The fact that culprits of the Chernobyl accident would be prosecuted was not doubted by anyone from the very beginning. After all, a catastrophe of that scale, caused by human, should not be unpunished. Someone had to go to prison; the question was – who, and for how long?
This problem had to be faced by the top Party leaders of the country. Who should be made guilty of the accident: those who made an explosive reactor, or those who was handling it when it exploded? On the one hand, it is obvious that even the worst driver will not cause a good car to explode just because he cannot steer properly, but, on the other hand, what is there to choose from? On the one side, there are the scientists and designers from the powerful Minsredmash, creators of the world’s best equipment, ‘the pride and joy of our country’. On the other side there are the operating staff from the Minenergo, the bloody botchers and ignoramuses, etc. In such a situation, you have no choice but to select the operations as the scapegoat.
However, this choice appeared to be hard even for the Political Bureau of the CPSU Central Committee, and its members discussed it during two meetings (not all the time, of course) on July 3rd and July 14th of 1986. Their decision was published in Pravda, the country’s main newspaper, on July 20. The General Procuracy of the USSR was thus told which way to go (until then, the criminal case related to the accident had been initiated, and was handled by investigators of the Ukrainian General Procuracy), and the mass media were instructed, what they were allowed to publish, and what they were not. That’s how formation of the public opinion started. In the meantime, absolutely different reasons of the Chernobyl accident were specified in confidential and strictly technical documents describing measures related to the reactor safety improvement (or simply analyzing the accident).
And so, it is clear whom to prosecute, and they should serve a long time. But then there is the second problem, faced this time by the General Procuracy – what is the corpus delicti, what exactly are the culprits guilty of? Obviously, they may only be prosecuted for negligence, for neglecting their job descriptions, violation of the regulations, etc. However, such actions are much too inadequate compared to the scope of consequences; so, how to read such a case, and how to explain it to people?
Indeed, that would be impossible, if two preconditions were not met: 1) the trial should be closed, so that no explanations will be needed for anyone, and necessary pressure will be applied to the defendants, witnesses and lawyers to make them more yielding; 2) it is necessary to find such technical experts that would have a selfish interest in the results of the proceedings, so that they would not bat an eye no matter what lies they are telling, and would make sure grave consequences will come out of nothing. Both these conditions were met.
Officially the trial was public, and there were even some journalists (including foreign ones) present there. But it was held in a restricted area (in the town of Chernobyl, during July 7 to 29, 1987), and special permits were required to enter it. Besides, the journalists were only present during the first and the last sessions, while all the other 16 sessions were actually closed. Minutes of meetings and other trial materials were (and still are) kept secret. All the data about the trial that we have now are notes taken on the quiet by some people involved in the proceedings, on their own initiative. The most complete collection of such notes is published in the book of N.V.Karpan [Ê1].
True, there were certain problems (according to Yu.A.Potyomkin, Supervisor of the investigation team) finding the experts. "’We started looking for experts, which turned out to be difficult, too. Many of them refused because they were sick, or had some other valid reasons. Finally, however, we were able to gather 11 people, all of them well-known experts."
So, you can see that the problems have been overcome successfully. All the experts are actually very well known specialists, but what do they specialize in, and where are they from? Out of the 11 experts, four persons are from the [Minsredmash], and two of them were directly involved in development of the RBMK; another four are from agencies that are closely related to, and depend on the [Minsredmash]. And there is only one expert from the [Minenergo], not specialized in reactor physics. This list does not include any independent expert specialized in the RBMK physics, nor does it include any operation expert.
But even with such experts present, it turned out to be impossible to prove that the Chernobyl disaster had resulted from ordinary negligence, and the defendants had to be prosecuted in accordance with Article 220 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, for "violation of the safety regulations at explosive facilities that result in human casualties and other grave consequences". To do that, both logic and common sense had to be ignored. If the NPP reactor is explosive, it is not the operating staff, but those who have made and installed such a reactor that should be prosecuted. And if it is not explosive, since when, then, have power plants become explosive facilities, just like gunpowder works?
