The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is one of the most incredible events of the last several decades. I've been working on a book about it for four and a half years, called Chernobyl 01:23:40. It stalled, but then a year ago I posted an image album on /r/pics that ended up on the front page, and from there I had a lot of great feedback on my book from you guys. Reddit's encouragement helped me to see it through, and now it's been released to coincide with the disaster's 30th anniversary.

There's a ton of misinformation about Chernobyl. Just a few weeks ago, The Atlantic, one of my favourite and most respected publications, posted an article about it that had a mistake in the fourth sentence. That sort of thing is very common. A lot of stuff that people think happened actually didn't, or happened differently, so I figured since it's been in the news a lot for the last few weeks, now would be a great time for people to AmA about what really happened.

For a quick long summary, I've updated and expanded the original album that detailed the event. It can be found here.

My Proof (Forgive me, I’m very ill) My website:

For anyone interested in the book, it's called Chernobyl 01:23:40 and is available from Amazon as a paperback and Amazon, iTunes and various other places as an ebook.

Comments: 1177 • Responses: 98  • Date: 

Flight714400 karma

Why do so few people know of the fact that—in spite of the nearby city of Pripyat being evacuated—the other three reactors at Chernobyl Power Plant continued to operate for a decade or so following the disaster?

I mean, it seems pretty significant that people spent a decade going to work each day in the rooms down the hall from the reactor that blew up.

R_Spc332 karma

I don't know, probably because they just assumed (like I did, before I started reading into it), that the entire power station would be shut down after what happened. Ukraine needed power, so it wasn't.

linh_nguyen232 karma

TIL apparently. I also was unaware the plant was still operational.

R_Spc151 karma

It isn't anymore, at least it isn't generating energy. Still a hell of a lot of people working there, though.

eth200280 karma

Why are people still working there? What do they do?

R_Spc178 karma

Decommissioning it and monitoring radiation around the area. They'll be doing that for a loooong time. Plus there are a lot of people there building the new safe confinement, but that's separate.

journeyman36937 karma

Nowadays, what's the longest time one can stay in Prypiat without having one's life put in danger? And have you ever been there?

R_Spc86 karma

You could essentially stay there as long as you want now. Especially if you brought in food from outside the area.

journeyman36934 karma

How about the so-called elephant's foot? What's the shortest distance one can stay from it without suffering harm?

R_Spc91 karma

That's different though. Nobody who wanted to live in the area is going to sit next to the elephant's foot all day, obviously you'd want to stay the hell away from that thing. There isn't really a shortest distance, as you have to go through a maze of thick concrete corridors to get to it, and radiation doesn't penetrate that well through tens of meters of concrete. The safest answer is just don't go anywhere near it.

Sveenee188 karma

In your book, did you stick to official documents of what happened or did you manage to get interviews with people who survived the disaster?

R_Spc243 karma

Both. Some of the official documents from the time are unreliable, depending on their subject. Since you don't know for certain what's true and what isn't, you have to be careful about which parts you believe. For example, the Soviet Union tried to cover up the true cause of the accident for 5 years after it happened. They held a big conference in Vienna and presented an epic, incredibly detailed report about what happened. While most of it was true, parts weren't, but it was believed because the lies were mixed in with a lot of truth.

thedangerman007118 karma

What would you say was the biggest lie in the report?

R_Spc180 karma

There was one big lie - that the plant operators caused the accident, not the terrible reactor design, as was actually the case.

PhyrePhoxe48 karma

It wasn't the people working there running some crazy test? A test that consisted of shutting down the water pumps (that need to run all the time in that reactor design) and tried to restart them on momentum before the back up diesel kicked on. Which didn't work and then the graphite core caught fire....and then it went downhill from there. I thought that I read that someplace. Was that some of the cover story? Plus basic upkeep that wasn't happening.

R_Spc14 karma

Others have answered this already, but yes, in a sense it was both. People disabled safety systems and pushed forward when they should have stopped, but part of the point is that reactor systems are supposed to be designed so that they can't be destroyed, even if the operators try to. The guys that night had no idea that what they were doing would destroy the reactor, because nobody had ever told them about the power spikes that occurred when the scram button was pressed.

Sveenee43 karma

As a follow up question, was there a interview with a civilian that survived that stuck out in your mind?

R_Spc108 karma

Yeah, this one always sticks in my mind for some reason.

Ehh_Embb159 karma

Didn't like three old ass dudes volunteer to swim down into the radioactive water to release some pressure valve or something? I could've sworn I read somewhere that there was danger of yet another catastrophic explosion and these guys sacrificed themselves to prevent it. Is this true?

R_Spc552 karma

The story of the Chernobyl divers has been one of the biggest revelations of my research. Literally every single piece of English language media you can find says that those 3 guys dove into the basement, opened the valves, then died within 2 weeks.

The event did happen, but not in the way it's portrayed. They were 3 employees of the plant, only one of them was what I'd consider old (he was in his 40s). They didn't dive, the basement was drained of most of its water before they went in - the highest it got was up to their knees. They each had two dosimeters (one strapped to their legs), and most importantly, none of them died and they continued to work at the plant afterwards. The first guy to die died of heart problems in 2005. One of them was at least alive until last year, but that's as much as I can find. The last guy is still alive, and I've spoken with him briefly.

7strong-200 karma

Wow, as someone who has read extensively about Chernobyl, I'm surprised to be learning new things! I don't mean that in an arrogant way; I'm just amazed at how much misinformation I've been exposed to...

R_Spc197 karma

It's remarkable how much misinformation there is, that was one of the reasons it took me so long to make my book. I had to read a ridiculous amount to get an accurate picture of what happened.

I recently picked up a book I have about it and read the first few pages again. Literally every paragraph contained an error.

anaktos36 karma

can you give us source on this? I can't find a source saying they actually lived.

