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Declassified: KGB Documents on Chornobyl nuclear disaster

Author : Der Tagesspiegel Newspaper

Source : Die Tageszeitung

German Die Tageszeitung gained access to previously classified documents of the Ukrainian KGB. According to them, technical problems at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant arose long before the disaster, and the personnel lacked qualifications. But the main task was not the solution, but the silence of the problems ...
23:28, 29 April 2021

112 Agency

According to documents from the Soviet State Security Committee, he was aware of the deplorable state of affairs at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Monday marks 35 years of the Chernobyl accident...

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No one has ever read such a story of the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl. And if you do not know who its author is, then the published investigation could be mistaken for a joint project of Greenpeace and the spies sent to the nuclear power plant, so frankly, in detail and mercilessly described the careless work of the plant employees and the low quality of the materials used. Possible catastrophic consequences of this state of affairs are also pointed out. One can only wonder why the explosion occurred only on April 26, 1986, and not much earlier.

The documents were kept in the archives of the Soviet KGB. They were made public by the Ukrainian State Security Service of the SBU last year. The book "The Chornobyl KGB dossier - from construction to the accident" with a volume of 688 pages contains 229 documents for the period from 1970 to November 1986. 190 of them became available for the first time.

According to the documents, the KGB faced two diametrically opposed tasks. On the one hand, the Committee had to find weaknesses in the operation of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and point out the dangers associated with them. On the other hand, he was obliged to keep information about these dangers secret, and then hide the true state of affairs after the nuclear disaster.

Related: Chornobyl disaster: Its tragedy, myths and future

To identify weaknesses, the KGB, since 1972, that is, five years before the commissioning of the first reactor has created a network of agents and so-called proxies within the NPP personnel. In 1986, when the accident occurred, there were 209 people on the lists of persons collaborating with the KGB. Every minute these people monitored which of the employees of the power plant kept in touch with the West, who made "Zionist statements", who was a member of a religious sect and how many foreigners were in Ukraine.

The head of the Kyiv branch of the KGB, Major General Mykola Vakulenko, reported on the first problems with the plant's safety even before the commissioning of the first power unit. In August 1976, in a secret report, he said that cracks were found in 182 tons of welded pipes: "These pipes could not be used, and they had to be returned to the manufacturer," he wrote.

112 Agency

When the first power unit was launched, in the period from January 1979 to February 1981, 120 fuel elements (TVELs) had to be replaced ahead of schedule. In the second power unit, 59 fuel rods were replaced from April to December 1980. "Recently, more and more often it is necessary to remove the fuel elements because of the suspicion that they are leaking. We are talking about 25-30%," wrote Vakulenko.

At some point, the capacity of the nuclear fuel storage pool ceased to suffice. The reason was that the permitted production rates were exceeded to obtain the maximum amount of electricity.

Between 1977 and 1981, the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had to be shut down 29 times, usually for technical reasons, but eight times due to personnel errors. The Ukrainian KGB reported this on October 16, 1981. This document also stated: "When checking the emergency shutdown mechanisms of the reactors, it turned out that the electrical equipment, including control and measuring equipment, does not meet safety requirements in terms of quality."

The management of the nuclear power plant, located near Chernobyl in the city of Pripyat, even a year later did not report a fire in one of the nuclear canals on September 9, 1982 due to the fact that it did not supply enough water for cooling. "This accident is considered the most serious in the history of nuclear energy."

KGB officers constantly noted that the personnel of the nuclear power plant clearly lacked qualifications. Thus, in the report of the KGB branch of the city of Pripyat of a higher authority in Kyiv dated January 5, 1983, it was said: “Agent Oksanenko learned that during the launch of the second reactor, due to criminal negligence, they forgot to turn on the emergency cooling system reactor.” On August 13, the same source reported that the poor quality of repair work in the reactors leads to equipment failures and may even lead to its emergency shutdown.

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But no less than the shortcomings in the security system, the KGB feared that the class enemy in the West could take advantage of these shortcomings for anti-Soviet propaganda. From this point of view, foreign citizens in Ukraine were monitored. On July 9, 1976, the Chernobyl KGB reported to Kiev that of the 9294 employees employed in the construction, 31 people have German roots, four were previously convicted of serious anti-state crimes, one person was in the underground (nationalist) OUN, two were Chinese, 11 people were in correspondence with residents of capitalist countries.

After the accident, surveillance of suspicious individuals was replaced by a real campaign to cover up the consequences of the accident. On July 18, 1986, the KGB warned the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that foreign intelligence services were trying to learn more about the aftermath of the disaster. He reported, for example, that he thwarted attempts by American diplomats to take soil samples.

They also followed their citizens. On May 8, 1986, the Ukrainian KGB reported that in the course of wiretapping and spying on correspondence, six cases of unwanted transmission of information were uncovered. On May 19, 1986, the same sources reported that it was established that three high-ranking police and army officers "allowed panicky conversations in the presence of subordinates."

As a countermeasure, the telephone connection was switched from automatic to manual connection mode. On May 21, 1986, more concrete steps were reported: with many people who "disseminated slanderous fabrications about the accident," as the intelligence officials wrote, "explanatory conversations" were held and they received warnings.

Related: Ukraine declassifies Soviet documents on Chornobyl disaster

Scientists have warned of side effects

While the KGB officers pursued the alleged alarmists, the Committee itself seemed to be best informed about the environmental impact of the accident. A special commission created at the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences described in a highly classified first analysis of the accident on May 14, 1986, what consequences it would have on the population: “What worries us is the side effects of radioactivity on the immune system and bone marrow. Weakening of the immune system can lead to an increase in the number of infectious diseases and an exacerbation of chronic inflammatory processes. This will affect primarily children from 10 to 12 years old and the elderly. Due to the effect on the bone marrow, anemia may occur, which in 1-3 years can lead to an increase in the incidence of leukemia." ... Based on this, we can "conclude that the number of cancer cases in the next 5-6-8-10 years will increase two or three times. It can also be assumed that the average life expectancy in Ukraine will decrease by 1-2 years." They also discussed the possible birth of children with deformities and developmental disorders of children aged 5 to 12 years.

Related: Echo of Chornobyl disaster: 35 later

Within the KGB, this analysis caused some confusion: "The commission believes that the leadership misjudged the situation and, for some reason, initially kept silent about the accident. This only exacerbated the situation, although much could have been avoided."

The fact that the Ukrainian security service published the dossier is a clear criticism of the information policy of the Soviet KGB regarding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. But the really transparently responsible persons of the NPP do not work even today. The same can be said for their European sponsors.

In an interview with TAZ, Green MP Sylvia Kotting-Uhl, Chair of the Committee for Environmental Protection, said she was deeply worried about the situation at Europe's largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia. Local sources report that not all emergency power supply units are operating there.

Since January 27, the deputy expects a response from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is involved in financing the so-called work on the modernization of nuclear power plants. But the addressee is still silent.

Benard Clasen

Related: Chornobyl nuclear power plant goes into downtime due to quarantine

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