In order not to look complete morons, there were, apart from that principal charge, other charges pursuant to Articles 165 and 167 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, "for abuse of office and irresponsibility in discharge of functions".Thanks to that, the court was most of the time concerned with these two charges; the awkward issues regarding the main charge were just squeezed in between them, so as not to discuss them in detail.
There were 6 people in the "prisoners": V.P.Bryukhanov, Director of the ChNPP; N.M.Fomin, Chief Engineer; A.S.Dyatlov, Deputy Chief Engineer; A.P.Kovalenko, Manager of the Reactor Shop; B.V.Rogozhkin, Shift Supervisor of the Plant and Yu.A.Laushkin, Inspector of [Gosatomenergonadzor] (State Committee for Supervision over Safety of Work in Nuclear Power Engineering) at the ChNPP.
When reading the description of the proceedings [Ê5], you can’t help feeling as though this is not a trial where some conflict of opinions is in progress, but a party meeting where some culprits are reprimanded, and all they do is agreeing and repenting, repenting and agreeing.
It would seem obvious for the defense to start by proving with all their might that Article 220 is not applicable here. There are no regulatory, design or operation documents that would classify nuclear power plants as explosive facilities, and they are built without any such provisions. Neither their operating staff, nor designers or builders of the NPP know anything about their explosive nature.
But nothing of the kind happened. The lawyers were silent, and there was only one occasion when one defendant asked a question, and even that – to another defendant:
Kovalenko: Were the ChNPP and the reactor unit explosive? Were there any regulations regarding this issue?
Bryukhanov: The reply to this question is included into the materials of the investigation.
And besides, the same person, Kovalenko, answered another question during another court meeting.
Jury member: What king of equipment is installed in your shop – explosion-proof or not?
And that was that. Otherwise, silence. In view of such consensus and mutual understanding between the defense and the prosecution, no wonder that it was the prosecutor who volunteered to explain the paradoxical issue of explosion hazard in his final speech. It turned out that the necessary explanation of an explosive facility was not to be found in any documents that were used to for design, construction and operations of nuclear power plants; the explanation was contained in an ordinance of the Plenary Meeting of the USSR Supreme Court that had been adopted some time ago. The meaning of that was as follows: "shut up and keep silence! The Procuracy knows what to do, and you, the laymen, don’t need to know about that".
Another issue that the defense, seemingly, should have raised, was distrust to the conclusion of the technical experts and demand of an independent expert assessment. It was all the more so that there were more than enough grounds for raising that issue. The government board did not share a uniform opinion, and there were two mutually exclusive versions of the accident reasons.
The defense, however, never so much as lifted a finger to do anything like that. The absolutely fantastic version of the accident proposed by the technical experts (as though copied to the letter from B.I.Gorbachev), was taken for granted by both the defense and the defendants – "do not believe your eyes", as the saying goes. The defendants never ventured to do anything more than asking questions (to each other, mostly) and uttering an occasional quiet word of surprise.
What was, then, the court doing, apart from squabbling with Bryukhanov and Fomin (mostly over their personal qualities, qualifications, etc.) and studying the status of labor discipline and compliance with process regulations at the NPP?
Generally, it was doing what any court was supposed to – establishing facts. The question is, however, what facts were established, and how.
One of the principal and most important facts is the time when the accident started as uncontrollable acceleration of the reactor: whether it began before or after pushing the EPS-5 button. The defendants were swearing upon their lives that it had been after pushing the button. The objective data from the tape records and the oscillograms also showed it had been after. The official report prepared on the basis of the results of the government board’s investigation [Y1] it was phrased so that you could hardly understand whether the event had been before or after pushing the button. However, the experts of the General Procuracy believed that the accident had started before pushing the EPS-5 button, and, moreover, the reactor had already been destroyed by the time of pushing the button. Well, and what about the court – how the truth was established in this case?
Here’s an example from questioning of a witness, G.V.Lysyuk (senior foreman of the Electrical Shop).
Chairman of the jury: When did Akimov command to push the [AZ-5], before or after the explosion?
Lysyuk: Before the explosion.
Procurator: Did you hear the SRCE’s cry that the reactor was changing capacity at emergency speed before pushing the [AZ] button?