R_Spc87 karma

You won't, it's extremely difficult to find information about them. Took me a long time. But sure. Here is a brief article honouring Baranov after he died in 2005. The main one is here: an interview with Alexei Ananenko, one of the three guys. The Google translation is a little raw, so I spent some time cleaning it up a while ago, I'll post it in seperate comments below. That, plus Ananenko himself talking to me briefly. There's also a photograph of him on the website of the organisation with which he works and it's clearly the same guy as in the old photograph of him from 1986.

R_Spc58 karma

Why did it take to empty the bubbler pool (BP) unit destroyed?

The decision on the emergency emptying of the BP was taken at the level of the government commission, which was placed in Chernobyl. I then worked in shifts as a senior mechanical engineer and in the reactor department №2. What was discussed at the meetings of this committee, we did not know, or know only in the most general terms. Decisions of the commission came down to us in the form of specific jobs sent through a plant management. The book GA Kopchinsky and NA Steinberg "Chernobyl: How It Was. Warning" [almost identical title to Dyatlov’s book] very well described the atmosphere that prevailed at the time of the government commission. It is much more serious consequences had the epic associated with the so-called China syndrome. Even such restrained and calm people as V. A. Sidorenko were in extreme agitation, in early May calling to the Central Committee. He reported that the thermal spot [core] in the destroyed reactor, which was under constant surveillance by a thermal [camera?] helicopter disappeared. It seemed that the molten mass of fuel burned a lower support design of the reactor and left in the room under the reactor. There was a threat of penetration structures basin-bubbler and the foundation plate of the reactor compartment with access lava fuel directly into the ground. The extent of contamination of underground aquifers could be disastrous. After considering possible scenarios, think about the first problem: the incandescent fuel mass first had to get to located under the reactor pool, a bubbler filled with water. There was a threat of a steam explosion with very serious consequences for the population of the 30-kilometer zone. In fact, these concerns and provided the impetus for the adoption of NI Ryzhkov, who arrived on May 2 at Chernobyl, the decision to evacuate the entire population of the 30-kilometer zone. "

And why was the task of draining the water from the pressure suppression pool entrusted to you?

It then worked at the station a lot of people, including secondees, military, etc. The fact is that all the equipment at the plant is distributed between shops, and as BP units 3 and 4 were in the reactor shop service area №2, and then execute it I had staff of this particular structural unit. Of course, there were cases when force shift personnel of a shop was not enough, and then attract additional people, but all the same any operation on the equipment are carried out in the presence and under the supervision of a representative of the department, of which it is run.

Now it is clear why this job was considered so important. But what was involved?

Emptying the bubbler pool is a standard operation, the implementation of which - before the accident - did not present any difficulty. In order to drain the water from the pressure suppression pool, you have to open two valves installed in series with the operational names 4GT 4GT-21 and-22, which were at around minus 3 (ie, three meters below ground level) in corridor 001. [They’re actually only around -1 according to the plant schematics.] These valves were for "repair" [maintenance], ie intended for use in extremely rare cases - for example, for emptying the WB [?] in order to conduct work on the elimination of water leaks through the metal cladding of the bubbler pool. These valves are usually not equipped with electric motors and their opening and closing is done manually by turning the flywheel. Generally, in the "first two zeros" corridor runs quite a number of different lines and a lot of valves and other fittings. Here is another reason why the job of emptying the BP could not be given to the person - it was necessary to understand the maze of pipes and find the right valve. This work would have to be in the dark in an unfamiliar room and fast, because it is necessary to move extremely quickly to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure, which increases with every minute of your stay in the radioactive water. That was the main difficulty - to manipulate the valves 4GT-21 and 4GT-22 you had to go down corridor 001, which was flooded after the accident with radioactive water where it merged with the higher elevations. Risk factors were exposure to water, since no one knew how to change its activity on the promotion path deep into the corridor and, therefore, it was impossible to predict the magnitude of the dose received. But information about the radiation situation along the route to the 001 corridor was known to me. While on duty the previous shift had undertaken a radiation survey, and the data was recorded in the online redo[ut?] log in a cartogram, which had marked each spot with measurements and readings of the dose rate in mR / hr. Measurements were performed using a DP-5 dosimeter. When accepting the shift change from N. A. Koryak, who, like me, worked as a senior mechanical engineer in reactor shop №2, he explained to me that the last measurement was taken just above the water level in the waterlogged corridor. Of course, remembering the results of those measurements today is not possible, but I remember my feelings - the figures did not present something extraordinary, the radiation situation was normal for the nuclear power plant in May 1986. If a previous shift had reached the 001 corridor, why did they not immediately open the valve? Why was it necessary once again to send people, and risk an extra dose? The fact is that the valves were under water, which was then pumped out with the help of fire engines. The objective of the previous shift was just to conduct reconnaissance, staff would not be able to get to the valves, as they were still underwater. As soon as the water level became low enough, the reactor department staff immediately received instructions to empty the bubbler pool. It so happened that it was on my watch.

R_Spc48 karma

Please tell us about the actual course of the operation.

