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Chernobyl now

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On March 20, a KATAPULT Ukraine source at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the plant had finally made a staff rotation, meaning that the employees who had been held hostage there had been able to return home. This begs the question: Why should we care about what's happening at Chernobyl?

To answer that, we turn to the officials and employees of the site who shared with us exactly why the situation there is nearing another catastrophe. 

On February 24, the first day of the invasion, the Russian military illegally seized the Exclusion Zone, despite the fact that the IAEA General Conference in 2009 decided that “any armed attack or threat of attack on nuclear installations used for peaceful purposes, is a violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, international law and the Charter of the Agency. "

Marina (name changed), representative of the State Agency for Exclusion Zone Management: There was no fighting because the Russian military drove in a convoy of  several hundred vehicles. Therefore, it made no sense to shoot at tanks. There were no mortars or machine guns. This is not a function of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The guards there had pistols, but did not use them because their main function is to keep the perimeter of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant so that no strangers pass who should not be there, so that the ordinary work processes can take place. There were no weapons that could be compared to tanks

As a result, all objects of the zone came under the control of the Russian army: spent nuclear fuel storage facilities (SNFSF-1 and SNFSF-2), new safe confinement of the Shelter facility and units № 1,2,3 of the Chernobyl NPP. From the same day, the Russians held the staff and security personnel of the station hostage, threatening the world with a nuclear catastrophe. At the same time, they were arranging their own life at the station.

Marina (name changed) representative of the State Agency for Exclusion Zone Management: Nearby is dining room number 19. This is a large building, it has two floors and a large supply of food and water. The canteen prepares food for 300 employees every day. This is the number of people who are simultaneously on site at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on any given shift. That is, there was a lot of food.

The Russian military used and still use our food. But they brought their cook with them. That is, they asked where our products are, now they take them and prepare their own food, but they have their own cook. Accordingly, our employees prepare their own food. 

For a month, until the hostages were released and staff rotated, the world spread news and rumors about the possibility of a catastrophe. In connection with news of rising radiation levels at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Ukraine's regulator has said the increase could have been caused by heavy military equipment loosening soil still contaminated after the 1986 crash.

Mankind immediately reassured the IAEA - according to their estimates, the readings of up to 9.46 microsieverts per hour transmitted to Ukraine are low and continue to remain within the working range, and thus do not pose any danger to the population. But the worst could still happen.

Dmytro (name changed), representative of the State Agency for Exclusion Zone Management: in this area, almost a month ago, four violations of the radiation background were recorded. This is due to the fact that military equipment, which weighs a lot, has entered the area. They stirred up a lot of  dust and drove on roads that should not be driven on. For example, I went to the red forest area. The radiation background there has now increased more than a hundred times.

That is, there are no roads, not even tourist groups or staff go there. Only scientists come there several times a month. They have a protocol that is very strict. They can be there for no more than six minutes. They wear special clothes and protection devices. In six minutes they take samples of soil, water and air and go to the laboratory to study on site what kind of processes take place in the red forest, how nature cleanses itself, how it behaves after rain, snow, heatwaves, and so on. But this is a very dangerous area. And here on this site Russians moved their equipment, lifted radiation dust, and took it with them outside of this zone.

Of course, they did not pass any dosimetric control, which is mandatory for us. They did not go beyond the boundaries that everyone who leaves the area must pass - employees, office workers, tourists, guides. The military did not do that, and it is a danger, first of all, for them, because they breathed it, they took the dust with them on themselves. And they are not tanks. These are living beings, with skin, with respiratory organs.

The Chernobyl station is only 16 kilometers from the Belarus-Ukrainian border. Judging by how actively the Russian troops targeted the site, it can be said at once that the plan of invasion provided for the capture of such an object, which is important both politically and militarily, as well as psychologically.

It is no secret that the station, after the 1986 explosion and the construction of a shelter structure to contain the radiation, has lasted a long time.  - the staff worked there on a shift basis, there was a fire department, shops in the Zone, and even a cafe where tourists visiting Chernobyl loved to drink coffee.

At the time of the seizure of the station, there were about 300 people on the territory - employees of the station, security, employees of the State Emergency Service (firefighters, rescue personnel), medical staff of Slavutych Hospital, and four "stalkers" - civilian adventurers who were in the Zone and asked for asylum. Since the capture of the station, the staff has kept a kind of chronicle which details the events of their ordeal.

We can say upfront: the station is not working. But the danger was that the station stored nuclear waste, or spent nuclear assemblies, which have to be kept cooled all the time. This requires the station to have a reliable supply of electricity. Power lines were damaged by the Russians during the shelling and staff were forced to use backup power and to ask for help from electricians.

Dmytro (name changed), representative of the State Agency for Exclusion Zone Management: from the very beginning, they started setting fire to the forest, including the Red Forest. These were all methods of pressure on the leadership of Ukraine, on the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. They have said several times that this is their military condition to change the course of the operation, to stop the resistance that Ukraine is making.

We have recorded exceedances several times in the monitoring system, but in this case both God and nature helped us a lot. Because, first, it was very cold, unusually cold for this time of year. And, secondly, the wind was blowing towards Belarus. And all the damage that the Russians did by fires and arson, they also suffered from it. The wind blew it into Belarus. Both Kyiv and Chernihiv regions were not affected.

Apart from that, on February 27, the station's management stated that Ukraine had lost control of the automatic radiation monitoring system. The latest data indicated a sevenfold excess of the absorbed dose sensor next to the radioactive waste storage facilities "Vector", "Podlisny", "Third turn" and "Buryakivka". This indicates the incorrect use of security systems by the occupiers and their lack of necessary expertise to protect nuclear facilities.

