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Quotes tagged “Nuclear Reactors”
Ulana Khomyuk: When the lava enters these tanks, it will instantly superheat and vaporize approximately 7,000 cubic meters of water, causing a significant thermal explosion.
Gorbachev: How significant?
Khomyuk: We estimate between two and four megatons. Everything within a thirty-kilometer radius will be completely destroyed, including the three remaining reactors at Chernobyl. The entirety of the radioactive material in all of the cores will be ejected at force and dispersed by a massive shock wave, which will extend approximately two hundred kilometers and likely be fatal to the entire population of Kiev, as well as a portion of Minsk. The release of radiation will be severe, and will impact all of Soviet Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Byelorussia, as well as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and most of East Germany.
Gorbachev: What do you mean, ‘impact’?
Legasov: For much of the area, a nearly permanent disruption of the food and water supply, a steep increase in the rates of cancer and birth defects. I don't know how many deaths there will be, but many. For Byelorussia and the Ukraine, ‘impact’ means completely uninhabitable for a minimum of one hundred years.
Gorbachev: [visibly shaken] There are more than fifty million people living in Byelorussia and Ukraine.
Legasov: Sixty, yes.
Gorbachev: And how long before this happens?
Legasov: Approximately 48 to 72 hours. But we may have a solution. We can pump the water from the tanks. Unfortunately, the tanks are sealed shut by a sluice gate, and the gate can only be opened manually from within the duct system itself. So we need to find three plant workers who know the facility well enough to enter the basement here, find their way through all these duct ways, get to the sluice gate valve here, and give us the access we need to pump out the tanks. Of course, we will need your permission.
Gorbachev: My permission for what?
Legasov: Um, the water in these tanks... the level of radioactive contamination—
Khomyuk: They'll likely be dead in a week.
Legasov: We're asking for your permission to... kill three men.
Gorbachev: Comrade Legasov... all victories inevitably come at a cost.”
You'll do it because nobody else can. And if you don't, millions will die. If you tell me that's not enough I won't believe you. This is what has always set our people apart. A thousand years of sacrifice in our veins. And every generation must know its own suffering.”
Shcherbina: It's been smooth. Twenty drops. [notices Legasov's expression] What?
Legasov: There are fifty thousand people in this city.
Shcherbina: Professor Ilyin, who's also on the commission, says the radiation isn't high enough to evacuate.
Legasov: Ilyin isn't a physicist.
Shcherbina: Well, he's a medical doctor. If he says it's safe, it's safe.
Legasov: Not if they stay here.
Shcherbina: We're staying here.
Legasov: [impatiently] Yes, we are, and we'll be dead in five years! [Shcherbina looks shocked] I'm sorry, I'm... I'm sorry.
Shcherbina: [sits in stunned silence as the phone starts to ring; after several seconds, he answers it] Shcherbina. [listens] Thank you. [hangs up] A nuclear plant in Sweden has detected radiation and identified it as a byproduct of our fuel. The Americans took satellite photos. The reactor building, the smoke, the fire. The whole world knows. The wind has been blowing toward Germany. They're not letting children play outside... in Frankfurt. [glances outside at the children playing]”
Fomin: It's overkill. Pikalov's showing off to make us look bad.
Bryukhanov: It doesn't matter how it looks. Shcherbina is a pure bureaucrat, as stupid as he is pigheaded. We'll tell him the truth in the simplest terms possible. We'll be fine. [Both exit the jeep] Pikalov!
[Pikalov joins in with Fomin and Bryukhanov to welcome Scherbina. Legasov is standing at a distance as Shcherbina, alone, is saluted by Pikalov]
Bryukhanov: Comrade Shcherbina, Chief Engineer Fomin, Colonel General Pikalov, and I are honored at your arrival.
Fomin: Deeply, deeply honored.
Bryukhanov: Naturally, we regret the circumstances of your visit, but as you can see, we are making excellent progress in containing the damage. [Pulls out his notepad] We have begun our own inquiry into the cause of the accident, and I have a list of individuals who we believe are accountable.
