Chernobyl: The secrets they tried to bury – how the Soviet machine covered up a catastrophe. Experts say only 49 people died during the Chernobyl explosion. Others closer to the disaster put the number at a devastating 150,000. In a new book, Kate Brown goes behind the scenes and discovers widespread cover-ups. At 01:23:48 on 26 April, 1986, 17 employees of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were on shift. To carry out a routine experiment, they turned off Reactor No 4’s emergency system, which was, in any case, too slow to prevent an accident. As the operators finished the test, they planned to take the reactor offline for several weeks of routine maintenance. But on shutdown, the chain reaction in the reactor core went ‘critical’, meaning operators no longer controlled it. The reactor’s power surged. The operators would remember how the thick concrete walls wobbled, plaster rained down and the lights went out. They heard a human-sounding moan as the reactor bolted and then popped. The blast tossed up a concrete lid, the size of a cruise ship, flipping it over to expose the molten-hot core inside. A few seconds later, a more powerful second explosion sent a geyser of radioactive gases into the Ukrainian night. Plant worker Sasha Yuvchenko felt the thudding concussions and looked up from the machine hall to see nothing but sky. He watched a blue stream of ionising radiation careening toward the heavens. ‘I remember,’ he later reflected, ‘thinking how beautiful it was.’ Photojournalist Igor Kostin risked his life to take photos of men in lead aprons, shoulders down, rushing to extinguish the radioactive inferno. Kostin’s black-and-white images do not show the men’s spooky pallor. High doses of radiation cause spasms in surface capillaries of the skin so that faces look strangely white, as if powdered for the stage. The accident drew hundreds, then thousands, and finally hundreds of thousands of people towards the disaster zone. Helicopter pilots navigated overhead, dropping 2,400 tons of sand, lead and boron on the reactor to try to snuff out smouldering embers. One helicopter clipped a crane and crashed, killing four men. Soldiers took turns racing on to the roof of reactor No 3 to shovel off the graphite innards of the blown reactor.
Telegraph 9th March 2019 read more »