[Experience of the Civil Defence of the Ukrainian SSR in the Elimination of the Consequences of the Accident at the Chernobysk Nuclear Power Plant].

Kiev: 1987.

First edition, extremely rare, of this secret report assessing the immediate aftermath of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl on 26 April, 1986 – it is one of the very few first-hand accounts by an insider. The book provides a minute-by-minute account of what happened in the period 26-28 April, assesses the damage wrought and the subsequent efforts made to clean up the area. A substantial portion of the book is dedicated to the little known issue of the Diepr River reservoir, fifteen miles downstream from Cheronobyl and ten miles upstream from central Kiev, and to the efforts to procure an alternate water supply for the Ukranian capital. All of these details are illustrated using maps and diagrams that show the progression of radioactivity in different areas and layout the disaster. The book was produced by the Ukranian SSR civil defence corps under the leadership of Lieutenant-General N. S. Bondarchuk, one of the central figures leading the Ukrainian response to the event. He was one of the first to arrive at the power plant, about eight hours after the explosion near reactor 4 and, critically, his “reports of this development were the first clear indication received by GO [civil defense] that the accident was much more serious than Briukhanov [the plant director] had indicated” (Geist, p. 117). Bondarchuk was one of the few to insist the event was announced to the public so that fall out shelters could be readied and potassium iodide tablets be distributed. His wider efforts, such as the evacuation of nearby city of Pripiat and the entire Chernobyl district, were halted due to political interference, and the KGB suppressed his reports. Bondarchuk produced this report for the Ukrainian SSR civil defence corps. This volume is augmented by several maps which separately document exclusion zones and contaminant levels and pollution of the water supply to Pripiat river and Diepr Reservoir. The events documented in this book are of immense importance to the nuclear industry, but also to the field of civil defence. As the book itself states, ‘Until recently, in the development of the theory of civil defense, the main attention was paid to its actions in wartime conditions.’ No other copy located, and no references have been found to this book in Western literature.

Provenance: Stamp on one map reading ‘экз No 016,’ indicating that this was the 16th copied issued; deaccession stamp dated to March 6th, 1991; a further manuscript annotation reads ‘Num. 581’ following a now-illegible stamp, possibly suggesting that the total run of the book was 581 copies; an address on a loose sheet included in the book indicates that the book remained in Ukraine after 1991. 

“On April 25 and 26, 1986, the worst nuclear accident in history unfolded in what is now northern Ukraine as a reactor at a nuclear power plant exploded and burned. Shrouded in secrecy, the incident was a watershed moment in both the Cold War and the history of nuclear power. More than 30 years on, scientists estimate the zone around the former plant will not be habitable for up to 20,000 years.

“The disaster took place near the city of Chernobyl in the former USSR, which invested heavily in nuclear power after World War II. Starting in 1977, Soviet scientists installed four RBMK nuclear reactors at the power plant, which is located just south of what is now Ukraine’s border with Belarus.

“On April 25, 1986, routine maintenance was scheduled at V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station’s fourth reactor, and workers planned to use the downtime to test whether the reactor could still be cooled if the plant lost power. During the test, however, workers violated safety protocols and power surged inside the plant. Despite attempts to shut down the reactor entirely, another power surge caused a chain reaction of explosions inside. Finally, the nuclear core itself was exposed, spewing radioactive material into the atmosphere.

“Firefighters attempted to put out a series of blazes at the plant, and eventually helicopters dumped sand and other materials in an attempt to squelch the fires and contain the contamination. Despite the death of two people in the explosions, the hospitalization of workers and firefighters, and the danger from fallout and fire, no one in the surrounding areas—including the nearby city of Pripyat, which was built in the 1970s to house workers at the plant—was evacuated until about 36 hours after the disaster began.

“Publicizing a nuclear accident was considered a significant political risk, but by then it was too late: The meltdown had already spread radiation as far as Sweden, where officials at another nuclear plant began to ask about what was happening in the USSR. After first denying any accident, the Soviets finally made a brief announcement on April 28.

“Soon, the world realized that it was witnessing a historic event. Up to 30 per cent of Chernobyl’s 190 metric tons of uranium was now in the atmosphere, and the Soviet Union eventually evacuated 335,000 people, establishing a 19-mile-wide ‘exclusion zone’ around the reactor.

“At least 28 people initially died as a result of the accident, while more than 100 were injured. The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation has reported that more than 6,000 children and adolescents developed thyroid cancer after being exposed to radiation from the incident, although some experts have challenged that claim.

“International researchers have predicted that ultimately, around 4,000 people exposed to high levels of radiation could succumb to radiation-related cancer, while about 5,000 people exposed to lower levels of radiation may suffer the same fate. Yet the full consequences of the accident, including impacts on mental health and even subsequent generations, remain highly debated and under study.

