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Digital Archive International History Declassified

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'

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    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.
    "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'," January 22, 1991, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, HDA SBU, f. 16, spr. 1028. Originally published by the Center for Research into the Liberation Movement (TsDVR) together with the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv at http://avr.org.ua/index.php/viewDoc/24446/. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/134312
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Secret [crossed out and “Not secret 242-3442 20.08.(obscured)” handwritten in Ukrainian]

January 22 [19]91

Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR

[Handwritten: No. 18]

Commission on Questions of the Chernobyl Catastrophe

To Comrade V.A. Iavorivskii

 On some problems in the elimination of the consequences of the accident at the Chernobyl atomic energy station

              The Committee on State Security [KGB] has received information about several unresolved problems arising in the course of work to determine the consequences of the accident at the Chernobyl atomic energy station and to ensure its safe operation.

              Unresolved questions connected to design defects in RBMK reactors continue to raise concerns among specialists, as does the anticipated withdrawal of the Chernobyl atomic energy station from operation. According to the conclusion of the managing authorities, its energy blocks, especially No. 1 and 2, do not meet modern requirements for the safe use of atomic energy units, most of all because of the impossibility of creating a system of localizing the accident with protective covers. The technical condition of the station’s equipment also raises concerns among specialists, first and foremost because of the reliability of the reactors themselves. Inspection of technological channels shows that their size is close to the maximum allowable and further operation of the energy blocks could lead to a dangerous situation. For instance, from 1989-1990, there were 5 cases in which the thermal conduction units seized up as they were discharging from the active zone.

            USSR’s Ministry of the Atomic Energy Industry has yet to find solutions to problems related to the development of a resource for administration systems and for the protection of the reactors with the main circulation pumps and other equipment. As tests which have been conducted demonstrate, the RBMK’s first order emergency reactor shutdown system is practically nonfunctional because its technical parameters do not meet established standards.

              The measures mentioned in accordance with USSR Council of Ministers Resolution No. 722 from 21.07.1987 on the reconstruction and modernization of the station were planned to be achieved in 1993-1994. In order to accomplish this, the plan to replace the equipment coincides with the period in which the energy blocks will be taken out of operation. On this point, atomic energy station specialists have expressed concern about the fact that during the period of preparation to dismantle the equipment and close the station, which according to preliminary calculations will take no less than 5-7 years, a further deterioration in the level of safety at the station will take place.

              One of the most important problems is that of ensuring the safety of the “Shield” unit. Despite information obtained by scientists from a complex expedition by the Kurchatov Atomic Energy Institute about the deep sub-criticality of fuel masses in the reactor’s collapse, the USSR State Atomic Industry Inspectorate determined its condition to be dangerous. Up to the present time the unit’s status as well as documentary basis for its nuclear and general safety has been lacking.

              Information obtained from research in 1990 testifies to the intense destruction of the concrete structures, the transformation of fuel mass from solid form into dust form, and about the threat of the collapse of the reactor’s upper roof, which would lead to the ejection of radioactive dust into the surrounding area. Under these conditions, the task of primary importance is to ensure constant oversight over the condition of the active zone, the walls and foundation of the destroyed energy block, and the reliability of the functioning of dust suppression systems in case of the development of a critical situation.

              However, according to evaluations conducted by specialists, the “Tent” information diagnostic complex, which was developed by the Ukr. SSR Academy of Sciences Institute for Nuclear Research to be used for these purposes, does not fully meet the requirements of objectivity, modernity, or completeness of information about the processes occurring within the collapsed unit and requires modernization. Moreover, the capacity for manual initiation of the dust suppression system in a crisis situation has not been considered.

              The resolution of these and other tasks for the “Shield” unit and for the Chernobyl atomic energy station in general is held back by the lack of a scientifically based conception that takes into account the whole complex of problems, including those connected with the anticipated removal of the station from operation. Its development is needlessly delayed by the USSR Ministry of Atomic Energy Industry.

              One of the most important aspects of the elimination of the medical and biological consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe is determining the legal doses of radiation, the development of a prognosis of the radiation, and the dose exposure of the population. In consideration of these indicators, a conception is being developed to survive in the contaminated territories, and it is being determined what portion of the population should be subjected to compulsory evacuation and permanent medical observation.

