April 26th, 1986, Pripyat, USSR, 1:25:58 AM local time

I’ve had an opportunity to dinner with a nuclear scientist on Saturday. He works as one of the technical safety managers (or somesuch) for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited at Chalk River in Deep River, Ontario.

We ended up talking about reactor safety, and I’ve mentioned a curious paragraph from RMBK-1000 (Реактор Большой Мощности Канальный) design document (it has some pictures for English speakers).

The manual says (and I translate):

Энергоблоки с реакторами РБМК электрической мощностью 1000 МВт (РБМК-1000) находятся в эксплуатации на Ленинградской, Курской, Чернобыльской АЭС, Смоленской АЭС. Они зарекомендовали себя как надежные и безопасные установки с высокими технико-экономическими показателями. Если их специально не взрывать.

Energy blocks with RBMK reactors with energy capacity of 1000 MWt (RBMK-1000) are in use in Leningrad, Kursk, Chernobyl, Smolensk nuclear power plants. They demonstrated themselves are reliable and safe devices with high technologically-enonomical characteristics. If they are not made critical on purpose.

I’ve cited that paragraph, and asked what was the opinion of the esteemed scientist on the last sentence. He told me that what the manual says is basically true – he is familiar with design and operation of RMBK-1000, was in a control room of Kurst nuclear power plant, and indeed, if you don’t make one go critical on purpose, they are perfectly safe, if not as energy efficient as pressurized water types.

I were refered to a publication titled Chernobyl – A Canadian Perspective, by Dr. Victor Snell, Director of Safety and Licensing at AECL, on the exact reasons why Chernobyl happened.

Personally, I am not interested in laying blame. Who is there to blame? One of the theories is that the operators were poorly trained or that they bypassed safety mechanisms on purpose (either due to poor training or due to political pressures). Maybe, however after reading a book (rus) on what really happened by former deputy operating engineer A.S. Dyatlov, I am not so sure. Another theory was a design flaw. Could be. Was it on purpose? I doubt it.

Inventor of RBMK style reactors, and chief theme leader was a full member of Academy of Sciences of USSR Professor A. P. Allexandrov (rus). Chief Designer of RBMK was Nikolai Dollezhal.

Nuclear power should not be feared. Most of the time, fear is there from lack of understanding. It should be respected, and proper safety procedures built into it. Decisions like this should not be made by politicans (“Build it faster, who cares about safety, prestige of the nation is at stake”), Bible (or Quaran) Thumpers (“For the glory of $DEITY, we will power our homes, and charge up our nukes, and rain fire and brimstone from above on anyone who disagrees with us!”), or hillbillies with loud voices (“Not in my backyard”). They should be made by folks who actually know what they are doing, and care about things like safety, and

Personally, I fully realize that there are things I know nothing about. I can play a scientist on interweb (because anyone can be anyone on interweb, and if you sound reasonably competent, most of the time people will think that you are an authority), but I should not be in charge of a nuclear plant design (or should run a government, etc). However, there are folks out there who actually dedicated their lives to nuclear energy.

If Patrick Moore one of Greenpeace original founer now thinks that nuclear is the way to go, maybe he actually knows what he is talking about. If Stewart Brand, original publisher of “Whole Earth Cataloguethinks that folks should all read Rad Decision, maybe he is right.

So for a few moments, please remember all the folks who died while harnessing nuclear energy. Not only those who died from tyroid cancer in a Chernobyl aftermath, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims, even Marie Sadovski-Curie.

Some links to photos:

Special project of lenta.ru on 20th Annaversary of Chernobyl Nuclear Incident (with photos).

More photos of Chernobyl