The order to empty the bubbler pool was been given to me on the phone by the head of the reactor department, V. V. Grishchenko. Since the operational department heads of shifts obey the station shift supervisor (NSS), I reported on the NSS team received to B. A. Baranov. B. A. Baranov decided that 3 people would be used for emptying BP - one for each valve, plus an observer, who would come to the rescue if something went wrong. Due to the importance of the operation, B. A. Baranov decided he himself would act as the observer, a valve would be opened by me, and the second by a senior engineer of the № 3 power unit, V. A. Bespalov. They should have foreseen all, to reduce the time spent in the danger zone. Since the corridor was unlit, have brought the lights. It was not known if the valve names were on the valve plates, so to reduce the time searching valves raised the technological scheme, I tried to visualize their location. Valves could be without flywheels - opened with a large pipe wrench. By the order of B. A. Baranov directly on the control panel block, we brought the [wet] suits. For the purpose of radiation monitoring captured by 2 ionization dosimeter storage-type IR-50 (ie 50 X-ray) - one was attached to the chest, the other was somewhere at the ankle, ie, in a place as close to water as the most powerful sources of radiation. For protection against particles in the air, the usual “petal” type respirators were used. The operation was quick and without complications. We got to the "first two zeros" corridor, B. A. Baranov remained at the entrance. Myself and V. A. Bespalov entered the water - the water level was knee-deep - and, trying to move as quickly as possible, moved deeper into the corridor. On the floor lay a fairly large diameter pipe. We ran to, then began to move along it. The water level was at ankle level. As soon as I found myself in the corridor, the fear that I would not find the correct fitting quickly disappeared, and the gate appeared with signs. I checked the operational names - there was no error. The last concern - that the valves or flywheels would be jammed in the closed position - was not justified. Opening them is relatively easy, the key is not needed gas. The characteristic noise of the water draining from the bubble pool by gravity ensured that the job was done and the bubbler pool emptied. When we came back, we checked the readings of the chest IR-50 dosimeters. They are not very precise instruments, and their testimony may go astray even when running from a jar. But there is one advantage - it is a direct reading dosimeter, i.e. for deflection it can immediately determine the dose received. Unfortunately, my memory has not captured the readings. This can only mean one thing - the figures are not shocking. If we were talking about tens of X-rays, I would have remembered. Of course this does not mean that the operation was an easy walk. Trying to recover those distant events, I called my friend Valery Bespalov and he told me about an episode that I do not remember, but which very well characterizes the then situation at the plant. According to him, when we were on the way to the "first two zeros" corridor, Baranov approached the entrance to Corridor 4 blocks. He stopped, pushed the telescopic handle on the DP-5 radiometer to its full-length and stuck the sensor into the corridor. "I looked over my shoulder at Baranov’s readings," recalls Valery. “The device went off the scale on all sub-bands. Then followed a short command: ‘move very quickly.’ Racing across the dangerous space, I could not resist. I looked back and saw a giant black lump, a fragment of the exploded reactor [fuel], mixed with concrete grit [this was probably the serpentine sand], poured from the top through the process of opening of the central hall. In the mouth, there was a familiar metallic taste radiolysis of liquid."

Your description looks very much humdrum. If it were that simple, why is this episode is so widely reported in the press immediately after the accident, and then entered into a number of books about Chernobyl?

In terms of the value of radiation dose, I had to take part in several operations such as this. But you're right, emptying the bubbler pool received coverage in the press and was later reflected in Chernobyl legends. I think this is due to the fact that in May 1986, the risk of steam explosion seemed so real, and the consequences so catastrophic that any operation to prevent this danger immediately took on enormous significance. About a week later, when I was in summer camp "Fairy" where the Chernobyl nuclear power plant based personnel after the evacuation of the city of Pripyat, I was told that I needed to call a TASS correspondent for an interview. I tried to refuse, but someone from the leadership of the reactor department reasonably noticed that it is necessary to tell about the people that live and work at the station and the rumors about the high mortality rate of staff from radiation is not more than a myth. By agreeing with these arguments, I briefly told reporters on the phone about this operation. In the newspaper on May 16, "Trud" published an article by V. Zhukovsky, V. Itkina and L. Chernenko, entitled, "Chernobyl: The Courage to Address," where was brought to my story, but it is very free presentation. I was most upset that the article ostensibly from my words have been written that a respirator does not allow to speak freely. This is nonsense and I even thought to write a letter to the editor, but my companions dissuaded me, advising him instead to write a letter to his mother, which I did. An excerpt from the article devoted to emptying the bubbler pool was then reprinted in other newspapers, and its different variations can be found in books on Chernobyl issues. For example - in the book by A. V. Illes and A. E. Pralnikova, "Reporting from Chernobyl: Notes eyewitness. Comments. Reflections ", [I have this book, haven’t looked at it yet though] the second edition of which was published by" Thought "(Moscow) in 1988. Since that time, the Chernobyl epic spawned a lot of different myths and legends, and the episode with the emptying of the BP is not an exception. That just did not have to read in various publications - and that notorious gate had to be opened to a water level and that the performers were promised all sorts of benefits, up to the highest state awards. The number of people involved in the operation, for a long time exceeded the number of those who carried with VI Lenin's famous log cleanup. In principle, I think it is quite natural, since any significant event - whether it is the Afghan war or technogenic accident at Chernobyl is always behind a folklore formation -. All sorts of anecdotes and stories byley Time erases the memory in many of the details. I was unable to restore the exact date of the operation - most likely, it was on 6 May. Unfortunately, all died B. A. Baranov and N. A. Koryak, which could add and maybe something to correct in my story. I tried to recover those distant events as accurately as possible and I hope that has made its modest contribution to this enormous lump of Chernobyl folklore, which for a long time will be developing, acquiring more and more new details and legends.

Ehh_Embb42 karma

Wow, thanks for that. You definitely know what you're talking about. So none of those guys got radiation poisoning or anything like that? That's pretty wild

R_Spc73 karma

They didn't, no. The radiation levels weren't as high as you'd think, and nowhere near as high as I'd expected them to be. They probably did suffer some sort of health problems, but if they did they haven't made a big deal of it.

Kryptof17 karma

That's very surprising! Even recently on reddit, in a scientific conversation with cited sources, there were people discussing this event and they claimed that the divers were almost fully submerged and later died from the massive amounts of concentrated radioactivity in the water.

I guess so many people have been misinformed that those "sources" even contain errors. In any case, I'm glad you are bringing light to what actually happened.

