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>From Der Speigel: The Russians Acted Properly In Shutting Down The Chernobly-Type Reactors And Closing Others in The European Part of Russia

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03/24/2011

 

‘This Reactor Model Is No Good’

Documents Show Politburo Skepticism of Chernobyl

By Christian Neef
Politburo members voting during a session of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow in June 1986. President Andrei Gromyko (middle) can be seen next to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the bottom row. Mikhail Solomentsev is on the right in the middle row.

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AP/DDP
Politburo members voting during a session of the Supreme Soviet in Moscow in June 1986. President Andrei Gromyko (middle) can be seen next to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the bottom row. Mikhail Solomentsev is on the right in the middle row.
Lies and deception were commonplace in the Soviet nuclear industry. Now Kremlin records which have been obtained by SPIEGEL reveal that Russian experts already had their doubts about the Chernobyl reactor before the 1986 disaster.
The gravestone in Moscow’s famous Novodevichy Cemetery consists of a polished granite slab with a copper engraving on it of a kneeling young woman. She is wearing a headscarf and gazing thoughtfully at the ground. At her feet are the words: “Academy member Legasov, Valery Alexeyevich, 1936-1988.”

The man who is buried here was a professor at Moscow University and a world-renowned specialist in the chemistry of inert gases. In the last years of his life, he served as deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, the center of Soviet nuclear research.

Legasov was a victim of the Chernobyl disaster. But he did not die of radiation sickness, even though he spent four months in Chernobyl after the explosion there. Legasov hanged himself in his office on April 27, 1988, almost two years to the day after the reactor accident in present-day Ukraine.
He left a legacy behind on his desk: tapes containing a detailed description of the catastrophe that — at least until Fukushima — was considered the ultimate symbol of nuclear apocalypse. Today, Legasov’s recordings are available on the Internet, but not in their entirety: An important section was deliberately deleted shortly after his death.
‘Criminal Negligence’
This isn’t surprising. Trickery, deception and secrecy were part of the modus operandi of many of the individuals who were involved in the events at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant a quarter century ago. Some of this information would probably never have come to light if Mikhail Gorbachev hadn’t already been in charge at the Kremlin in April 1986.
The Chernobyl accident was caused by “criminal negligence” and “a shocking lack of responsibility,” Gorbachev angrily told the members of the politburo after they had tried to assign the blame to an unfortunate chain of adverse events. “One or two more of these cases,” Gorbachev added, “and it’ll be worse than after a nuclear war.”
Excerpts from the minutes of the politburo, the inner circle of the Soviet party leadership, were later published, but only in fragments. The young Russian historian Pavel Stroilov, who lives in London today, secretly copied large parts of the Gorbachev archive. He has now made them available to SPIEGEL.
The discussions within the old boys’ club of the politburo following Chernobyl were downright turbulent by Kremlin standards. They reveal leaders who were overwhelmed by events because their underlings had lied to them for years. Suddenly they were forced to realize that “an idiotic experiment” by subordinate plant engineers had thrown the country out of balance, and that neither its civil defense forces nor its medical service nor its fire department was functioning.
The discussion was especially heated during a meeting on July 3 attended by the Communist Party leaders, as well as experts and members of the government commission deployed after the Chernobyl accident, including Legasov. The minutes of that meeting reveal that the experts had never had any confidence in the safety of the Chernobyl reactors, in which graphite, instead of water, was used to slow down neutrons moving at high speeds following nuclear fission. But it was precisely this design that, on that fateful day, led to a rapid increase in the temperature and pressure in the reactor core, and then to an explosion that set the graphite on fire.
The following is an extract from the transcript of the meeting:
G.A. Shasharin (deputy energy minister): The personnel had no idea that this type of reactor can release so much energy. We didn’t know it either. We were enthusiastic about this reactor but never truly convinced of its safety. There was only one protective system, and everyone assumed that it was no good. The Smolensk andKursk nuclear power plants, as well as the two near Leningrad , should also be shut down. They can’t even be refurbished anymore.
Mikhail Solomentsev (politburo member): You knew that the reactor wasn’t safe?
Shasharin: Yes. But it was never documented in writing. There was a great deal of resistance to letting this become known. The Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Medium Machine Building (responsible for nuclear energy) demanded a constant increase in the production of nuclear energy until the year 2000.
Efim Slavsky (minister of medium machine building): There is a problem with a turbine at the Leningrad nuclear power plant. There is a crack in the turbine shaft. 6,000 revolutions per minute. One explosion and everything will blow up there too. Twenty-six graphite rods were needed, but there were only five.
Gorbachev: Why were we so poorly informed? Does this mean that they don’t even know what the potential consequences of such a fire can be? What idiots!
Anatoli Mayorets (energy minister): This reactor model is no good. There was a similar accident at the Leningrad nuclear power plant back in 1975. No one ever dealt with it. And the same thing already happened in Chernobyl in 1982, except that there was no release of radioactive material that time. No one learned anything from that accident, either. Foreign sources show that the West has already simulated theChernobyl accident. Should we continue to lie to the IAEA? Moreover, we have to stop building cities next to nuclear power plants just because it’s cheaper.
Gorbachev wanted openness, even toward the socialist “brother countries,” which were building similar plants based on Soviet designs. “We have to speak very openly with the general secretaries,” he said. “And we cannot say what our newspapers are writing. Fifty percent of the plants we send to the GDR (East Germany) are defective when they arrive.”
In the same meeting, the comrades began to discuss other sources of energy, and that they wanted to “completely change” the Soviet Union’s approach to nuclear energy and shift the focus to natural gas.
It isn’t hard to guess why these passages in the debate were never released in their entirety: The party leadership knew that it couldn’t rule out the possibility of a second Chernobyl occurring somewhere within their scope of influence in the future.
Gorbachev: What isolated areas we have created in this country! The Central Committee declared everything to be a secret. The government doesn’t even determine the locations for nuclear power plants or the types of reactors used. The entire system consisted of cajolery, boasting, deception, nepotism and the persecution of dissidents.
Andrei Gromyko (president): We have never discussed such things here in the politburo. But the consequences of Chernobyl for the people are like those following a medium-sized war. We must prohibit the construction of nuclear power plants in densely populated areas immediately. Don’t we have enough space? We are notBelgium or Japan . There will never be absolute certainty with these power plants. But we are even building them in the Crimea ! In fact, we should shut down all the plants in the European part of the country.
On Oct. 2, during a final discussion about Chernobyl, Gorbachev did in fact announce a partial phase-out for the nuclear industry. The 15 remaining Chernobyl-type reactors were to be “shut down immediately,” the Kremlin leader said, “including the ones in Smolensk, Leningrad and Kursk.”

