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Ukraine’s Chernobyl Was a Devil’s Gift to Lithuanian Nationalists

But one determined professional put a check on separatist ambitions. If only Gorby had had balls, history could have taken a different turn

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This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Evgeny Adamov was one of the lead ‘liquidators’, or clean up top managers of the Chernobyl accident. At that time, he was the Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute, the USSR’s leading nuclear research center. Then he became Director General and Chief Designer of the Power Engineering Research and Design Institute (NIKIET), in charge of development and maintenance of Chernobyl type reactors, and was Russian Nuclear Power Minister between 1998-2001.  

Below are excerpts of the interview he gave me in April 2011, published by the Russkyi Reporter weekly magazine – a month after the Fukushima NPP accident in Japan and a week before the Chernobyl disaster’s 25th anniversary.

<figcaption>Evgeny Adamov’s pass to ‘any place’ in the Chernobyl zone</figcaption>
Evgeny Adamov’s pass to ‘any place’ in the Chernobyl zone

At the time, the media were full of stories about Japanese clean-up crews who felt like heroes sacrificing their lives for rescuing their compatriots.

This is what Adamov told me:

“Yes, we saw touching pictures of the crews, saying good-bye to their families. They brought some to tears, shocked others, and gave experts a good laugh. People who work there know what doses are dangerous. They have dosimeters and can measure the danger levels. Japanese initially set the limit at 10 roentgens and then adopted the one we had in Chernobyl, 25 roentgens. As soon as a liquidator gets that dose, they evacuate him.

I received a 100 of the biological equivalent roentgen in Chernobyl to my legs and a little more than 50 in the head area. There were places where the director could not send people, he had to go there himself. We continually discussed with the Director of the Kurchatov Institute, Anatoliy Alexandrov, who was President of the USSR Academy of Sciences back then, together with Leonid Ilyin, who observed the medical and biological effects of nuclear weapons since their first testing, what level was really dangerous and decided that it should not be more than 100. The higher level considerably boosts chances for thyroid cancer and leukemia”.

At the age of 72 Adamov was as robust and full of energy as anyone at that age!

It’s much more interesting to hear the Chernobyl accident’s liquidator telling how he suppressed the first inklings of a nationalist movement in Lithuania, a story few know:

Q. I remember that the Chernobyl accident boosted the antinuclear movement, for instance, in Lithuania where protesters called for the shutdown of their own Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. It was indeed shut down but not until 2009.

A. The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant belonged to our NIKIET (N.A. Dollezhal Power Engineering Research and Design Institute). It was clear to me that the hysteria wasn’t against nuclear power at all, its goal was to test Soviet power. But I was more concerned that people in the plant were nervous. I went to Algirdas Brazauskas (No 2 man in the Communist Party of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, who sympathized with the emerging pro-independence movement, and who became the first President of independent Lithuania – editor’s note) and told him: “Find a way either to talk down all these people or change the direction of their activity, have them fight against something else”. He said something about ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ and the democratic spirit of the time. I replied, ‘Otherwise, I will shut down the plant. After Chernobyl I can take that decision on the basis of safety”. He soon solved the problem. The protests were over.

When Lithuania broke with the Soviet Union and decided to join Europe, the EU required them to shut down Ignalina. By the way, Brazauskas who was both the President and the Prime-Minister in the post-Soviet period, did his best to keep Ignalina, but managed only to prolong the agony: the last unit was closed on December 30, 2009. Swans wintering near the NPP on Lake Drisvyaty either flew away, or died: the lake that fed them froze. Lithuania turned from a net energy exporter to importer, i.e., previously they had sold, but now they buy. Ignalina NPP  not just paid off, it also turned a profit. Now they depend on Western charity and the cost of energy increased by 30%.

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