“What remains of the reactor is now inside a massive steel containment structure deployed in late 2016. Containment efforts and monitoring continue and clean-up is expected to last until at least 2065” (National Geographic, May 17, 2019).

“In his analysis of the systematic factors that contributed to the Chernobyl incident, the University of California’s Professor William C. Potter says that Soviet Civil Defense literally failed the test posed by Chernobyl:

‘Performance of Civil Defense units was unsatisfactory and was hindered by poor training, understaffing, ineffectual equipment, and a convoluted command structure that was unresponsive to rapidly changing crisis developments … the typical, pre-Chernobyl, Western image of a massive, well-equipped, finely tuned, and vigilant Soviet Civil Defense apparatus corresponds poorly to the actual conduct of Civil Defense forces prior to and in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl accident.’

“Professor Potter further observes that no Civil Defense personnel received awards for their performance at Chernobyl, and the Military Chief of Soviet Civil Defense lost his job.

“In a display of glasnost nearly 2 years after the accident, the Ukraine’s Civil Defense Staff Chief, Lieutenant General N. Bondarchuk, discussed his organization’s shortcomings [‘Strict accounting,’ Interview by V. Mironov, Voyennyye Znaniya, no. 12, December 1987]. He pointed to the lack of training, both practical and psychological, in emergency response actions. He even referred to the existing training procedures, drills, and exercises as shams. Soviet civil defense officials were simply unable to comprehend the gravity of the situation, to make intelligent decisions, and to direct subordinates. He blamed poor civil defense publicity and public training for the citizens’ ignorance of how to avoid contact with radioactive fallout, how to evacuate, and how to protect food and water from contamination.

“Of course, even if the public had been educated, it would have done little good during the early hours when radiation levels were probably highest, because radiation reconnaissance was neither timely nor complete. Firemen, police, and even radiation monitoring specialists lacked the equipment and training necessary to gather data required to measure and map the radioactive environment. Furthermore, civil defense evacuation plans were developed on the wartime premise that evacuations would be from urban to rural areas, not from rural to urban for medical support and housing. Bondarchuk elaborated on those shortcomings in the emergency plans:

‘They did not consider that the rise of extensive zones of contamination could necessitate the evacuation of the rural inhabitants. The [Civil Defense] plans which were worked out did not clearly reflect the questions of determining the dispersion areas, supporting the evacuation, safeguarding the housing abandoned by the residents as well as the personal property of the citizens or providing transport to evacuate livestock ... they did not consider the peculiar features of the radiation situation in an emergency at an [atomic energy station], the organizational forms for medical aid to the public were not completely thought out, and there was no provision for iodine prophylaxis and anti-radiation agents’” (Hopkins, pp. 72-74).

The book is divided into seven chapters:

  1. Accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, its causes and consequences.
  2. Protection of the population from radioactive contamination.
  3. Liquidation of the consequences of the accident.
  4. Scientific works in the Ukraine SSR by ministers and departments regarding the consequences of liquidation.
  5. Work of the G. O. headquarters regarding liquidation and investigation of the accident.
  6. Work of the Political Party regarding liquidation and investigation of the accident.
  7. Conclusion.

The first chapter includes detailed descriptions of the accident, including quantitative radiation measurements that were made after the event. Later chapters discuss the role of the civil defence within the greater effort to clean up the accident, as well as the response of the Communist party. Following the conclusion is a very detailed timeline of the events at Chernobyl, starting at 1:23am on 26 April. The first three days of the incident often have minute-by-minute descriptions, with at least 20 listings each day, while updates continue into October.

Maps 1 to 3 show the vicinity of Chernobyl, and show zones of exclusion, zones with high levels of certain contaminants, and the level of pollution of the water supply. Maps 4 to 6 show the layout of important sites, such as the reactor and the army staff centre. Map 7 appears to be a map of the Kiev water supply. Diagrams 8 and 9 show the appropriate chain of actions during a meltdown, showing how intelligence gathering, liquidation, and limiting the spatial spread of contaminants operated in tandem. Diagrams 10 through 12 are cross-sections of the Diepr Reservoir at depth, showing where low-lying silts, and thus contaminants, might collect. Map 13 is a large map of the Kiev region, providing an in-depth look at the effects and contamination of the region. This is by far the most detailed map in the series and one of the most useful. The rest of the diagrams focus on the functioning of the nuclear reactor and water supply, as well as showing radiation measurements for the region over time.

Geist, ‘Political Fallout: The Failure of Emergency Management at Chernobyl,’ Slavic Review 74 (2015), pp. 104-126; Hopkins, Unchained Reactions: Chernobyl, Glasnost and Nuclear Deterrence, 1993.

8vo (210 x 150 mm), pp. 166, with 21 maps & diagrams (17 folding). Beige & green cloth, title printed to upper board, along with government (secret) stamp?, the number of copies issued (this being copy number 16), and a de-accession stamp (some wear at edges).

Item #5848

Price: $12,500.00