first phase of this war and was disconnected from the other international electric supply. So, the workers threatened Russians that hooking up the station to Belarussian electric lines would cause desynchronization, hazardous consequences due to technological inconsistencies, and many other scary words of similar nature, which made the desired impression on the enemy.

All in all, the workers of the CNPP had to look for and fix the damages of electrical lines under the occupants’ watch. Under military attacks the electrical lines were damaged in Zhytomyr Region, and a repair of the single electrical line connecting the areas took 5 days but ended successfully.

It took 25 days but the administration of CNPP had finally negotiated the rotation. As a result, not only the staff was released but also women from the National Guard, a female firefighter, one Ukrainian soldier with cancer, and four civilians.

Our volunteers came to relieve the exhausted workers.

By the end of the occupants’ stay at CNPP our dosimeter specialists paid attention to the levels of radiation around the area where the military vehicles were parked. It registered a radiation level higher than usual. They had to wash the contaminated area with special solvents. Any contaminated equipment should be considered a nuclear waste and disposed of according to protocol.

What now?

Now CNPP is back to its normal functioning, but the aggressor continues threatening to advance on Kyiv, and I think about why the CNPP was captured so easily, and what could have been done differently.

We, the residents of Slavutych, and the CNPP staff experienced first-hand the most global man-made catastrophe in the world. We remember all the details, the consequences, the horror, and the number of human victims taken by it. If it happens again, will Europe be capable of unity in quickly locating the resources to prevent a nuclear volcano from erupting?

Thinking about it scares us. We fell into despair when we learned that the occupants dug in on the territory of CNPP not comprehending the risk of their own actions.

It’s better to make everything possible to prevent another catastrophe.

Obviously, I am not a military expert on facility defense, but it’s obvious that such defense needs to be strengthened.

It’s a fact that the CNPP is isolated by the forest on one side and Belarus on the other. So, strategically it made sense for the army to proceed from the dead-end to better positions.

However, anti-aircraft, heavy artillery, and first response systems on the national borders as well as the Chornobyl territory would have prevented the enemy from capturing the CNPP.

Remember in 1986 there were many specialists at the station who were convinced that it was the most secure facility. Then, a man-made catastrophe happened, and we remember it every year on April 26th. The scale of it was so massive that to this day the series about Chornobyl is making noise all over the world, and the gamers have been waiting for the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R 2 for years.

We are deeply worried and carefully following the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which remains under occupants’ control. The only reason for it is because we didn’t have enough weapons over there either to put up a worthy fight.

Today everyone understands perfectly well that Ukraine only needs weapons to win, the rest we will manage. #ArmUkraineNow movement is a plea of tens of thousands of ordinary people, like you and me, to their politicians with a request to supply weapons to Ukraine.

I’m confident that armed with proper weapons Chornobyl will no longer be on the news in the context of war aggression, terrorist acts, or a nuclear hazard, and will finely become a destination for enthusiastic photos and films for a new tourist generation.

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