Staunton, June 23 – Even though the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred more than 30 years ago, there are many questions still open about why and how that happened and how the Soviet authorities responded. Ukraine’s Security Service has now published 190 KGB documents which cover the period from 1970 to November 1986.
In a new book, The Chernobyl Dossier of the KGB: From Construction to the Accident (in Ukrainian), Kyiv’s Security Service includes 229 KGB documents, of which 190 are being published for the first time (uinp.gov.ua/elektronni-vydannya/chornobylske-dosye-kgb-vid-budivnyctva-do-avariyi and enta.ru/brief/2020/06/22/kgb_1986/).
Anton Drobovich, director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, says that the new materials provide important details on why the accident happened and why problems that officials had known about in detail for years were not corrected before the April 1986 disaster. Kyiv officials tried to get Moscow’s attention to these situations but without success.
Officers of the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR were responsible for the security of the site, but from the beginning, they devoted more attention to trying to identify supposed agents from Germany or China or representatives of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists all of whom were thought interested in destroying the atomic power plant.
But despite that focus, the KGB also considered the quality of construction materials being shipped to the site and of the work of those who first were building the facility and then operating it. Again and again, they identified shortcomings in both, as the documents in the new book attest. They reported, Kyiv tried to do something, but Moscow ignored both.
According to documents in the book, between 1971 and 1981 alone, the atomic power plant suffered accidents, eight of which were the fault of operators and the rest apparently because of poor construction materials. In 1984, the KGB warned that the facility was an accident waiting to happen because of problems with the reactor that eventually melted down.
According to the KGB, operators of the plant often ignored their own rules in their rush to produce. And they were quite prepared to put peoples’ lives at risk. In at least one case, an operator sold fish he had caught in a radioactive pond to people living nearby in order to supplement his income.
Moscow was informed about all this but did not take action, the documents show.
After the accident took place on April 26, 1986, KGB officers on the scene first reported that it was the result of diversionary forces. But when no evidence could be found of their existence, the Soviet security agency blamed human error rather than problems with the materials used in the facility.
But perhaps the most disturbing report contained in these documents is that the KGB itself noted that after the accident when operators fled the scene, no one was in control of the operation of the facility “for some time,” a situation that likely made the consequences of the accident even worse.