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- “What Kind of R eactor Do You Prefer”
THE UKRAINIAN REVIEW
certainty that its preparation had made it com pletely safe. Y o u could find
dozens o f situations in which the same thing could happen as did at Chornobyl.
This is especially true o f the first units o f the Leningrad, Kursk, and Chornobyl
NPS. Th ey have no emergency cooling systems. One has first o f all to shut
them down. (. . . ) It is impossible to build any more RBMKs, I’m convinced o f
that. As for improving them, it is not worth the expense. The philosophy o f
extending the life o f nuclear pow er stations is far from justified.
GORBACHEV. But could these reactors be brought up to international require
ALEKSANDROVC..) All countries with developed nuclear pow er engineering
use reactors o f a different type from what w e use.
And as early as 28 December 1984 (!), a decision o f the Inter-departmen
tal Scientific Council for Nuclear Energy confirmed the proposals o f an
expert commission for upgrading the RBMK-1000 in accordance with the
normative documents on safety.
(...) MAYORETS [Member o f the Government Commission]. As far as the RBMK
is concerned, that question can be answered unequivocally. N o one [else] in the
world set out to produce a reactor o f this type. I am convinced, that even when
all the work has been done on the RBMK, it will still not satisfy all present-day
RYZHKOV. W e were heading for an accident. If w e hadn’t had an accident
now, then, with things as they are, it could have happened at any time... . As it
is now known, there is not a single nuclear pow er station without incidents,
(...) It has also become known about the faults in the design o f the RBMK reac
tor, but neither the Ministries nor the Academy o f Sciences o f the USSR drew
the appropriate conclusions.
(...) The executive group considers that stations where a large amount o f pre
liminary work has been done will have to be completed, but that the construc
tion o f [new] stations with these reactors must be stopped.
These were the appraisals o f the specialists who took part in the top-
secret session o f the Politburo o f the CC CPSU on the safety o f the RBMK
reactor. Dozens o f commissions and scientists presented proofs o f its dan
gerous nature. And what then?
A year after Chornobyl construction was started on two more generator
units using RBMK reactors, the third unit at the Smolensk NPS and the sec
ond at Ignalina...
Judging from the shorthand record o f the Politburo session, Mikhail
Gorbachev, a jurist by training and [at that time] General Secretary o f the
Central Committee, turned out to be the most assiduous expert on all our reac
tors, including the “goodies” — the WER-type. I am quite certain that w e
should never have known this if it had not been for August 1991. Not even the
members o f Gromyko’s Politburo. Solomentsev spoke at this meeting in a state
o f agitation, saying that this was the first they had heard o f such revelations
about our reactor construction.
DOCUMENTS & REPORTS
(...) GORBACHEV. H ow many times did you people in the State Nuclear
Pow er Inspectorate turn your attention to the problem o f this reactor? [the
RBMK. A. Ya]
KULOV. During the three years that I have w orked in this job — according to
the style o f the times — I never heard such a question. W e concentrated rather
on the WER-1000. Its units were less controllable. Not a year went by without
some accident in a W E R .
GORBACHEV. What is your opinion about Sidorenko’s statement that nowhere
in the world has there been any attempt to use reactors o f the RBMK type, that
our W E R and RBMK do not meet international standards, and that under inter
national inspection, the W E R comes out better than the RBMK.
KULOV. The W E R has definite advantages but its operation involves a certain
GORBACHEV. Does this mean, in your opinion, that the VVERs should be
closed down too. W hy don’t you announce that w e mustn’t build VVERs either?
KULOV. The W E R is better than the RBMK, but the WER-1000 is worse than
those based on the original units.
DOLGIKH. Is the W E R up to present-day standards?
KULOV. Yes, but the VVERs being built now are worse than the old ones” .
Can you understand that, reader? If the W E Rs now being built are “worse
than the old ones”, then why build them? Who decided this and why?
MAYORETS. The WER-1000 is new, it corresponds to the latest safety require
ments, but it is unreliable in operation because the instruments go out o f order.
“What Kind of R eactor Do You Prefer?”
This question from the secret protocol shook me almost more than any
thing else. It was put by Politburo Member Nikolay Slyunkov to the Deputy
Minister o f Power Engineering and Electrification o f the USSR, Gennadiy
Shashakin. To which Shashakin replied: “The W E R ”. Thank God Slyunkov
did not tell the deputy minister what kind o f reactors the Politburo o f the
Communist Party o f Byelorussia preferred. [Note: Slyunkov was First
Secretary o f the Communist Party o f Byelorussia. Ed.]