[Shcherbina reads through the note and gestures Legasov to join them]
Bryukhanov: Professor Legasov, I understand you've been saying dangerous things.
Fomin: Very dangerous things. Apparently, our reactor core exploded. Please, tell me how an RBMK reactor core explodes.
Legasov: I'm not prepared to explain it at this time.
Fomin: As I presumed, he has no answer.
Bryukhanov: It's disgraceful, really. To spread disinformation at a time like this.
[Legasov, in a tense situation, says nothing and looks to Shcherbina]
Shcherbina: [Notices Legasov and turns to Bryukhanov] Why did I see graphite on the roof? Graphite is only found in the core, where it's used as a—neutron flux moderator. Correct?
Bryukhanov: [beat] Fomin, why did the Deputy Chairman see graphite on the roof?
Fomin: Well, that—that can't be. Comrade Shcherbina, my apologies, but graphite...that's not possible. Perhaps y—you saw burnt concrete.
Shcherbina: Now there you made a mistake, because I may not know much about nuclear reactors, but I know a lot about concrete.
Fomin: Comrade, I—I assure you—
Shcherbina: I understand. [Points to Legasov] You think Legasov is wrong. How shall we prove it?
Vladimir Pikalov: Our high-range dosimeter just arrived. We could cover one of our trucks with lead shielding, mount the dosimeter on the front.
Legasov: Have one of your men get as close to the fire as he can. Give him every bit of protection you have. But understand that even with lead shielding, it may not be enough.
Pikalov: [grimly] Then I'll do it myself.
Pikalov: It's not three roentgen. It's 15,000.
Bryukhanov: Comrade Shcherbina—
Shcherbina: [Turns to Legasov] What does that number mean?
Legasov: It means the core is open. It means the fire we're watching with our own eyes is giving off nearly twice the radiation released by the bomb in Hiroshima. And that's every single hour. Hour after hour, [looks at his watch] 20 hours since the explosion, so 40 bombs worth by now. Forty-eight more tomorrow. And it will not stop. Not in a week, not in a month. It will burn and spread its poison until the entire continent is dead.
Shcherbina: [Turns to the soldiers] Please escort Comrades Bryukhanov and Fomin to the local party headquarters. [Turns to Bryukhanov] Thank you for your service.
Shcherbina: You're excused.
Fomin: [As he's being taken away] Dyatlov was in charge. It was Dyatlov!
Shcherbina: Tell me how to put it out.
Pikalov: We'll use helicopters. We'll drop water on it like a forest fire—
Legasov: No, no, no. You don't understand. This isn't a fire. This is a fissioning reactor core burning at over 2,000 degrees. The heat will instantly vaporize the water or worse—
Shcherbina: How do we put it out?
Legasov: [Sighs] You are dealing with something that has never occurred on this planet before. [Shcherbina begins to speak] Boron. Boron and sand. Well, that'll create problems of its own, but I—I don't see any other way. Of course, it's going to take thousands of drops, because you can't fly the helicopters directly over the core, so most of it is going to miss.
Shcherbina: How much sand and boron?
Legasov: [Scoffs] Well, I can't be—
Shcherbina: For God's sake, roughly!
Legasov: Five thousand tons. And obviously, we're going to need to evacuate an enormous area—
Shcherbina: Never mind that. Focus on the fire.
Legasov: I am focusing on the fire. The wind, it's carrying all that smoke, all that radiation. At least evacuate Pripyat. It's three kilometers away.
Shcherbina: That's my decision to make.
Legasov: Then make it.
Shcherbina: I've been told not to.
Legasov: Is it or is not your decision—
Shcherbina: I'm in charge here! This will go much easier if you talk to me about the things you do understand and not about the things you do not understand. [Walks back to the tent]
Legasov: Where are you going?
Shcherbina: I'm going to get you 5,000 tons of sand and boron.”
Legasov: [Sees the reactor, horrified] What have they done?
Shcherbina: Can you see inside?
Legasov: I don't have to. Look. That's graphite on the roof. The whole building's been blown open. The core's exposed!
Shcherbina: I can't see how you can tell that from here.
