Sunday, April 26, 2009

U.S.S.R., Ukraine, Chernobyl, 1986 April 26

"'The reactor fire was very hot; we measured at least 7,000 degrees,' says Vladimir Verbitskiy, 47, an officer at the control center of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone who worked there at the time, and who still works there today. 'But the bigger problem was the radiation itself. Initially, Reactor 4's core was emitting 40,000 roentgens an hour, and deadly levels for humans are 600 an hour. And the containment vessel was shattered facing west, with its top blown off and lying on its side. There was no way to contain the radiation; it was directed straight up and also horizontally away in beams through the cracked vessel. Those beams were very powerful. If you got stuck in the way of one for a long period of time, your flesh would simply disintegrate.'

"The fire inside the containment vessel raged on, with no public statement from the Soviet government. But if the Kremlin was taciturn after the explosion, Chernobyl was in a frenzy. 'The roads were washed 24 hours a day, just to keep them clear of radioactive ash,' says Verbitskiy. 'Everyone was ordered inside with the windows shut. Helicopters were brought in to drop sand, clay, boron, and lead onto the fire from above, trying to smother it and trap the radioactivity. Dropping lead was a big mistake, since it melted before it hit the fire and turned into a molten and now radioactive liquid that spread. Of course, they were trying anything... everything. After all, nothing like this had ever happened before.'"

--Donovan Webster, "Nature's Revenge" in Best Life, 2008 November

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