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Digital Archive International History Declassified

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Chernobyl Nuclear Accident, 1986

The disastrous meltdown in the 4th reactor of the Chernobyl (Chornobyl) Atomic Electrical Station occurred on April 26th, 1986. This collection contains Ukrainian and national KGB reports, Communist Party directives, and Ukrainian Academy of Science measurements which discuss technical issues with the plant, details of the accident, and emergency responses across the republic. It shows that updates from the construction site and first few years of plant operation were dire as early as the 1970s. The collection also demonstrates that the government failed to inform the public of the true scope of radiation damage for years after the accident. Adam Higgonbotham, author of Midnight in Chernobyl, introduces parts of the collection in an essay for Sources & Methods. See also the Digital Archive collection on Ukrainian Nuclear History. (Image: A helicopter sprays a decontamination liquid nearby the Chernobyl reactor in 1986. Source: IAEA Imagebank #02790036, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0.)

  • August 30, 1986

    Order from the Chair of the Committee of State Security [KGB] of the USSR, 'On Measures to Strengthen the Counter-Intelligence Work at Atomic Energy Units in connection with the Accident at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station'

    The Chairman lists a series of directives and responses to the Chernobyl incident, addressed to different levels of KGB cadre, discussing ways to strengthen standards at nuclear power facilities, calling for increased responsibility for the failure of local KGB staff to inform the central command on plant issues, recommending that specialists be pulled in to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities going forward, and implementing more intense oversight at all nuclear plants and scientific research facilities to ensure that issues which may lead to accidents are known.

  • September 30, 1986

    Order of the Committee of State Security [KGB] of the USSR

    These documents contain information regarding acceptable levels of radiation on individuals, in foods, as well as on roads, clothing, and equipment.

  • February 03, 1987

    Intelligence Message on the Chernobyl Accident

    This translation of a French brochure about the nuclear accident at Chernobyl was provided by an undercover KGB agent. The brochure discusses the reasons for the accident and compares Chernobyl and Soviet style plants to those in the West, concluding that the French and American reactors possess superior safety standards.

  • September 24, 1987

    Decision NÂș 123 of a Government Commission concerning a List of Information about the Chernobyl AEhS Subject to Classification and Not Subject to Open Publication

    The decision that was made in cooperation with ofter Ministries and deparments on what to classify and what to exlude from open publications. Includes attachement that contains the data list.

  • November 16, 1987

    Y.I. Chazov, Minister of Health, to the CPSU CC, 'Medical Aspects of the Accident at Chernobyl AEhS'

    A summary of the measures taken by health ministries in the aftermath of the accident, laid out in narrative format.

  • July 17, 1989

    Letter from Aleksakhin and Annenkov to Gorbachev and Rykov

    Letter from director and deputy of the National Radiology and Agroecology Research Institute, being ready to lead the process of agricultural decontamination to reclaim irradiated land in 30 km exlcusion zone. In addition, they argue that there is no lack of competent specialists, contaty to the talks in Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union.

  • January 22, 1991

    Commission on Questions of the Chernobyl Catastrophe, Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR, 'On Some Problems in the Elimination of the Consequences of the Accident at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station'

    This report explains ecological and security problems which arose several years later as a result of the Chernobyl accident, as well as areas for improvement in control of the reactor site and medical testing of the local population. Importantly, it also acknowledges that the potential impact zone includes approximately 4.5 million residents of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, which was, at that time, not widely known.

  • August 12, 1993

    V.N. Shcherbin, Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, 'Concerning the Situation at the 4th Unit'

    An outline of the reasons for the deterioration of the 4th block, largely owing to ventilation problems causing condensation to form, which freezes during winter and causes decay that can lead to the washing of nuclear particles into the surrounding atmosphere/groundwater. The report also proposes several emergency measures, such as improving ventilation systems, cleaning water from the block, and setting up of an investigation.