"A wrong step could mean a lethal dose"

Summary of the interview with Dr. Nikolai Smirnov, a nuclear specialist, who,
after the Chernobyl Disaster, served as Chief of the Chernobyl Radiometry
Department and now lives in USA.

"The next day we took a helicopter and flew around the site. We saw pieces of graphite lying around on fire, and the damaged block that looked like… well, Hell.  Witnessing a nuclear reactor on fire is terrible, especially for a physicist. 

For 2 years and 8 months I was in Pripyat, the most contaminated town, in charge of the office of external dosimetry.  Our objective was to monitor the level of radiation and to point out areas where work could be done and those places where it could not. Our first objective was to find and monitor the level of radiation in areas where soldiers were supposed to start working.  Not only did we have to obtain the radiation level, but we also had to find out what kind of isotopes we were dealing with. When people started to die we had to count the radiation dosage they had received. There were 14-hour working days with no weekends.  The first vacation I got was after one-and-half years.

The accident caused 500 times more radiation to be released than at Hiroshima, then what was left is much more than one Hiroshima. Water from the Dnieper is used by 32 million people for drinking and for watering plants. They have reason to be concerned. These people have an increased probability for cancer, including leukemia.  

I was reviewing a few international proposals for a new reactor cover, which would go on the top of the old one.  The cost of the least expensive cover was 8 billion dollars. The most expensive was about 20 billion. I came up with my own proposal, which would cost about 2 billion dollars.

This amount of money is nothing compared with what could be needed for the treatment of future illnesses [caused by additional radiation contamination]." 

For the full transcript of this interview, click here.
Copyright © 2000 Aleksandr Kronik