And today, seven years after the Chornobyl catastrophe, almost nothing
has changed in the nuclear energy policy o f the independent republics of
the former USSR. Once again the Ignalina NPS, with the RBMK reactors
which were shut down out o f hatred for the “centre” at the demand o f the
Baltic “patriots”, is back in operation. President Ter-Petrosyants o f Armenia
is also speaking about restarting the Armenian NPS in the near future,
although it is situated on a seismic fault. [It was shut down under pressure
from the Arm enian “g re e n ” m ovem ent, fo llo w in g the earthquake o f
December 1988. Ed.] The shortage o f electrical power has made [him] forget
about this. In spite o f the fact that the Ukrainian Parliament voted to shut
THE UKRAINIAN REVIEW
down the Chornobyl NPS in 1993, at the end o f last year the second and
first blocks w ere once again started up. And quite recently, Stanislau
Suskievic, the Speaker o f the Parliament o f Belarus, made a pronouncement
about the need to build two nuclear p ow er stations in Belarus. [Since
Belarus, although independent since 25 August 1991, has no President, Dr.
Suskievic, as Speaker, is de fa cto head o f state. Ed.]
But nuclear power is now making a very vigorous comeback in Russia.
On 26 March 1992, Y egor Gaidar, at that time head o f the government,
signed an order on resuming construction o f nuclear pow er stations in that
country. Without any analysis o f the state o f the nuclear reactors being pub
lished. And this, moreover, in spite o f the fact that in 1991, on the eve of the
visit o f President Yeltsin to the USA, the Academy o f Sciences recommended
the closure o f the majority o f Russian nuclear pow er stations, in view o f
world safety requirements. The “black list” included the Leningrad, Bilibino,
Kursk, Beloyarsk and Smolensk power stations, and two blocks o f the Kola
and two o f the Novovoronezh stations. It was recommended that these dan
gerous reactors should be phased out over the next two years, According to
the Russian Academy o f Sciences, only two stations out o f nine could meet
the safety requirements completely.
Gaidar’s order was the first step towards the grow th o f p ow er o f the
nuclear lobby by an infusion o f fresh b lo od into the sector, which in
essence b lew up seven years ago together with the Chornobyl reactor.
Today the Phoenix has been reborn, shaking the radioactive ash from its
On 28 Decem ber o f last year, a decision o f the Russian governm ent
was published on “Questions o f the construction o f nuclear stations on
the territory o f the Russian Federation". This envisaged the comm ission
ing o f 33 new blocks o f nuclear p o w er stations. It is proposed to site 19
o f these in the Central, North-Western and Black-Earth zones o f Russia.
These are densely populated regions with oil and gas pipelines to the
countries o f the CIS and the Baltic States. And am ong the nuclear reac
tors to be commissioned are our old acquaintances, the RBMKs.
In the “Concept o f the developm ent o f nuclear p o w e r engineering in
the Russian Federation” , approved by the Collegium o f the Ministry o f
Nuclear P o w e r on 14 July 1992, a g o o d deal o f space is devoted to the
safety o f nuclear p o w e r stations, which have to b e brought “up to a
level which rules out the possibility o f a serious accident with the dis
charge o f fission products into the environment”. This referred both to
existing nuclear p o w er stations and to a new generation o f them. But is
it possible in principle to attain the maximally possible safety-level with
this type o f reactor?
Many p eop le w ill certainly remember the tragic death o f Academician
Valeriy Legasov, w h o took part in the Chornobyl clean-up operation and
w h o later committed suicide on the day follow in g the second anniver
DOCUMENTS & REPORTS
sary o f the accident. At the top secret session o f the Politburo, Legasov
“the RBMK reactor in certain respects does not meet international and Soviet
requirements. There is no protection system, no dosimetry system, no outer
cowl. We, o f course, are to blame that w e did not keep a proper watch on this
reactor. This is my fault too. ...The same is true also o f the first W E R blocks.
Fourteen o f them too do not meet present-day Soviet safety standards either”.
T w o years later, shortly before Legasov died, while he was recording
something for the documentary film “The Star W orm w ood”, he went further.