At the same time, the Russian military issued an ultimatum threatening to target  and blow up certain infrastructure facilities at the important Chernobyl nuclear facility. The Russian military began to study the features of this work and create fakes about "joint protection".

On February 28, the Chernobyl NPP leadership met with relatives of employees and servicemen who were at the Chernobyl site. Relatives were reassured that the staff is fine, but rotation was not yet possible.

On March 9, electricity was cut off at the site of the 1986 accident and diesel generators were used for backup power.

March 12 - The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was completely disconnected from the monitoring systems of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The station was de-energized. The service life of the available diesel generators is designed for 48 hours of maintenance on safety systems. The occupiers then refused to grant access to the station to Ukrainian repairmen, but negotiations continued.

Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, Chairman of the Board of Ukrenergo: Electricity is needed to cool nuclear waste. And we had to do it.
A lot of work has been done to repair the power lines, we have been negotiating to allow our employees to make repairs.

March 13 - thanks to the incredible efforts of Ukrenergo specialists, Ukrainian nuclear power engineers and electricians managed to return the power supply to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which was seized by the Russian occupiers.

Herman Galushchenko, Minister of Energy of Ukraine: Ukrainian energy companies, risking their own health and their lives, were able to avert the risk of a possible nuclear catastrophe that threatened the whole of Europe. The cooling systems for spent nuclear assemblies have resumed normal operation, not from backup power.

But rotation and replacement of personnel at the station was still impossible due to hostilities. Some of the employees who are near Ivankov, Kharkiv, Gostomel, Bucha, Irpen, could not get out of the bomb shelters and the basements. Employees living in Chernihiv were also cut off from the world by shelling and bombing.

Marina (name changed), representative of the State Agency for Exclusion Zone Management: I do not know how powerful our people are. How much more could they work there? Maybe two months. Maybe some of them would get sick - diabetes, asthma, ulcers opened. Anything could happen. This is the human factor. There was no medical care or monitoring for the workers. People worked 24-hour days, 7 days a week. There was no way to rest more or less normally.

For example, in the area where four people need to work at one time, one or two employees would work. Others at this time either ate or washed, or rested for two, three or four hours, then switched places with their colleagues. And then these colleagues ate, washed, rested. And again in a circle - and so it went for a whole month.

Of the 300 workers who were at the station at the time of the seizure, 250 remain without a rotation. Of course, we tried to replace everyone, but as many as we were allowed to take out and bring in fresh specialists, we replaced them with employees from Slavutych. And the other 250 are the month they are there. That's how they work.

How long will they last there? We have hardened people who understand that this is their professional duty. A nuclear catastrophe could have consequences for at least half the planet. They are doing their job.

For information: the change at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant lasts 12 hours. During this whole time, the staff is constantly at work (on the remote control, on the computer, in front of the equipment, etc.). Currently, the Chernobyl workers who found themselves on the territory of the captured station have been at work for 600 hours.

On March 20, a partial rotation of Chernobyl personnel and evacuation of persons who were on the territory of the captured station was carried out.

Including :
• 50 Chernobyl personnel, who are working on shifts
• 9 employees of the National Guard of Ukraine (8 women and 1 cancer patient)
• 1 employee of the State Emergency Service
• 4 “stalkers”

These are only the first evacuees, the rotation is complicated by broken roads and hostilities. 46 employees of the station volunteered to replace the evacuated personnel of the Chernobyl NPP to perform their duties and to ensure the functioning of the enterprise.

Valery Seida, Executive Director of the Chernobyl NPP: “Our employees have already returned to their families on the evening of March 20. They are exhausted by such an incredibly long shift - instead of 12 hours they worked more than 600."

The new work shift comes from the town of Slavutych and includes two managers instead of the usual one to ensure a backup at the facility. An agreement has been reached to organize the future rotation of personnel at the NPP, where various radioactive waste management facilities are located. But the Russians continue to violate any laws of humanity and the treatment of nuclear facilities.

Dmitry (name changed), representative of the State Agency for Exclusion Zone Management: Russian troops entered the town of Slavutych. They are very unprofessional, they are military. They are not prepared. If they left the Red Forest zone and harmed themselves, one can imagine how much they have nothing to do with nuclear energy, nuclear safety. After we rotated, they went to the city of Slavutych, summoned the mayor for a dialogue and offered the city the opportunity to surrender, to stop resisting, and to move their equipment into Slavutych. Failure to do so they said would result in artillery fire on the city.

The city refused. City officials said this would not happen. And the Russians inflicted artillery strikes on the city. That is, at the moment there is no hope for rotation. They are bombarding a city of 30,000 people, nuclear power plants, and specialists who work mainly at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

There are very few people who have nothing to do with Chernobyl. These are kindergarten teachers, school teachers, doctors, state employees, people who support the social structure of the city. All others are related to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, to nuclear energy and those who work in the exclusion zone. Artillery strikes continue.

The IAEA reports that consultations are underway to agree on a framework aimed at ensuring the safety of all of Ukraine's nuclear facilities.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA: "With such a structure in place, the Agency will be able to provide effective technical assistance for the safe operation of these facilities."

According to the latest information, out of 15 Ukrainian reactors located on four sites, eight are currently operating, including two at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhya NPP, three at Rivne, one at Khmelnytsky and two in southern Ukraine. At those four operating stations, personnel were on duty for 8 hours, as well as at the Zaporizhzhya NPP.

The IAEA has not yet received remote data transmission from its monitoring systems installed at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but such data has been transmitted to IAEA headquarters from other nuclear power plants in Ukraine.

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