Lysyuk: Yes, I did.
And that’s that, nothing else was said. It is not clear why the question was asked, and whether the reply had any meaning.
As a matter of fact, the court did not need that information at all; the jury was not going to question or even to discuss the accident version suggested by the experts, the more so because none of the defendants were going to, either.
Another important fact is overriding of the emergency protection EPS-5 after the two TG’s were shut down. This fact was not denied by anyone, it would be impossible to deny it. There was a conflict of opinions regarding the role of that fact in the accident rather than regarding the fact itself. The technical experts believed that it was of critical importance: if the protection had not been deactivated, it would have triggered at the very beginning of the experiment, the reactor would have been damped, and there would have been no accident. Defendant Dyatlov (as well as some of the government board members) believed that fact had played no part in the accident. If the emergency protection had triggered at the time of closing the turbine ISV’s, the result would have been the same as when the EPS-5 button was pushed, only 35 seconds earlier.
Is it important for the court that was concerned with the reactor explosion case? It would seem that it is. But it turned out it was not. Not a single word was said in court regarding the gist of the problem. The judges were only interested in overriding of the protection as in an action that had violated the safety regulations (a case of negligence), no matter whether, in this specific case, such a violation had any consequences.
And with this in mind, the court kept asking the same questions to the defendants and the witnesses: who turned off the protection? Who gave the order? Who connived to it? Who knew the protection was off, and who didn’t? And so on, and so forth. But even from this point of view, the question whether such overriding was a violation of the operating regulations was disputable. The defendants and experts had different opinions regarding this issue. However, the court bypassed these disputes and never discussed them.
Let us not discuss all the episodes (deactivation of the emergency cooling system, capacity drop an hour before the accident, etc.); all of them were considered by the court in the same way, absolutely formally, without going into details and trying to establish a connection with the accident. There were just the endless questions: who was standing where, who saw what, who knew (or did not) what. Let us only consider one key episode – how the situation with low operating reactivity margin (ORM) was handled.
This issue is the only one that is directly connected with the accident. If the ORM were high enough, there would have been no Chernobyl accident, if only because the emergency protection system would have damped the reactor at the very beginning of the emergency process. It would be impossible to belittle the meaning of this fact by surrounding it with other multiple (real or not) violations of the operating regulations. Therefore, the issue of low ORM had to become the principal item of the charge.
And in that case the court, it would seem, should be very meticulous to establish why the operators and their management, being "of sound mind and memory", had committed such a "terrible violation of the regulations". Had the court done that, the following would have been established:
1) The ORM is a parameter that changes very significantly and very fast during transitory processes, and there are no provisions to continuously monitor it.
2) Limits of the ORM have been introduced for other purposes; they have no relation to serviceability of the reactor emergency protection.
3) The articles of the regulations regarding the ORM are phrased in such a way that it is impossible not to violate them in practice. On the other hand, it is always possible to say there is no violation, as far as the meaning of the regulations is concerned.
Note that the court could have reached all these conclusions without any complicated technical expert assessments; a simple argument like this would have been enough.
Before we go any further, let us explain the situation a little. The principal concrete charge is as follows: why, in violation of the regulations, the reactor was not damped in the morning of April 25, 1986, when it was discovered that the ORM was less than 15 rods?
True, the reactor was at that time in steady-state condition, with the capacity of 1,500 MW, and, in accordance with paragraph 9 of the regulations, it was to be damped immediately. But, on the other hand, xenon poisoning was almost over, depoisoning was about to begin, after which point the ORM would only grow. And in view of that, in accordance with paragraph 6.4.4, it was possible to keep the reactor running.
The reactor shutdown is prevented by the prohibition to reduce power issued by the Kievenergo Power Grid; besides, such a shutdown would undermine fulfillment of the rundown test program, which they have been trying to fulfill for over three years by now, and, what’s more, it would undermine the turbine vibration test, for which a special team with unique equipment has come from the Kharkiv Turbine Works. And what would happen if the reactor kept running? Nothing, it would seem; even the regulations, it seems, would not be violated.