R_Spc29 karma

It's easily the most wide-spread inaccurate belief about what happened. I only found out the truth quite recently after someone kept on hammering into me that there was no verifiable evidence that they died. The only main thing you ever read about them was a newspaper interview from the time, and then a follow up a couple of weeks later that's less well known. Beyond that it's very difficult to find any mention of them, so I'm not at all surprised nobody knows. A Polish nuclear physicist I know has told me that it's even widely believed they died in Russia, so it isn't just in English that it's misunderstood.

moeburn2 karma

Are you sure those are the same guys, and not a different event?

R_Spc3 karma

Yes I am. One of the men, Ananenko, did an interview with the union of liquidators, where he detailed exactly what happened and how it's become a complete myth about what they did. When I spoke with him, although he didn't say much, he did confirm that he's the same guy. He still works in the nuclear industry in Ukraine, and there are one or two corroborating snippets of information dotted around. Another one of them did an interview with a Ukrainian newspaper in 2005, shortly before his death.

OldBoltonian134 karma


I work in radiation protection, basically ensuring that doses received by professionals and the public are well below the requirements in legislation, so I share your frustrations regarding nuclear power - people misunderstanding a lot of the concepts of nuclear energy. Some of my colleagues actually worked on the UK's response to Chernobyl, so I've got a bit of a personal and professional interest in how it's being handled, and how it will be in the future.

My question is, without knowing your background, what did you base your book on (data, references, sources etc) to ensure that it is more accurate than others as you're implying? Sorry if it comes off as prickly, it's genuinely not, I'm just curious how you've tried to avoid inaccuracies as others articles and books have done, such as The Atlantic to take your example.

R_Spc93 karma

Hey! That's very interesting, I'm jealous. I've wondered what it's like to work within the industry.

Choosing sources has been one of the most difficult things about the process. Who do you believe? It's not that the others are consistently wrong, it's just that every book I read always contains a small handful of errors. I sympathise with them in some respects, because there's a crazy amount of conflicting information.

I have a folder with hundreds of technical documents in it. The IAEA have a lot that have been invaluable, and some are widely accepted as being correct. INSAG-7, for example. You have to be careful when they were written (basically everything written before 1991, for example, when a report by a Russian commission of experts to the USSR State Committee for the Supervision of Safety in Industry and Nuclear Power was written and finally revealed how the accident occurred, has to be treated as suspect). The short answer is a lot of double and triple checking. Who is a reliable source and who isn't, who can verify certain information and who contradicts it etc.

OldBoltonian52 karma

Hey! That's very interesting, I'm jealous. I've wondered what it's like to work within the industry.

Hi mate, thanks for the reply! It can be very dull! On a boring day I'm looking at excel spreadsheets, on an interesting day I can be participating in the simulation of an emergency response!

Choosing sources has been one of the most difficult things about the process. Who do you believe? It's not that the others are consistently wrong, it's just that every book I read always contains a small handful of errors. I sympathise with them in some respects, because there's a crazy amount of conflicting information.

I completely agree, even working in the sector I find it hard to locate and read reliable and accurate sources about a wide range of nuclear topics. I'm still quite early on in my career so my colleagues who have been doing this work for, in some cases, decades have been absolutely invaluable to me. Yes the IAEA are often a good starting point. Most regulatory bodies are to be honest as they are held to a very high level of scrutiny. I don't think members of the public are quite aware of just how regulated the sector is now, especially in comparison to the early stages of nuclear. A lot of criticism is aimed towards the energy sector when people don't realise how lax and unregulated the medical sector is.

I have a folder with hundreds of technical documents about it. The IAEA have a lot that have been invaluable, and some are widely accepted as being correct. INSAG-7, for example. You have to be careful when they were written (basically everything written before 1991, for example, when s report by a Russian commission of experts to the USSR State Committee for the Supervision of Safety in Industry and Nuclear Power was written and finally revealed how the accident occurred, has to be treated as suspect). The short answer is a lot of double and triple checking. Who is a reliable source and who isn't, who can verify certain information and who contradicts it etc.

I'm glad to read that you have thought so much about sources and accuracy though. This is very encouraging to read from my perspective so I genuinely and thoroughly look forward to purchasing and reading it. Would you be open to further questions once I've read your book? Thanks again for the reply!

R_Spc22 karma

Hey! Haha, I guess every field has its boring days!

Finding reliable (especially consistently reliable) sources is a minefield, without a doubt. And yeah, you can always message me on here if you want. If you want a more in-depth conversation I'll happily give you my email address.

BrutallyHonestDude114 karma


R_Spc186 karma

Nope! You don't need to look hard, there's treasure everywhere. I'd rather leave it where it is. There's nothing worse than people looting stuff.

monsieurpommefrites80 karma

That's very respectful.

R_Spc84 karma

Thank you. I can't stand it when people steal from there. So much has already gone. What's worse is that they sell it afterwards a lot of the time.

hogger8526 karma

I also read that a lot of the arifacts have been moved around or staged for better photographs, eg the gas mask next to the doll.

R_Spc45 karma

Yep, they certainly have. It's depressing, I wish they'd left everything alone, but it's happened now so I don't dwell on it.

r4tzt4r92 karma

Hello! Thanks for this. One question: are radiation levels in Chernobyl harmful to humans? What are your thoughts on this or what have you found? I've been reading about this idea that people could live there without issues.

R_Spc174 karma

Not anymore, no. You'd have to do something really stupid to receive a harmful dose now (like go into Chernobyl itself and sleep on the wrecked reactor).

People could live there now, they don't because everyone is afraid of the place and it's a government controlled area now.

ionwesker78 karma

I heard 50,000 people used to live there, what's it like now?

R_Spc85 karma

Very quiet.

Jpf12360 karma

What got you interested in the chernobyl disaster? What is your stance on nuclear power?

R_Spc173 karma

Almost everything about it. It's one of those things that's crazier than fiction, in many respects. The insane stories of self-sacrifice, evacuating an entire city, the number of people who were involved (the largest peace-time military mobilisation in history, supposedly) - it's just an incredible story.