But the reactors in all three of these nuclear power plants are still in operation today. And this despite the fact that the Leningrad nuclear plant, which lies only 70 kilometers (44 miles) from St. Petersburg, a city of 5 million, narrowly escaped disaster in 1992, when a leak occurred in the cooling system for unit 3.

Driven to Suicide
According to the minutes, nuclear scientist Valery Legasov spoke up only once during the July politburo meeting. He said what he had been preaching for years, namely that the Chernobyl reactor model did not satisfy safety requirements in all key parameters. But no one had believed him until then.
It was probably the hypocrisy of the party leadership, which assigned sole blame for the accident to plant personnel, that drove Legasov to suicide. He killed himself on the day before he was due to present the results of the investigation of the Chernobyl disaster to the politburo.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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>What Shakles Russia’s Military Threat?

>Has Russia Become The International Spoiler?

August 22, 2008
Moscow–There is mounting tension between the U.S. and Russia since the invasion of Georgia. The West is concerned that this may mark a turning point in aggression from the East and that Georgia is just the starting point for the acquisitive Russians.

But there are forces abroad that will limit Russia’s aggression, and they don’t include it’s lack of passion for war, it’s desire to sell war assets to Syria and Iran, or its desire to re-paint it’s boundaries back to pre-1991 Soviet Union dimensions.

The New York Times believes Russia may yet hold back from some of the more disruptive options depending on how both sides play these next few weeks and months.

