Thursday, April 29, 2010

Window on Eurasia: ‘Chernobyl Taught No One Anything,’ Station’s Former Manager Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 29 – Twenty-four years after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the station’s director at that time says that the accident “taught no one anything” not because people could not have learned from what happened there but rather because the Soviet government and other backers of nuclear power did not want to learn lest they undermine their corporate interests.
Indeed, Viktor Bryukhanov, the Chernobyl plant’s director from its establishment in 1970 to the time of the accident who was then sentenced to ten years in prison for his role in the disaster, says Moscow preferred to “liquidate the symbol of the danger [Chernobyl and other plants represent] rather than deal with its causes.”
In an interview with, Bryukhanov, 74, talks about the 1986 accident which claimed 31 lives immediately, exposed 600,000 people involved in the cleanup to dangerous levels of radiation, and resulted in almost 18,000 premature deaths among them since that time (
And describes what happened to him and why when the Soviet authorities made him and his subordinates scapegoats for the accident, even though Moscow was not able to secure his execution but only his sentencing to prison where he served for five years before being released at the end of the Soviet period.
Himself an invalid because of exposure to a massive dose of radiation, Bryukhanov says that to this day he does not accept either the “official” version, one accepted by the IAEA, that holds that operator error caused the disaster or the speculations of some in the media that there were fatal problems with the reactor model or that it was being used for military purposes.
On the one hand, Bryukhanov notes that “at the time, the quality of the RBMK-1000 reactor was quite possibly of the highest level.” But as far as the possible use of the reactor for making nuclear weapons, the former director said, “there were parts [of the plant] where even I as a director could not go. Only members of the special services were allowed.”
He acknowledges that the staff did make mistakes, but he pointed out that when the staff pushed the STOP button, “the reactor instead of stopping blew up.” Exactly why that happened has not been established. The Chernobyl plant could have been restored, he suggests, but “the powers that be decided to liquidate the symbol of danger but not its causes.”
Initially, Bryukhanov says, he did not recognize what had happened. An understanding of the extent of the catastrophe came only later. But, he continues, he was not alone. “At the time, no one understood what had happened.” Worse, no one seemed especially interested in finding out.
But if he did not understand the reasons for the accident, he says, he understood immediately that the powers that be planned to blame him for what had happened. They falsely accused him of being “in the woods with a lover” at the time of the accident when in fact he was at home with his family.
Despite the decision from on high that he was to be punished, Bryukhanov says, “the court was notable to find him guilty of an offense for which he could be shot,” but it did give him and his deputy chief engineer, Aleksandr Dyatlov, the maximum punishment of ten years in prison. Bryukhanov says he offered no defense because he “knew the result in advance.”
The former Chernobyl director served a year of his sentence relatively comfortably in a KGB prison and four more years in the Lukyanovsk, Kharkov and Lugansk prisons, overcrowded facilities where he was viewed “almost as ‘a political’” and celebrated by the other prisoners for his highly public role.
After serving five years, he was released, but despite the conclusions of many that he was not guilty of anything, Bryukhanov chose not to appeal. After all, he says, his sentence was handed down by the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union. “There is no such country.” Consequently, “who would void [his sentence]?”
Asked when the world will finally learn the truth about Chernobyl, Bryukhanov responded that ‘we will not find out the truth not because they are concealing it. They cannot understand it. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, when it was possible to clarify what happened, no one wanted to do that.”

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