My stance is wary approval of it, provided that safety is given top priority at all times. The two biggest nuclear disasters (Chernobyl & Fukushima) could have easily been avoided if people hadn't been people. It's far, far better for the environment than coal or oil power, and even hydro power in some respects.

ebgbe59 karma

What are your thoughts on fukushima?

R_Spc154 karma

I think it's something that never should have happened. They knew the sea-wall wasn't high enough to prevent a worst-case scenario tsunami, but they didn't do anything about it because nobody in power wanted to rock the boat. A nuclear plant nearer to the epicentre survived because it had sensible people in charge who built their wall higher.

ebgbe38 karma

What about the considerable amount of radiation still in the reactors?

R_Spc98 karma

Provided they're careful, it shouldn't be an insurmountable problem. As far as I know, they still aren't completely sure what the exact state of the core is (they've tried sending robots in but they either got stuck or succumbed to the radiation). To be honest I'm not completely up to date on the state of the reactor's, it's been a few months since I've read about them.

The bigger problem, in my humble opinion, is the shoddy way they've been cleaning up so far, and the leaks of radioactive water. Everything has been done as cheaply as possible, a crazy amount of private and tax-payer money has been squandered on useless equipment that either didn't work properly or was barely used at all.

Alan_Smithee_14 karma

What about CANDU? It's somewhat ironic that the wrong GE was chosen. GE Canada was one of the CANDU partners. It's a different, safer type of reactor. Had Fukushima employed CANDU, they wouldn't have needed the type of fuel they had, consequently, the storage of the spent fuel that caused all the trouble wouldn't have been an issue.

R_Spc40 karma

I know, though there are a lot of what-ifs with Fukushima. The plant was a standard design too, and wasn't really redesigned to fit the layout of the land there, which is one of the main things that lead to the stupid placement of the backup generators. Now that I'm done with Chernobyl I intend to dedicate a significant amount of time to learning everything I can about Fukushima.

polloYsandia50 karma

What's something you think most people don't know about the disaster in general?

R_Spc101 karma

I've mentioned this above, but one thing I know nobody knows about the disaster is the true story about what happened to the Chernobyl divers. If you Google them you'll get over 100,000 results in English alone, none of which are accurate.

TheofficialPayday44 karma

Have you ever seen any men wearing Adidas tracksuits in the Chernobyl "zone"? If you could call it that.

R_Spc64 karma

I haven't, but I've no doubt that men wearing Adidas tracksuits have been to Chernobyl at some point.

R_Spc40 karma

That game is one of the things that got me into Chernobyl in the first place.

Dinsdale_The_Piranha19 karma

Have you considered cross posting this to r/stalker? I'm sure some of them over there would find this interesting as well.

R_Spc21 karma

I did post the photo album there about a year ago, yeah. They found it interesting, as far as I remember.

Holden_Caulfield242 karma

As a part of your preparation for the book, did you get to meet any survivors of this disaster? Can you share any unforgettable stories you heard?

R_Spc142 karma

I didn't personally meet any, although I have spoken online briefly with one or two. One of the most memorable stories for me was from Voices From Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich, regarding the hunting parties that were tasked with exterminating all the abandoned family pets after Pripyat was evacuated..

“The first time we came, the dogs were running around near their houses, guarding them, waiting for people to come back”, says Viktor Verzhikovskiy, Chairman of the Khoyniki Society of Volunteer Hunters and Fishermen. “They were happy to see us, they ran toward our voices. We shot them in the houses, and the barns, in the yards. We’d drag them out onto the street and load them onto the dump truck. It wasn’t very nice. They couldn’t understand: why are we killing them? They were easy to kill, they were household pets. They didn’t fear guns or people.”

OseanStratagy78 karma

Holy shit that's so dark

R_Spc93 karma

There's an even worse story that I haven't included.

Basically they were piling dead dogs up in a massive ditch and ran out of bullets with the last dog. They couldn't kill it, so they just left it in the ditch and buried it alive. It really haunted the guys who were there.

monsieurpommefrites60 karma

they couldn't kill it

Surely a shovel or the butt of a rifle?

R_Spc10 karma

They couldn't get to it because it was already down in the pit, as far as I remember, and nobody was willing to go down and bludgeon it.

kraenogpark44 karma


R_Spc52 karma

Yep, it's one of those things you'd never even consider. They were all left behind. Teams hunted down as many as they could find to avoid the spread of contamination, and because they began hunting in packs after a while.

sheilathetank22 karma

That one story about the guy with no bullets left for the little black poodle was one of the most horrifying thing's I've ever read.

I'm sort of confused about why they had to kill all the pets though. Were they afraid of them wandering away and spreading the radiation?

R_Spc36 karma

Likewise, it's a horrific story, I'd have struggled to cope with it if I'd been there.

They were trying to prevent the spread of radioactive particles (same reason they dug up and resurfaced all the roads) and also didn't want the liquidators having radioactive animals following them about. That, plus the dogs started killing all the cats and then became quite aggressive in some instances, so there was a fear that they would attack the liquidators too.

ASMR_by_proxy41 karma

Have you read the book about Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich? did you like it?

R_Spc48 karma

I have, and I found it very moving. It's one of the best books on the accident imo.

Wifimouse36 karma

Did you manage to visit the area? I've read that the wildlife is thriving despite the radiation and are healthier than animals outside of the forbidden zone. Did you see any proof of that?

R_Spc68 karma

I have been there, yes. The place is practically a nature reserve in many ways, and animals thrive there now, so some good has come of it.

Carpentoid30 karma

What exactly is the Chernobyl nuclear disaster?