We have come a long way with Russia since the Cold War. But lest we delude ourselves, Russia has played ball with the U.S. in terms of wanting to limit Iran’s nuclear bomb capabilities, defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan, and helping with the fight against terrorism in its own self interest.

Everything they do is because it has some lasting benefit for Russia. The Bear is not altruistic, but measures every diplomatic decision, every economic and political move to its final goal, that of more territory and returning to the hegemony of the old days.

Many in Washington hope Russia will restrain itself out of its own self-interest. My view is that is the only way they will restrain themselves. Dmitri Rogozin, a hard-liner who serves as Russia’s ambassador to NATO, told the newspaper Izvestia this week that Moscow still wanted to support the alliance in Afghanistan. “NATO’s defeat in Afghanistan would not be good for us,” he said.

“Moscow may also be checked by the desire of its economic elite to remain on the path to integration with the rest of the world,” said the Times. The main Russian stock index fell sharply in recent days, costing investors $10 billion — many with close ties to the circle of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin. Don’t ever believe that Putin lacks an economic head, that those investors don’t dictate certain policy to the Russian dictator.

The outbreak of violence in Georgia demonstrated just how abruptly the international scene can change. Now Russia is the top focus in Washington and some veteran diplomats fret about the situation spiraling out of control.

There are many, including Senator John McCain, who believe that the West must apply pressure and “punish the Russians for what is going on in Georgia, first the invasion and second the failure to live up to its agreement and the placement of missiles in Ossetia aimed at Tbilisi. Presidential candidate McCain wants to exclude Russia from the Group of 8 major powers. Such a move would effectively admit the failure of 17 years of bipartisan policy aimed at incorporating Russia into the international order.

Yet Washington’s menu of options pales by comparison to Moscow’s. Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said “there’s a lot more” that the United States needed from Russia than the other way around, citing efforts to secure old Soviet nuclear arms, support the war effort in Afghanistan and force Iran and North Korea to give up nuclear programs. “Hence Russia has all the leverage,” she said.

In forecasting Russia’s potential for causing headaches, most specialists look first to Ukraine, which wants to join NATO. The nightmare scenario circulating in recent days is an attempt by Moscow to claim the strategic Crimean peninsula to secure access to the Black Sea.

Ukrainian lawmakers are investigating reports that Russia has been granting passports en masse to ethnic Russians living in Crimea, a tactic Moscow used in the Georgian breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to justify intervention to protect its citizens.

Arms sales, as Mr. Assad’s visit underscored, represent another way Russia could create problems. Israeli and Western governments have already been alarmed about reports that the first elements of the Russian-built S-300 antiaircraft missile system are now being delivered to Iran, which could use them to shoot down any American or Israeli planes that seek to bomb nuclear facilities should that ever be attempted. If Israel and/or the U.S. are going to take action against Iran, now would be better than later.

While Mr. Rogozin expressed support for assisting NATO in the war in Afghanistan, other officials have warned darkly about cutting off ties with NATO. The two sides have already effectively suspended any military cooperation programs. But Russia could also revoke its decision in April to allow NATO to send nonlethal supplies overland through its territory en route to Afghanistan.

Russia could also turn up pressure on Kyrgyzstan to evict American forces that support operations in Afghanistan and could block any large-scale return to Uzbekistan, which expelled the Americans in 2005. “The argument would be, ‘Why help NATO?’ ” said Celeste A. Wallander, a Russia scholar at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service.

Even beyond the dispute over Iran, Russia could obstruct the United States at the United Nations Security Council on a variety of other issues. Just last month, Russia vetoed sanctions against Zimbabwe’s government, a move seen as a slap at Washington.

“If Russia’s feeling churlish, they can pretty much bring to a grinding halt any kind of coercive actions, like economic sanctions or anything else,” said Peter D. Feaver, a former strategic adviser at the National Security Council.

Russia could also accelerate its withdrawal from arms control structures. It already has suspended the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty to protest American missile defense plans and threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. Renewed tension could fray a recently signed civilian nuclear cooperation agreement and doom negotiations to extend soon-to-expire strategic arms control verification programs.

“Ironically, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there’s always been the concern about Russia becoming a spoiler,” said Ms. Stent, of Georgetown, “and now we could see the realization of that.”