Firefighters and volunteers, the real heroes of the Chernobyl disaster
The reactor 4 explosion of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is still considered the worst nuclear disaster ever. What do we know about the days after this incident? Who were those people who gave their lives to limit the disaster? Let us remember firefighters and volunteers.
26 April 1986 – Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. The Chernobyl disaster caused a huge release of radioactive particles in the atmosphere and many victims, among them we have to consider also the survivors who are now facing terrible diseases.
Everything happened during a test carried out the night between 25th and 26th April, in order to verify the preparedness of the staff and the resistance of the plant. But something went wrong. The temperature inside the reactor increased rapidly and the situation went out of control. The explosion was inevitable.
The first to reach the plant after the incident were the firefighters, who have never been warned of the danger they will be exposed to. After the first 30 minutes of the operation, they started suffering from different diseases, and almost all of them died some days after.
That explosion and the consequenced blaze, released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, that spread over the western USSR and Europe. And also in the days after the blaze, radioactivity continued to come out of the reactor, so they decided to cover the “elephant foot“ (a mass composed of melted sand, concrete and a large amount of nuclear fuel that had escaped from the reactor) with a containment structure called the sarcophagus.
Heroes of the Chernobyl disaster: the Liquidators
The battle to contain the contamination and avoid a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles. During the accident itself, 31 people died, and long-term effects such as cancers are still being investigated.
Firefighter and volunteers who chose to help extinguish the fire inside the reactor and follow the authorities directives were called Chernobyl Liquidators. Many of them died. The rest keep suffering strange illnesses and current governments and international organizations rarely recognize the link between those illnesses and Chernobyl radiation exposure.
97% of liquidators were men, 3% were women. Out of approximately 700,000 liquidators, only 284,000 have records in USSR National Register, have official records of radiation dose that they received. Most of the liquidators came from Ukraine and Russia. About 50% of liquidators (48%) entered the Chernobyl zone in 1986. At this time the majority of liquidators are between 50 and 60 years old. [Source]
Leonid Telyatnikov was leading the firefighters brigade the night of the disaster and despite the radioactive exposition danger, they did not know what really was going on, so they arrived there without the right equipment. They had no radiation suits, no respirators, and no working dosimeters.
Vladimir Pavlovich Pravik was a subordinate of Leonid and the night of the disaster he was 24 years. The exposure to radioactive particles turned out to be a real danger for him. During the dispatch to Moscow Hospital no. 6 (where Chernobyl the first victims were brought), doctors declared that through the microscope, it was impossible to get a proper view of their heart tissue. The cells’ nuclei had formed clusters and there were fragments of muscular tissue. This was a direct effect of ionizing radiation rather than a consequence of secondary biological changes. To save these patients was impossible.
Many others contributed to limit the consequences of this disaster which troubled the entire world for years. Some of them died, but many others are suffering from terrible diseases and illnesses that will never be relieved. These are the true heroes of Chernobyl.
9 July 1937: the Little Ferry firefighters intervetion during the famous Vault Fire at 20 Century-Fox storage