R_Spc81 karma

It was an event at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in 1986. Very basically, they were trying to test a piece of hardware that should have been certified when the plant was built. It wasn't (because USSR), so they were attempting to calibrate some machinery several years later. One of the men in the control room made a mistake that ultimately lead to the reactor being very unstable. When they began the test, the nuclear reactor exploded, destroying the building and spreading extremely radioactive particles into the atmosphere. A nearby city had to be evacuated (and remains abandoned to this day), and hundreds of thousands of men and women were drafted in to clean up the area. It's the world's worst such incident.

p563323 karma

What do you believe the world should do to avoid another event such as Chernobyl?

Do you think we should continue researching nuclear power?

R_Spc69 karma

The world is avoiding another event like Chernobyl. Chernobyl was an event that couldn't have happened in many places outside the Soviet Union (because nobody with influence cared about anything except getting the job done), and Fukushima was an event that probably couldn't have happened outside of Japan (because nobody was willing to stand against the establishment, even if everyone knew there was a problem.

There can always be accidents, I'm not blind to that. If anything major happens I'd expect it to come out of North Korea or possibly India (only because of their corruption problems).

Socrates_Burrito22 karma

What is your stance regarding nuclear power moving forward?

Almost half of the power in the Ukraine is still produced via nuclear. Although it is said that nuclear can be produced safely are Ukraine's plants up-to-date and safely operating?

R_Spc42 karma

Ukraine's plants up-to-date and safely operating?

That's the question isn't it. None of the other reactors in Ukraine are the same type as Chernobyl was, they're a safer design. The more important question is about how people carry out their duties. Ukraine certainly wants to avoid another Chernobyl at all costs, so I'd hope that safety is given top priority in their current plants.

Pieslut319 karma

How awful was it to die of radiation poisoning? What are the specific symptoms, and how many people died specifically from radiation poisoning?

R_Spc23 karma

It's one of the worst ways to die you can possibly imagine. If you click the link to the photo album in my title post there's a semi detailed description of what it does to you.

souIIess19 karma

Since there's now a considerable amount of tourists visiting Pripyat and the surrounding zone (10 000 each year according to my local news), do you think the city will once again rise to some of its former glory?

R_Spc41 karma

Ukraine's government is loving how popular it's become to go there, and they make a considerable amount of money from it, which is one of the reasons I doubt they'll ever rebuild the city. That said, it is starting to fall to pieces, so if anything I'd expect access to be illegal except under highly controlled conditions within the next 10-20 years.

c_opus18 karma

As the world demands more energy, do you believe their will be an increase in nuclear energy in nations such as China, India and other nations who are growing economically and in population? And could it be done safely?

R_Spc61 karma

There already is a huge planned increase in nuclear power in China, India and Russia. It can be done safely, it's designed to be done safely. The problems occur when people get lazy, but the systems are designed so that people can't cause an accident on the scale of Chernobyl even if they try to.

Karmakron18 karma

Is Radio-Activity your favourite Kraftwerk album?

R_Spc16 karma

It would be if I'd heard it. I'll give it a shot before the end of the weekend.

pomofusion18 karma

With so many authors, academics and journalists to have already written about Chernobyl, what motivated you to write your book? In other words, what did you perceive as a gap in the existing literature and how does your book attempt to fill that gap?

R_Spc26 karma

My main motivation was that very few books are easy to read and I found it difficult to understand what happened from the first few books I read. Most are very wooden, very academic, very technical, with few explanations about the finer points. Not only that, but I found a lot of books skipped over a lot of things I thought were relevant or focused on a lot of stuff I thought could be skipped (for an easy-read book about it). On top of that, there's only one other book I'm aware of that is about a guy who visits Chernobyl, and it's one of several stories in said book. So I thought it might be interesting for people to read about what it's like now too.

8236415 karma

Are you a historian by training? What was your research process?

R_Spc35 karma

I'm not, no, although I have spoken with an academic historian while working on the book. He corrected a few of my mistakes in the first chapter of my book, which was a history of nuclear power and accidents.

My process is simple. Read absolutely everything, and dig and dig and keep digging for more information until you're completely satisfied.

bor3dwizard13 karma

Is the elephant foot thing is real, is it true that radiation around this thing was so strong you couldn't just take a picture of it, and that just being near it for a few minutes can fuck you up really bad.

and can people do something about it, or do they have to leave it there forever till nature dose it's thing ( which will take millions of years?)

good luck on journey!

R_Spc22 karma

It is real, yes! Very real. And yes, that is true. Definitely wouldn't have wanted to go anywhere near that back in 1986. Even going near it now would be a bad idea. An article came out a few months ago about a guy who was crazy enough to go and stand next to it, if you want to know more about it.

They could (and will, eventually) remove it with remote machinery, but for the time being it'll stay put because it can't do much harm to the environment where it is. Long term, they'll probably bury it.

Flight71413 karma

The writer of the article appears to have corrected the mistake in the fourth sentence. What error did it have before?

R_Spc37 karma

He hasn't. He says over 50 people died there at the time. It was 31.

ihazliterbike13 karma

How much security is still there? I remember an episode of top gear and there were radiation detectors and everything. The show made it seem extremely dangerous to be in there for any duration of time

R_Spc32 karma

The show massively exaggerated how dangerous it is there. The background radiation levels throughout most of the zone are barely above normal.

There are still security patrols around the perimeter and throughout the zone, but it's far from impossible to sneak in. See this thread.

malica7711 karma

Do you have any insight into the reactions of people near the disaster? I had a coworker who was in Kiev at the time of the accident and he was convinced that international news on the disaster wasn't nearly so bad as we had heard because all of their papers had been downplaying the accident so much. He wouldn't entertain the idea that perhaps international papers weren't exaggerating and perhaps his own government was downplaying the whole thing.

