ONE MORE SUBMARINE STORY: NUCLEAR CRASH
The nuclear crash that occurred eight months before the Chernobyl was the biggest one in the entire history of Russian Navy. A submarine K-431 was being repaired on a military plant in a secret settlement Shkotovo-22. They changed an active part of nuclear engine; a supervisor's negligence led to several serious violations of safety rules. Famous Russian avos (kind of "hopefully nothing bad happens") did not help this time. The nuclear reactor exploded Saturday noon on August 10, 1985.
10 servicemen who were in the reactor section that moment died right away. Pieces of their bodies were being collected around the bay for several days. Too radioactive, they were burned at one of Bolshoi Kamen (local town) plants, and burned in a special place for radioactive products. The submarine itself, that should have gone out to the sea turned into a piece of iron. The reactor section was filled with concrete materials to reduce radiation. Then it was moved to Pavlovsk where it has been staying.
The entire complex of the buildings, and a diesel and a nuclear submarines got damaged, too. The crew of those submarines with their families practically lived over there (yes, this is possible in Russia). So, those people got irradiated. The vessel that was carrying the nuclear reactor had to be removed from Pacific fleet.
Well, the major damage is people's health. 86 people who got irradiated were mentioned in trial materials, that had been over by July 1986. Now, we have got 350 people officially considered victims of that tragedy. Radioactivity displays itself in very strange forms, sometimes. The wind that day was headed north-east, which is Ussuriyskiy Bay (Vladivostok). Who knows how Chazhma's explosion will echo.
The Navy officials who urgently arrived to the place of tragedy ordered to "terminate the consequences of the breakdown by next Monday". Quite usual Russian order when the leaders try to hide their failures. Everybody signed a document that obliged them to keep their mouths shut, every paper concerning that case got a "secret" label; press relations officers made up a nice story of "storage battery explosion" approved by KGB. So, that was it.
...Nowadays nothing reminds about ten years prescription event in Shkotovo-22. Just remains of "Radioactive Danger" signs that were used to mark the area. The barbed wire and barriers has disappeared long time ago. As we understood "enterprising people removed everything to their backyards"... Meanwhile the quick admirals' order was not executed by "next Monday"; moreover, it is impossible to liquidate the consequences completely today. The reason is that nobody cares about it anymore, plus lack of funds and so on, which is common in Mother-Russia.
Everything was going well first months after the explosion: the solid and metal constructions, roads, and moorage was getting removed and cleaned and so on. Although, these works stopped by the end of 1986. A chief of Radioactive defense department of Chazhma's Shipbuilding Plant Nikolay Rubtsov told that the former chief of Navy Chemical Defense department promptly reported to his superiors that that everything was OK. Then he made up a report showing that there were no more negative influences of the breakdown. Nikolay Rubtsov had lots of evidence but nobody wanted to listen to him. Navy, the committer of the crime was sick and tired of dealing with that case. They chose to move away from it. Army is one of the institutions that controls itself.
Then the Soviet Union broke down. Although, all radioactive trash was removed to specially equipped pits in 1992. Today Shkotovo-22 still has several hazardous places with radiation. First of all this is the epicenter of the explosion which keeps about 75% of stuff. Its track can be seen in the eastern part of Ussuriyskiy Bay in the area of the trade center where the radiation level is 25 times grater that maximum allowed (25 mR/hour, if this says anything to you). The same situation is on the territory of industrial base of the plant and a forest. However that does not scare people who like to collect mushrooms and other "gifts of the forest". The construction workers also take all necessary materials from the pit that is near the bay.
We took along a person from radiation defense department of the plant to the pit and saw that it was nothing like normal situation over there: GM-counter fixed more than 1,500 mR/hour.
Some objects at the plant territory have between 3 and 10 thousand mR per hour while the maximum allowed is 240. Part of the road is also radioactive because those were not covered with asphalt.
What about the workers? Nothing. They do work and do not complain. This is the only way to make a living. Although they don't get paid regularly, they have nowhere else to go.
They kept working in August 1985 in spite of the nuclear explosion. One thousand of them participated in rescue operations. Just a week after the event the entire plant was working as usually in accordance to the order, repairing the ships of the Pacific fleet.
It's unfair that the workers and soldiers of two Military Construction detachments who helped to clean it all up don't get the privileges they are supposed to. They got irradiated pretty much that time.
In Russia the participants (victims and rescuers) of the nuclear crashes are eligible for special privileges. Civil and military officials did their best to cut the list of those ones. Ten years later we finally get a hope that correct lists will be accepted. Fortunately, Navy sailors and officers did not have problems like this.
A very typical detail: The lists of "participants" are confirmed by order No. 74 of March 5, 1993 by Pacific fleet commander Admiral G. Khvatov. It is titled pretty modestly: "List of participants of APS T 175 thermal explosion of August 10, 1985 investigation" (APS stands for atomic power station, T 175 is a number of submarine "K431"). It takes time to realize what the order is about. Well, that's not it. The first names on that list are: former Pacific fleet commander Admiral V.Sidorov, his first deputy Vice-admiral N.Yasakov, Pacific fleet general staff head G.Khvatov (himself), Chief of political department Vice-admiral I.Makhonin and a number of other comrades...
Moscow "participants" are also on that list: deputy-commander of the Navy Admiral Novikov, Chief of political department Admiral Panin, Chief of Navy ship repair department Vice-admiral Chrikov... by the way this one is called "participant # 1". As the major superior of the plant he did not do anything to help the workers. This list could have been a lot wider if Territory administration heads visited the place of the tragedy...they did not. Although, the President's Representative Mr. Ignatenko visited the plant a few months ago; he promised to help, to let Yeltsin know what was going on. Apparently, just promised. Government tried to help, too. There is a resolution No. 805 which is supposed to give financial aid to town Chazhma. Nobody knows where those money are... The town looks pretty deserted nowadays. Broken windows, abandoned houses. The problems are caused by that crash, says local administration head Ivan Grishan. The Navy is getting reduced, the plant does not get the orders it used to get, which, consequently, does not let the workers make a living. Everybody knows the town will "die" in a few years.
This has already happened to a neighbor town Razboinik. One of the residents mentioned that "the problem of nuclear crash consequences liquidation will terminate itself. Nobody cared for us for 10 years. When the plant gets closed - nobody will remember we still exist..."