“Every approach to ensuring nuclear safety... consists o f three elements. The
first element is to make the object itself, in this case the nuclear reactor, as safe
as is maximally possible. The second element is to make the operation o f this
object as reliable as is maximally possible, but the w ord “maximally” must not
be understood in the sense o f 100 per cent reliability. The philosophy o f safety
necessarily demands that a third element be introduced, which assumes that
nevertheless an accident will take place and that radioactive materials or some
chemical materials will escape from the apparatus. So, to meet this case, it is
essential to package the dangerous object in what is called a containment ves
sel... But in Soviet pow er engineering, this third element was, in m y opinion,
criminally ignored. If w e had had a philosophy associated with the idea that
there must necessarily be a containment vessel built around every one o f our
nuclear reactors, then the RBMK, with its geometry, w ould never have seen the
light o f day. The fact that this device did see the light o f day was illegal from
the point o f view o f international safety standards, and safety standards general
ly, but in spite o f all this, within the device itself there w ere three major design
... But the ch ief cause was a breach o f the basic safety principle o f such
devices — siting such devices inside capsules which limit the possibility o f
[radiojactivity escaping beyond the limits o f the station itself, the device itself’.
And this is the time and place to recall that, as Legasov, Izrael and other
scientists asserted, the Chornobyl accident was not the biggest in the
world. The biggest nuclear pow er station accident in the w orld had hap
pened long before Chornobyl, in 1979, at Three Mile Island in the USA.
But this reactor was inside a cowl. The accident took place inside the
c o w l w hich ruptured, but on ly a very small quantity o f radioactivity
escaped into the environment. And since then the USA has not built a sin
gle nuclear p o w er station. Not even with a reliable cowl.
In the n ew “Concept o f the developm ent o f nuclear p o w e r engineer
ing” it is noted that on 1 July 1992, in Russia “there are in operation 28
industrial p o w e r blocks at 9 nuclear p o w er stations... o f w hich 12 pow er
blocks are o f the light-water W E R type, 15 are uranium-graphite chan
nel reactors (11 RBMK blocks and 4 EGP blocks) and one block with a
fast neutron reactor”. And this is what Legasov had to say about them,
fiv e years ago, b efore his mysterious death: “It is necessary to think seri
ously about som e special measures to localise accidents in these 28 reac
THE UKRAINIAN REVIEW
tors, since it is e co n o m ica lly a n d technically im p o s sib le to b u ild
c o w ls o v e r them ”. (M y emphasis. A. Ya).
This means that w hatever the scientists do, w hatever safety measures
they em ploy (and a great deal was actually done to make the RBMKs
safe after the Chornobyl accident), the principal danger o f the p ow er
blocks n ow in operation in Russia cannot b e eliminated. A nd this consti
tutes the tragedy o f nuclear engineering in our country which has ch o
sen for its developm en t a path that is depraved from the beginning.
About this problem “it is necessary to take thought today, necessary first
and forem ost for Soviet society to take thought, since it is our prob lem ”,
Legasov said before his death. At the top secret session o f the Politburo
in summer 1986, he likewise asserted that “the w eak spot o f the RBMK
has been know n for 15 years".
But there are other opinions about this issue. At the same session o f the
Politburo, Academician Aleksandrov let fall that “a cowl w ould only have
made the accident worse!” Other scientists consider that “N obody knows!”.
This means that, on the one hand, a cowl over the RBMK is a technical
impossibility, but even if one could have been built, it w ould simply have
made the accident worse. However, unremittingly, Five Year Plan after Five
Year Plan, these dangerous p ow er blocks w ere planted in our national
econom y by physicists close to the powers-that-be.
This is the secon d year o f life without a Politburo and w ithout a
Central Committee o f the CPSU. There exist the conclusions o f dozens o f
competent commissions and groups o f scientists on the reasons for the
explosion at the Chornobyl Nuclear P ow er Station, which put the blam e
on the reactor itself. These include the authoritative diagnosis carried out
back in 1990, by a Commission o f the State Nuclear Energy Inspectorate
o f the USSR, headed by the w ell-know n scientist N ikolay Shteynberg:
“Defects in the design o f the RBM K-1000 reactor in operation in the
fourth block o f the Chornobyl NPS predeterm ined the serious con se
quences o f the accident. But no changes have been ob served in the
approach to the issue, although here one is dealing, in effect, with Life
itself. But w here are such changes to com e from, when the p e o p le w h o
brought us to Chornobyl have barely m oved their chairs?”.
Their names and their faces are well-known. (And not only in Russia.)
First o f all they lied to us about the causes and consequences o f the
Chornobyl accident, they took decisions about building houses for the
evacuees in areas that w ere themselves dangerous, and then, know ing the
real causes o f the accident, they loaded all the guilt onto the pow er station
staff. And n ow they are running us just as before. Making use o f the fact
that the society at large is poorly informed, they have drawn up their irre
sponsible plans to “nucléarisé” poor Russia with realities w hose faults are
irrevocably built into the design.