R_Spc6 karma

His reaction is consistent with what I've read. People were uneasy about it, but they were prepared to believe what they were told. The only people I'm aware of who didn't were those who had access to radiation measuring equipment, or knew how to build their own. That said, eventually it was acknowledged that things were pretty bad, and then open-air food stalls etc were banned and pregnant women and children were evacuated for the summer.

bobglaub11 karma

Hey OP. Maybe I'm thinking of someone different, but last year I saw the post in /r/pics and I went ahead and bought the book. It's currently sitting on my shelf. I haven't read it but it is next on my list. I look forwarding to reading it.

I wanted to say thanks for this, Chernobyl has fascinated me since I was a kid. Nuclear power in general is fascinating.

I will be honest, I was expecting your imgur album as part of the book. I wanted an interesting coffee table book. Is there any chance you could compile the pictures and explanations from the album and throw them into a book? I'd totally buy that.

Thanks again for all your energies you've out into this project.

R_Spc8 karma

Hey! Thanks for buying it back then! If you want, I'll send you an ebook copy of the final book out of appreciation.

Honestly I wanted so badly to include all of those photos in the book. I've tried and tried to get historical photos in the final book now, but I just can't. I have no money to afford the licensing fees for the images that can be licensed, and the only person I know who curates everything else has ignored my requests for licensing terms. There isn't, in my opinion, a really definitive book, and I wanted to make it, but there have been too many obstacles in my way.

Llasiguri10 karma

Hello there!
I've been doing a work for school about the ambient and ecology, and how we affect the ambient due to accidents like what happened in Chernobyl, what can you tell me about the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl that is short and interesting?
Kudos for making the book, too.

R_Spc20 karma

The shortest thing I can tell you that's interesting is that they couldn't get remote control machines to work on Chernobyl's roof. They were trying to clear all the reactor materials up there but the radiation was too intense for some machines and the others got tangled in debris. They used people instead, who could only work up there for 60 seconds before they were sent home. Any longer and they'd have absorbed dangerous amounts of radiation.

mistah_legend10 karma

What was the most humorous thing you found in your research about the disaster? What was the strangest thing you found?

R_Spc23 karma

Not sure I found anything directly related to it that was funny (unless you count memes), but one of the strangest was about some animals that were abandoned after Pripyat was evacuated.

“[They] crawled, half alive, along the road, in terrible pain. Birds looked as if they had crawled out of water... unable to fly or walk... Cats with dirty fir, as if it had been burnt in places.” Animals that had survived that long were now blind.

macsenscam10 karma

Who is going to pay the bill for the deconstruction of the old and dangerous plants all over the US and what are they going to do with the waste (spent rods as well as all the contaminated Earth)?

R_Spc16 karma

The problem of nuclear waste is by far the biggest obstacle facing the industry. There are plants being developed now that run off nuclear waste, so it can get better, but long term storage is still a huge problem.

As for who will be paying the bills, it'll be partly the companies who run the plant and (possibly) partly the tax-payers.

LingFunBy8 karma

Orangered or Periwinkle ?

R_Spc10 karma

Periwinkle, always.

andtheniwokeupathome8 karma

How's Reddit working out for you?

R_Spc14 karma

Good, I spend way too much time lurking on it.

Mustachevandyke7 karma

What is the significance of the title?

R_Spc12 karma

01:23:40 was the exact time that the control room operator pressed the emergency shutdown button to switch off the reactor after he decided it was too dangerous to continue. He was trying to save the situation, but he actually triggered it.

Hdnehsnensndnd7 karma

Im not trying to be a dick but honest to God, why? Whats the point, what could be said in your book that hasnt already been written about the event 100 times at this point? What point could this book possibly serve?

R_Spc22 karma

It's okay, I understand. There are a crazy number of books about it, for good reason.

Honestly there's nothing in the historical narrative that hasn't already been written somewhere. I mean, I had to get the information from somewhere. Only about half of it (if that) came from actual books, though, most was from various other documents. But still, the reason I wrote it was because I wanted to. I was interested in it and frustrated with the books that already existed on the topic. There's only one that was very similar to what I wanted - Ablaze by Piers Paul Reed - but even that completely lost its way in the second half. Few books are easy to jump into and have a quick understanding of what's happening. For people who already know a lot about the accident, there will be very little (though not nothing) new, but for people who are just casually curious about it and want to gain a solid understanding of what happened without it going into the more extraneous details, it will be a good read.

Besides, I don't expect to sell many copies. I mainly want it out there as a resource people can choose to read if they want to. Beyond this AmA and maybe something on the 26th, I don't plan on doing any promotion at all. I'll be happy if I recoup my costs.

Dan_GM7 karma

Did you have access to any secret/untold document about the families there? How can we distinguish between true and fabricated stories?

R_Spc10 karma

That's one of the biggest challenges. There's a ton of information I've read from accounts from people who were there but I haven't included because I either don't believe it or can't verify it. There aren't really any secret documents from families that I'm aware of, everything is pretty well established now.

infignorance6 karma

How many years will it take for the area to be habitable again?


R_Spc23 karma

It's habitable now, in a sense - people live there. For radiation levels to return to completely normal it'll be thousands of years, but you could live a long life if you moved there tomorrow.

WalkTheMoons5 karma

What's something that you know about this that most people don't, or that you wish they did?

R_Spc10 karma

The main thing - and I only discovered this quite recently - is about the Chernobyl divers. Everyone thinks they dove into Chernobyl's basement and died within hours/weeks as a result, when in fact the basement had already been drained and none of them died. It's one of the most well known Chernobyl stories, but it's all wrong.

WalkTheMoons9 karma

I saw pictures of the workers dying. Do you think it was a case of mislabeled pictures?

R_Spc9 karma

Can you show me which ones?

jursla5 karma

Would you join a group of illegal explorers to celebrate new year in abandoned Pripat flat?

R_Spc14 karma

Definitely, but you could probably do that legally.

Grammorin5 karma

What was the average radiation dose for citizens of Chernobyl as result of disaster?

