Another week, another episode of ‘Chernobyl’ and here is episode 4, ‘The Happiness of All Mankind’ or as the episode should really be called ‘Necessary Evil’.
This of course alludes to great big portions of the episode which follows three soldiers performing the ‘clear-up’ of the area around Chernobyl. We see in the first scene that the military are still conducting the evacuation of the area around Chernobyl and go to really drastic means to get people to go.
When an old woman won’t leave her house because she’s lived there all her life and all her family is dead and even two world wars didn’t force her to go, nothing will make her leave so the soldier shoots the cow she is milking to get her to go. Wow, man. She doesn’t want to go, leave her alone.
We saw Valery talk about how all the animals in a vast area need to be killed because they have collected radioactive material in their fur and will spread it if left to roam free so in come the soldiers to sort them out. Two of the soldiers in the group have a ‘carefree’ attitude towards killing animals but the latest recruit who only looks about 15 years old, does have some real trouble with the idea of killing animals. He can’t even properly load a rifle so what’s he doing here?
There’s a moment where the young guy goes into an abandoned house and finds a dog guarding her puppies and he can’t bring himself to kill the puppies and I know the feeling; I couldn’t do it either. The older guy comes in and sees the puppies and tells the younger guy to go outside while he kills the puppies. Dude. So harsh. But necessary.
Like I say, this was big portions of the episode.
The rest follows Valery and Boris as they struggle to find ways of clearing the radioactive graphite off the roofs so they can begin building the containment structure. They’ve already used a lot of men and subjected them to enough radiation and so they try alternative methods. This is where the lunar rovers come in.
According to Valery, there are three levels to the roof and the higher you go, the higher the radiation to an almost lethal degree. For a bit, the bots work just fine and are successful in cleaning up the debris. However, they realise that they are going to need a vastly reinforced robot for the upper levels and so borrow one from the Germans. When it arrives, it’s fired up but shortly after, the circuits are fried due to the radiation. Well, balls.
The idea is floated around to ask the Americans of all people but what with this being ‘Cold War’ time, they come to the quick conclusion that if the Americans had such equipment, they sure as shit wouldn’t tell the Soviet Union, let alone lend them one.
The only solution left is to use men or ‘bio-robots’ as they are dubbed. The workers are drafted in and told they will be given highly protective clothing and 90 seconds to pick up as much debris with a shovel and toss it into the blown apart reactor as possible. After that, they will be given a sum of money and discharged from their duty.
Honestly, given the circumstances, the conditions that they were dealing with and the result that they had to achieve, there wasn’t any other way and they did what they could to prevent as much exposure for the workers as they could. They could have very easily sent those poor guys up there for hours and got the result way quicker, but they didn’t. 90 seconds up there was more than enough time to shorten their lives but frankly, they were out of options by that point. A ‘last resort’, if you will. By the end, all the debris has been cleared away and the workers are thanked for their service by the Commander guy and all the workers respond to their thanks with ‘I serve the Soviet Union’.
Anyway, you know that element of ‘supervision’ by the KGB that’s been hanging over out protagonists since the last episode? Well it’s so good that I haven’t noticed it. What that really means is that there were only three instances in the whole episode where the higher echelons of the Soviet Union were preventing Valery, Boris and Ulana from doing their jobs.
Once in the library where Ulana is researching and asks for a whole list of text to read and she is awarded only one.
The second is that German robot which was sent to them and sent to withstand the amount of radiation that the Government told them was present when we know that it’s much higher.
The third is in the final scene where Boris, Valery and Ulana meet in an abandoned school where the KGB haven’t placed any listening devices. This scene is actually quite interesting, and I was wondering which way they were going to turn.
There is (or at least was at the time), a certain amount of debate as to who was to blame for the explosion. For the longest time, the blame was placed on the men in the control for doing an already risky test on an unstable reactor. No one seemed to want to mention the serious design flaws with the reactor.
Anyway, Ulana has completed her investigation and it seems that both parties are responsible. The men are to blame for gross incompetence and violation of safety regulations, but the explosion may not have been their fault. She pulls out an article (she doesn’t say what it’s about) but 2 pages have been removed. Valery has already seen this article as it was written by a friend after another nuclear accident in Leningrad in 1975 where a ‘fuel channel’ ruptured.