              The existing approach of the National Commission for Radiation Protection under the USSR Ministry of Health to determine appropriate dosages is based on a calculation of radiation exposure of the thyroid gland with iodine-131, and of the whole body to cesium-137, and externally from gamma radiation.

              However, research results obtained recently by a group of scientists from the Institute for Epidemiological and Preventive Treatment of Radiation Sickness at the USSR Academy of Medical Science All-Union Scientific Center for Radiation Medicine demonstrate that such a method does not address all factors of radiation sickness. In their opinion, due to the Chernobyl catastrophe, people were subjected to simultaneous sustained activity of several types of external and internal radiation from radionuclides that are highly biologically dangerous, including strontium, transuranic alpha radiation and others, deposits of which were not considered earlier in the formulation of doses and impact on health.

              Because of this, the scientists presume, the number of those who sustained radiation, the doses they sustained, and the scale of radiation contamination are significantly undervalued and do not realistically correspond to the circumstances immediately after the catastrophe. According to calculations by the group of scientists, the zone of dangerous contamination after the catastrophe is up to 450-500 km, and the critically dangerous area is up to 120-130 km. More than 4.5 million inhabitants of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia could have been subjected to internal and external radiation higher than the permissible emergency standards.

              The general evaluation of the Chernobyl catastrophe laid out above is perceived as ambiguous in Kiev’s scientific circles, since it contradicts the understanding accepted by the Soviet and global community, according to which the scale of the accident was less significant. For instance, a number of scientists from the Ukr. SSR Academy of Sciences expressed their support of this approach to determination of doses. At the same time, the majority of scientists specializing in dosimetrics at the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences’ All-Union Scientific Center for Radiation Medicine think that such a method is in need of profound scientific reworking.

              In consideration of the fact that at the present time there is a lack of a unified scientific approach to the problem laid out above, an opinion has been floated about the expedience of creating an inter-agency commission composed of scientists and specialists with a background in physics and radiobiology to provide another expert opinion on obtaining materials. This is necessary for a final determination of the actual changes in the health condition of the population, and a more objective approach to the development of way for people to live safely in the territories subjected to radioactive contamination.

              Under the circumstances of the complications in the ecological conditions caused by the accident, the work to create new selective sorbents plays an important role. These sorbents prevent the accumulation of radioactive and toxic substances and enable them to safely be discharged from the body. The level of scientific research by Ukrainian scientists in this area is demonstrated by the efforts by representatives from Western firms to obtain information about the technological process, which they value as “know-how,” or to obtain patents for these inventions abroad. (The Committee of the Republic communicated to the Supreme Soviet and Council of Ministers of the Ukr. SSR in December 1990 about some problems in their development).

              In 1990 the “Ekosorb” state consortium was created by a Resolution from the Republic’s government, which united around 20 organizations and enterprises. In January of this year the government also created the USSR Academy of Sciences Institute for Sorption and Problems of Endoecology, whose efforts should be directed toward producing all types of sorbents. In order for their activities to achieve a significant social and ecological effect, according to specialists, it is necessary to consider principal financing from the budget funds dedicated to the elimination of the consequences of the accident.

              The Committee on State Security [i.e. KGB] of Ukraine as part of its duties is continuing work to provide a Republican program to determine the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe with classified foreign scientific and technical materials and documentation. Concrete activities are being conducted in consideration of exclusive significance and are being considered priority intelligence-gathering tasks. In addition to the documentation sent earlier by Ministries and agencies, at the present time more than 100 documents are being prepared for submission to the newly-created Ukr. SSR State Committee on Protection of the Population from the Consequences of the Accident at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station. These documents are on questions of radiation medicine, biology, decontamination, and ensuring the safety of atomic energy stations.

              This information will be communicated in due order.

Committee Chair

[Handwritten: “Verified: Sr. O.(perative)/ P.(lenipotentiary) 3rd dept. 6th Administration of the Ukr. SSR KGB M(ajo)r (Signature) 22.01.91”]

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