Prelude to Chernobyl On 10 August of this year, 23 years will have passed from the day of a tragedy that took place at the shipyards of the Pacific Fleet in the south of Primorsky Kray. By Grigory Pasko, journalist On 10 August of the year 1985, the shipyard workers and the crew of submarine K-431 were conducting the work of offloading the active zone of the reactor. On the eve it had been discovered that the reactor’s containment had been breached. Later it became clear that between the cover of the reactor and the base someone of the workers had forgotten an electrode rod. In prospect was a removal of the upper cover of the reactor and simultaneously the compensating grating. When the floating workshop crane started to pull on the cover with a cable, the floating workshop swayed – a torpedo recovery cutter unexpectedly passed through the cove. As a result of this the cover, and with it also the compensating grating of the reactor, was jerked “to a height above that calculated by the technology”. A spontaneous chain reaction started, resulting in an explosion. Ten people – submariners and shipyard workers – died instantly.
The explosion was of such force that people were literally splattered on the metal. Indeed, they later buried not people, but what was left of them. Such a detail: they excavated a very deep grave, because the remains of the people strongly backgrounded from radiation.I visited the place of the tragedy and the place of the burial many times. In my journalistic archive have remained photographs of the moment of the erection of a monument at the place of the burial of the officers and sailors. I have conversed with many who in one way or another had something to do with the tragedy. On the basis of the facts of these meetings was written a multitude of articles. The majority of them evoked a negative perception among the leadership of the Pacific Fleet. “Why dig up the past?” – they asked angrily.Indeed, why?Because this long-ago tragedy continues affect us to this day. First, the work of liquidating the consequences of that accident has still not been carried out to the end, even though 23 years have passed already. Second, many materials and details of that incident remain behind a veil of secrecy. Third, the state to this day refuses to recognize many of the liquidators of that accident as victims and is not paying them the compensation – mere kopeks! – they are due.About secrecy. Its mechanism was turned on immediately after the tragedy.Monument to officers and sailors who died during the time of the explosion on nuclear submarine APL K-431 in August of the year 1985 (photo from the author’s archive)Only after 24 hours did it become possible to determine the level of radiation at the moment of the explosion and in the first hours after it: 90 thousand roentgens and, correspondingly, 600 roentgens. The first number exceeds the indicator of the Chernobyl explosion by three times, the second exceeds the mortally dangerous dose by thirty times. Released into the atmosphere was around six million curies of radioactive materials. The level of radiation contamination of the territory of the military unit exceeded the maximum allowable norms by ten times. Subjected to contamination was 30% of the shipyard’s territory and around two square kilometers of forest. Untrained and unprotected people were thrown into liquidating the consequences of the catastrophe in the first hours.Besides officers and sailors of the Pacific Fleet, taking part in the liquidation of the accident was the civilian and military personnel of the shipyard, a total of 2209 people. The majority of these people to this day can not prove their participation in the liquidation of the consequences of the accident and, correspondingly, are not making use of any benefits. All documents directly confirming the actions of workers during the time of the accident (workshop work plans, job tickets, time cards for the carrying out of concrete works, orders and the like) were destroyed. From the officers and sailors of the Pacific Fleet was taken a signed pledge on non-disclosure of information. How many of them died then after discharge from the service – nobody knows for sure.What did they do with the radioactive soil and the parts of the boat? At a shore technical base (BTB) found not far away, they constructed 4 burial sites of the trench type, where they buried 1200 sq. m of asphalt surfacing, 240 cub. m of contaminated lightweight expanded clay aggregate, 4585 cub. m of infected soil and crushed rock, 350 tonnes of construction, 760 tonnes of metal and 58 cub. m of wood installations.It was assumed that these would be temporary burials. But, as so often happens in Russia, the temporary became permanent. As a result of such carelessness, the radioactivity together with the groundwater ends up getting into the nearby cove of Sysoyev to this day.Pockets of radiation have remained too in the forest next to the shipyard (they simply buried radioactive wastes there without any control, not bothering to transport them to the BTB), alongside the road along the route; the shipyard- settlement Dunai. The Chazhma cove remains contaminated with radioactive wastes as before. According to the data of specialists, the most contaminated here are “bottom deposits in the line closest to the shore, in a zone with a radius of 1.5-2 km from the place of the accident, at the shipyard to this day there are four local sites where the radiation exceeds the established norms by 2-15 times”.A noteworthy detail: situated across from the cove of Chazhma is one of the most popular beaches of Vladivostok – the cove of Shamora. Thousands of people rest annually there.To this day, pockets of elevated radioactive radiation are being discovered by chance in the vicinity of the settlement of Dunai (Shkotovsky Rayon of Primorsky Kray). However, information about this is either recognized as false, or classified.In such a manner, the state has not come to the necessary conclusions from that long-ago tragedy. And this means that a new tragedy in the country, where there is a multitude of radioactive facilities in the form of decommissioned nuclear subs (around 300 units) and burial sites, could take place anywhere and at any time.