There was an accident as described and it occurred on 28th November 1975 where a fuel channel in Unit 1 of the facility suffered a loss of coolant which caused it to degrade and cause a radiation leak. Radiation was detected up to 5KM (3 Miles) away. Because this wasn’t reported in the media, the affected area was not informed of the danger.
What’s interesting is that this was the third accident in the same year. The first was in January, the second in February, and the third in November. The first accident at this facility to actually be reported in the media was in 1992 and there had been 7 incidents before that of varying degrees of severity; from dropped and damaged fuel rods due to faulty equipment, fires breaking out in vaults containing radioactive waste and concrete tanks filled with radioactive gases exploding.
There are plans in place for all 4 RBMK reactors to be decommissioned with Unit 1 being the first to be shut down for decommissioning in December 2018. The rest will be decommissioned throughout the 2020’s and totally different reactors will be used in their place. The first unit using a VVER-1200 reactor, which is much better and safer than an RBMK reactor became active for supporting the electricity grid in March 2018 and then for commercial operation in October 2018.
The point being that all 4 reactors at Leningrad were RBMK reactors which are the same kind of reactors as the ones used at Chernobyl.
In the show, Valery mentions a chap called ‘Volkov’ and according to a book entitled ‘Producing Power: The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry’, the man Valery is referencing could very well be ‘Vladimir Volkov’ who was a physicist and expressed concern about the design of the RBMK reactors.
According to the book, the incident at the Leningrad nuclear facility where the fuel channel ruptured happened after the reactor was started up and it shut down automatically. The ruptured fuel channel lead to a small part of the core to melt. However, Valery states that the operators pressed the AZ-5 button to reduce power but instead, the power went up for a brief moment. I couldn’t find a mention of the AZ-5 button being hit at Leningrad in my research, but the details of that incident are a bit vague all around. But it stands to reason that there was a connection between the 1975 Leningrad incident and the Chernobyl disaster in which there was a slight surge of power when the control rods were inserted into the RBMK reactor in 1975 and a massive surge of power when the control rods were inserted into the RBMK reactor that preceded to the explosion at Chernobyl.
According to the show, the operators stalled the reactor at Chernobyl during the test that preceded the explosion and removed almost all the control rods to return power. The control rods are filled with Boron but are tipped with Graphite as we’ve learned, and I’ve mentioned this before. When the reactor became unstable during the test, the operators hit the AZ-5 button to put all the control rods back into the reactor but the first thing to hit the water was not Boron which would have stabilised the reactor, it was Graphite. Graphite is placed on the tips of all the controls rods and since almost all were removed, they were all placed back in and when Graphite hits water, it causes a surge in reactivity and in this case, it was a massive surge.
As we’ve learned, the effects of nuclear energy were kept top secret and although Volkov warned the Kremlin, his warnings went unheeded, so the operators were unaware of the facts. Valery knew of the flaw in the AZ-5 button in RBMK reactors but also knew that it couldn’t cause an explosion unless the reactor was pushed to the ‘edge of destruction’. So, the operators are to blame? Kind of. Not totally.
The reason for the meeting in the abandoned school is that Valery has been called to Vienna to testify at Dyatlov’s trial. Dyatlov managed to survive the radiation poisoning and since he’s the only operator who survived, he’s getting a trial.
Now Valery has a choice. He can either tell the truth so the Government will be forced into fixing the other RBMK reactors in the Soviet Union whilst also humiliating a Government who don’t like being humiliated or take Boris’ suggestion of making a deal with the KBG where the other reactors will be fixed quietly but Valery will be placing unquestionable guilt onto a man for something that wasn’t totally his fault. Either way, it’s not looking good for Valery.
On another point, remember Lyudmilla Ignatenko? I mentioned last week that birth defects in the children born to mothers who were in the area around Chernobyl were a factor of the disaster and I thought that’s what the show was alluding to. I also said that I would be very surprised if they showed her giving birth. Well there’s a time jump of a few months and Lyudmilla is shown going into labour. Ulana then tells Boris that Lyudmilla gave birth to a baby girl but the baby only lived for four hours since she had absorbed the radiation that should have killed Lyudmilla.
So that’s episode 4. Only one more to go now and it’s been really interesting so far. I like a show that teaches me something and I’ve learned quite a few things in watching this show. See you again for episode 5.