Academician Aleksey Yablokov, an adviser to the President o f Russia,
commented that the new concept o f developing nuclear energy was “unac
DOCUMENTS & REPORTS
ceptable from the juridical, economic, ecological and political points o f
v ie w ” .
On the ev e o f each anniversary o f Chornobyl, the Politburo used to
draw up a “Plan to forestall counter-propaganda actions". (Especially
zealous, on the first anniversary, w ere the services o f Mr. Falin, w h o in
1987 was head o f the N ovosti press agency, w h o feared the “possible
attempts b y the subversive centres o f imperialism to make use o f the
anniversary o f the accident at the Chornobyl NPS to launch a wide-scale
anti-Soviet campaign.) (A p p en d ix to Protocol o f the Secretariat o f the CC
CPSU, N o. 42, 26.2.1987). T h e correction o f the “plan” was carried out
personally b y Y egor Kuzmich Ligachev. On 10 April 1987 a vote was
taken in the Secretariat o f the CC CPSU on the planned lie, and as usual,
the voting was unanimous (T o p Secret Protocol No. 46). “Voting as fo l
low s: Comrades: G orbachev — “For”, A liye v — “For”, Vorotnikov —
“ F o r” , G ro m y k o — “F o r” , Z a ik o v — on lea ve , L ig a c h e v — “F o r ” ,
R y z h k o v — “ F o r ” , S o lo m e n t s e v — “ F o r ” , C h e b r ik o v — “ F o r ” ,
Shevardnadze — “For”, Shcherbytskyi — “For”.
It was always 100 % “For” . In spite o f the fact that at their top secret
sessions they called the consequences o f the Chornobyl explosion “the
consequences o f a small w ar” (Andrey Grom yko), and com parable with
the “use o f a w e a p o n o f mass destruction (M ik h ail G orb a ch ev, S.
Sokolov). But this was only for the initiated. They assured the com m on
masses that “There was no threat to human health” .
D oes not this new “Concept o f the development o f nuclear pow er” o f
the Ministry o f Atom ic Energy o f the Russian Federation resem ble the
“plan to forestall counter-propaganda actions”? And if this is so, then life
on Earth with a reactor will be possible only with a “co w l” over every per
son. I f that can be called life!
THE UKRAINIAN REVIEW
B o o ks & P e rio d ica ls
Anders Aslund, SYSTEMIC CHANGE AND STABILIZATION IN
RUSSIA, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 24pp, £6.50
This monograph, the latest in the series o f papers produced by the Royal
Institute o f International Affairs “Post-Soviet Business Forum” addresses the
problem o f why the economic reforms attempted in Russia in 1992 have
failed to stabilise that country’s economy. As such it will be o f considerable
interest to all those concerned with the future o f Ukraine, whose economy,
for the foreseeable future, will inevitably remain closely tied to the other
post-Soviet states, Russia in particular.
During 1992, production in Russia fell drastically, unemployment began
to em erge as a serious social phenom enon, and poverty, in general,
increased, although certain individuals became conspicuously wealthy. A
number o f commentators on this situation have argued that the problem
goes back to the timing o f the Gorbachev reforms o f 1986-90, suggesting
that it would have been wiser to force through economic reform from above
(on the Chinese model) before attempting to democratise the system. This
view, Dr. Aslund argues, is incorrect factually (Gorbachev began pressing
for the introduction o f family farms as early as February 1986) and, more
over, fails to grasp the fact that (as he gives ample reasons) the Soviet sys
tem was, in fact, unreformable. The true cause o f the failure o f the Russian
reforms o f 1992, Dr. Aslund argues, was Russia’s “democratic deficit”: the
new State powers have not been consolidated, the old nom enklatura still
retains much o f its former power and the Central Bank (the prime villain of
the piece in Dr. Âslund’s view ) continued to issue virtually unlimited credits
for the benefit o f the former élite. The failure to liberalise energy prices — a
major mistake from the point o f view o f economics — likewise served to
line the pockets o f the old nom enklatura.
Unlike many western commentators, who urge that the unity o f the old
Soviet “economic space” should be maintained for the sake o f "stability”, Dr.
Aslund contends that another prime mistake was Russia’s reluctance (for
political reasons) to make a clean break with the past. M oscow ’s attempts to
maintain a “rouble zone” has simply meant that attempts to tackle the cur
rency reform which Russia so urgently needs have been, in Dr. Âslund’s
words “piecemeal and hesitant”. Shock therapy, o f the type suffered by
Poland under the Balcerowicz plan, is frequently dismissed as too danger
ous and destabilising for Russia. In Dr. Aslund’s view, although shock thera-
BOOKS & PERIODICALS
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