Now, after the accident, the experts are well-placed to mock at the defendants, after they have initially offered them the explosive reactor and the useless regulations. And before the accident, the people had to do their daily job at the ‘absolutely safe’, and to take critical decisions every minute. No man in his right senses (including the respectable experts) would have stopped the reactor in the morning of April 25, 1986.
Let us, however, get back to the court. Did they find the above of any interest? They certainly did not. All the court was doing was searching for contradictions in evidences given by the defendants that were trying to get rid of absurd charges brought against them. Note that even that was done by the court rather listlessly, in its usual way: question – answer, è no comments. It will be better to simply quote all the data available regarding this issue in [Ê5]:
From the examination of N.M.Fomin.
Expert:Did you know that in the morning of April 25, reactivity margin was less than 15 rods?
Fomin: Mr.Kryat knew that the reactivity margin was less than 15 rods, but the shift manager did not tell me about it during the morning meeting on April 25.
Lawyer of Rogozhkin: If you had learned in the morning of April 25 from the shift manager that the reactivity margin was less than 15 rods, what would you have done?
Fomin: I would have damped the reactor.
From the examination of A.S. Dyatlov.
Procurator:Did you know that on Aprul 25, reactivity margin was less than 15 control rods?
Dyatlov: I did not know about that until noon, or until 01:00 p.m., but I decided to continue working since I had been instructed to do so by the Chief Engineer.
Procurator: Mr.Fomin, did you instruct Mr.Dyatlov to work with the reactivity margin less than 15 rods?
Fomin:No, I did not give such an instruction
From the examination of A.P.Kovalenko.
Procurator: Did you know that in the morning of April 25, reactivity margin was 13.2 rods?
Kovalenko: Yes, I did. I learned about it from the shift manager’s report during the morning teleconference. Mr.Frolovsky broke in at once, but the Chief Engineer replied that this issue would be resolved separately. I took it that work was to be continued. Afterwards, the reactivity margin was over 17 control rods. Toptunov had finished his shift and gone home. On the following day I was going to ask him to write an explanatory memo regarding low reactivity margin.
Procurator: What were you supposed to do after learning that the ORM was below 15 rods?
Kovalenko: I was supposed to damp the reactor.
Procurator: Was the plant director present at the teleconference where the shift manager reported that the ORM was below 15 rods?
Kovalenko:The teleconference is held by the director – it means he was.
From the examination of B.V.Rogozhkin.
Assistant Procurator: On April 25, when did you learn that the ORM was below 15 rods?
Rogozhkin: At about 07:40.
Assistant Procurator: What were you to do as per the regulations?
Rogozhkin: Damp the reactor..
Assistant Procurator: But you didn’t do that.
Rogozhkin: When Akimov reported to me that the ORM was low, I asked him, ‘Has Fomin telephoned you?’ You see, at 06:30 I had a call from Fomin, and I reported to him that the operating reactivity margin was less than 15 rods. He replied to that he had already phoned Akimov.
That’s all there is to say about the contents of the trial with relation specifically to the Chernobyl accident. This trail was just a show, with actors on stage and audience in the hall, and most of work was done backstage. As if in irony, the trial was actually held on stage of the cultural center in Chernobyl.
The defendants were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. V.P.Bryukhanov and N.M.Fomin got 10 years each in a general regime prison, A.S.Dyatlov– 5 years, A.P.Kovalenko and B.V.Rogozhkin –3 years each, and Yu.A.Laushkin – 2 years.br>
The worst impression was made by behavior in court of the experts (of those who had created the RBMK and, particularly, of their toadeaters). Although it was them who made the reactor liable to cause a nuclear explosion and who concealed this information from the operating staff, i.e., it was them who were the real culprits of the accident, they had the nerve to act as accusers in court, trying even harder than the procurators and the judges. It was their good luck that they were not prosecuted themselves, and, moreover, were in fact requested to prepare the indictment for those who were accused. They should have realized their luck and repented to God. Instead, they went about proud of themselves and scoffed at the defendants in court, because the defendants could not pay them with same coin (they had mocked at common sense before in their expert assessment).