Is it true main cause was underqualified manager with no previous experience and his only education being correspondence course in nuclear physics?

R_Spc13 karma

I have read what the estimated average dose was, but I can't remember now, sorry. The unhelpful answer is "quite a lot compared to if nothing had happened, but the average was nowhere near life threatening."

And that isn't true at all. Dyatlov was a very intelligent man who had worked with nuclear reactors ever since attending a prestigious Russian technical college. He was impatient and kind of an asshole, but he knew a lot. He shouldn't have done what he did, no doubt about it, but he wasn't an idiot.

89kbye5 karma

Hi, thanks for doing the AMA!

I was wondering, as someone who has 'Visiting Chernobyl' on their bucket list, what are the must sees at a site like this?

R_Spc6 karma

Pretty much everything. The ferris wheel, the Golden Key nursery, the view from the hotel and the swimming pool especially. You can't go wrong, even if you just wander aimlessly around the place, there's so much to see.

iliddle965 karma

In your photo album you mention how the reactor was shut off by two men who later on lived, not by some firemen which died later that week. Where did this misinformation come from? And how did you hear the real story, if it's true?

R_Spc13 karma

The firemen didn't die later that week, it was weeks later.

I think you may have misinterpreted what I wrote, or I wasn't very clear, because the two men who were mainly responsible for shutting the reactor off both died around the same time as the firemen.

gtrob4 karma

How do you deal with questions about this topic in "social" situations where you don't have time to address the complexity and nuance, but you still want to be accurate and semi-complete with your answer? I happen to have a PhD in nuclear engineering, and I get tired of dealing with questions like "is nuclear power safe?" and "what about the waste?" I can either give short but unsatisfying answers like "basically yes" or "solutions exist", or I can bore them to death with a lecture on modern safety practices, deep geological waste repository designs, etc.

Secondly, now that you see how misrepresented this subject is in the media, how do you come to terms with trusting the media on other complex topics? This is something I have struggled with, as the more I know about a topic the more disappointed I am by the media's coverage of it, which makes me worry about its coverage in a more general sense... at the very least in any sort of technical or scientific domain.

R_Spc8 karma

I see you feel my pain. I'm hammering out replies that are hopefully long enough to answer the question but aren't in-depth at all. There isn't any way around it. I can redirect people to longer responses if they want me to, but I doubt many would have the inclination (or determination) to read through it all.

That's something I do struggle with from time to time. I don't think about it too much, beyond always keeping in the back of my mind that the person writing this article, or the person interviewing that guy, has no clue what they're talking about in almost all instances. It's sort of like the chaos theory, if you think about it too much you'll go nuts, so I try to be as informed as I can about the things that matter the most to me, and acknowledge that I may be misinformed about the rest.

teenytinylion2 karma

hello!! thank you very much for doing this AMA.

One of the aspects of it that I find interesting is the strange chemistry that happens when nuclear chemistry is involved. Did you come across any examples of unusual chemical reactions as a result of this event?

R_Spc3 karma

The one that most sticks out in my mind (given that it was what actually caused the accident) is the way graphite increases the fission reaction. Imagine, they made the tips of their reactor control rods - the main method of dampening the reaction - out of something that increases it! It's insane. I also find it interesting how the zirconium alloy cladding contributed to the accident once it got going. I guess they couldn't find anything that truly wouldn't react, no matter what.

Coronis122 karma

What are your thoughts on nuclear power as a source of energy in general?

R_Spc3 karma

I think it's vital for the short and medium term generation of clean energy. Renewable energy is only useful in ideal conditions, then becomes useless otherwise. To keep a consistent power level at all times, you need nuclear. Coal causes an unbelievable amount of harm to people and the environment. The sooner it's phased out, the better.

cleversignin2 karma

about the only times I think about Chernobyl is due to cheesy horror movies or that x-files episode with the giant leach-man. I will definitely pick up your book to add some facts to my thoughts on the subject since my lack of knowledge is embarrassing.
my question is how do you write a book? do you do an outline like:
pre distaster
events of the week of disaster
and research the shit out of it like a college paper or do you try to add story elements and slice-of-life elements like a Ken Burns documentary?
sorry if this is a dumb question.

R_Spc6 karma

I'd never written anything before, so I had no idea where to start. The answer is that I just added more and more and more and more that I found interesting and relevant. Most of my time was taken up reading information I didn't want to include. Since it was a real life event, it had its own beginning, middle and end, so it all fell into places on its own.

MM22362 karma

How many times have you been to the actual sight? Have you seen the sarcophagus?

R_Spc3 karma

Only once, sadly. I've been wanting to go back every day since, but I can't afford to. I'm hoping to visit when they start moving the New Safe Confinement later this year.

ticktockaudemars1 karma

Are you hoping this submission blows up?

R_Spc1 karma

Nobody makes something hoping it will be ignored, but I'm as interested in discussing the event as anything else. I have a job, so I'm not going to go bankrupt if nobody buys my book.

jwilder2041 karma

Do you have any plans to do an audiobook version?

R_Spc2 karma

A few people have asked me this now, so I'll definitely be looking into it, yes. No promises, but I'll do my best.

Kingofawesome131 karma

I know I might be a bit late, but do you think if chernobyl helped with the collapse of the Soviet Union?

R_Spc3 karma

It did, no doubt about it. It crippled the Soviet economy and gave Gorbachev a lot of help with his glasnost agenda. It certainly wasn't the one and only thing that contributed to the downfall, but it was one of the bigger catalysts.

th3doorMATT1 karma

What's this...Reddit you speak of...? Sorry for spelling errors, if any, I didn't take the time to looking up "Reddit" on Google.

R_Spc2 karma

I barely understand it myself.

Big_Gulps250 karma

Is a hotdog a sandwich ?

R_Spc8 karma

If folding one piece of bread over and putting a filling in between the folds is still a sandwich, then yes.