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Veteran of Chernobyl nuclear clean-up: HBO TV episode was very accurate

Chernobyl Episode 4 Scene | HBO | Graphite Clearing

This man knows what it’s really like shovelling radioactive debris on top of Chernobyl’s reactor ABC News 

Key points:

  • At age 32, Jaan Krinal was forced to go to Chernobyl and clean the roof of the reactor
  • He says men were initially enthusiastic to help eliminate the radiation
  • One-third of the men of his town he served with in Chernobyl have died

When he left his wife and two children on May 7, 1986 and went to work, Jaan Krinal didn’t know he would be one of those people.

The 32-year-old was working on a state-owned farm in Soviet-occupied Estonia.

Because he’d been forced to complete the Soviet military’s retraining a year before, he was confused when officers surprised him at work and said he’d been called up again — immediately.

Jaan and 200 other men were taken to a nearby school. Once they’d walked through the door, no-one was allowed to leave.

The men’s passports were seized before they were loaded onto buses and taken to a forest, where they were told to slip into brand new army uniforms.

“That’s when I first questioned what’s really going on here,” Jaan recalls………

Workers told radiation could have health benefits

It all happened fast.

Hundreds of men boarded a Ukraine-bound train on May 8. By the next evening, they were setting up camp on the edge of Chernobyl’s exclusion zone.

They were just 30 kilometres away from the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster — the still-smouldering wreckage of a reactor torn apart by a series of explosions and spewing radiation in a plume across Europe.

Jaan was among the first group sent to clean up in the aftermath of the catastrophe.

Tasked with hosing down radiation on the houses in nearby villages, he was thrown into the thick of it……

Despite the apparent uselessness of the job, they continued to work 11-hour days without a day off until the end of June. After that, they had two days of downtime a month.

As the weeks rolled on, suspicions grew.

“We started to have doubts. But all the officers said, ‘Why are you fretting, the radiation levels aren’t that high.”

In a cruel irony, the commanders told the men that being exposed to radiation would actually have health benefits.

“They joked that whoever has cancer can now get rid of it — because the radiation helps,” Jaan says.

Men unaware of deadly reason behind roof time limit

By the end of September, whatever enthusiasm the men initially felt had faded.

As many developed a cough, concerns grew about whether they were being lied to about the radiation being harmless. The respirators the men were given wouldn’t stay on because of the heat and were used until they got holes in them.

Later they found they should have been replaced every day…….

A rumour had it that the very last leg of the assignment was going on the roof of the reactor to clean up as much debris as possible.

Humans were going to be given a task that remote-control robots had previously attempted, but failed. The machines simply stopped working due to the unprecedented levels of radiation.

“When they told us, ‘You have to go to the roof’, we thought, ‘Oh, this means we can go home soon’,” he says.

On the day, he changed his army uniform for a protective suit, glasses and a gas mask, and a metal groin guard.

“We were all lined up and told, ‘who doesn’t want to go on the roof, step forward’. But only a couple of us did,” he says.

“There was no mass rejection. Most people went up there.

“It had to be done. We couldn’t just leave it. I think everyone realised the longer the reactor would have stayed open, the more dangerous it would have become.”

Jaan was shown on a small screen exactly which piece of debris he had to pick up with a shovel and throw off the roof of the reactor, but strictly warned against going too close to the edge.

He had two minutes to complete the assignment — a bell would ring to tell him when to run back.

The two-minute timeframe was to limit exposure to radiation, which could kill a man.

But this wasn’t communicated to the men at the time.

Jaan says the roof-cleaning scene depicted in HBO’s mini-series Chernobyl mirrored real life events…….

A staggering one-third of the men of his town who went to Chernobyl have died.

The average age of death has been 52.

“Over the past couple of years, just a couple of us have died. But not too long ago it was around 10 men a year,” he says.

“There have been cancers. There have been suicides too, but thankfully not too many.”……

he hopes tourists won’t start flocking to the ghost city.

“I hope they’ll never start sending large groups of tourists there. It’s still a dangerous zone,” he says.

He hasn’t seen the mini-series, but welcomes the attention Chernobyl disaster is getting — he thinks it acts as a warning to the human kind.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-22/chernobyl-what-it-was-really-like-on-top-of-reactor/11223876

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June 22, 2019 - Posted by | incidents, Resources -audiovicual, Ukraine, wastes

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