Legasov: Oh, for God's sakes! Look at that glow! That's radiation ionizing the air!
Shcherbina: Well, if we can't see, we don't know. [to the pilot] Get us directly over the building!
Legasov: Boris, if we fly...
Shcherbina: Don't you use my name!
Legasov: ...directly over an open reactor, we'll be dead within a week! Dead!
Shcherbina: Get us over that building, or I'll have you shot!
Legasov: [to the pilot] If you fly directly over that core, I promise you, by tomorrow morning, you'll be begging for that bullet! [the pilot considers this, and changes course]”
Boris Shcherbina: How does a nuclear reactor work?
Valery Legasov: What?
Shcherbina: It's a simple question.
Legasov: It's hardly a simple answer.
Shcherbina: Of course, you presume I'm too stupid to understand. So I'll restate: Tell me how a nuclear reactor works, or I'll have one of these soldiers throw you out of the helicopter.
Legasov: A nuclear reactor makes electricity with steam. The steam turns a turbine which generates electricity. Where a typical power plant makes steam by burning coal, a nuclear plant...
[Legasov tries to find a pen in his pocket to draw a diagram. Scherbina hands his pen and a scratch paper to Legasov]
Legasov: [Draws diagram] In a nuclear plant, we use something called fission. We take an unstable element like Uranium-235, which has too many neutrons. A neutron is, uh—
Shcherbina: The bullet.
Legasov: [Impressed] Yes, the bullet. So, bullets are flying off of the uranium. Now...if we put enough uranium atoms close together, the bullets from one atom will eventually strike another atom. The force of this impact splits that atom apart, releasing a tremendous amount of energy, fission.
Shcherbina: And the graphite?
Legasov: [Exhales] Ah, yes. The neutrons are actually traveling so fast we call this ‘flux’—it's relatively unlikely that the uranium atoms will ever hit one another. In RBMK reactors, we surround the fuel rods with graphite to moderate—slow down—the neutron flux.
Shcherbina: Good. [Takes his pen back] I know how a nuclear reactor works. Now I don't need you.”
Mikhail Gorbachev: Thank you all for your duty to this commission. We will begin with Deputy Chairman Shcherbina's briefing, and then we will discuss next steps if necessary.
Boris Shcherbina: Thank you, Comrade General Secretary. I'm pleased to report that the situation in Chernobyl is stable. Military and civilian patrols have secured the region, and Colonel General Pikalov, who commands troops specializing in chemical hazards, has been dispatched to the plant. In terms of radiation, plant director Bryukhanov reports no more than 3.6 roentgen. I'm told it's the equivalent of a chest X-ray. So if you're overdue for a check-up...
Gorbachev: And foreign press?
Shcherbina: Totally unaware. KGB First Deputy Chairman Charkov assures me that we have successfully protected our security interests.
Gorbachev: Good. Very good. Well, it seems like it's well in hand, so...if there's nothing else, meeting adjourned.
[Gorbachev and the committee begins to stand up]
Valery Legasov: [Pounds table] No!
Gorbachev: Pardon me?
Legasov: Uh, we can't adjourn.
Shcherbina: This is Professor Legasov of the Kurchatov Institute. Professor, if you have any concerns, feel free to address them with me later.
Legasov: I can't. I am sorry. I'm so sorry. [Frantically flips through the pages of reports] Page three, the section on casualties. Uh...[reads the reports] ‘A fireman was severely burned on his hand by a chunk of smooth, black mineral on the ground, outside the reactor building.’ Smooth, black mineral—graphite. There's-There's graphite on the ground.
Shcherbina: [To Gorbachev] Well, there was a—a tank explosion. There's debris. Of what importance that could be, I have n—
Legasov: [Overlapping] There's only one place in the entire facility where you will find graphite: inside the core. If there's graphite on the ground outside, it means it wasn't a control system tank that exploded. It was the reactor core. It's open! [Inhales]
Gorbachev: [Reads through the reports again] Um, Comrade Shcherbina?
Shcherbina: Comrade General Secretary, I can assure you that Professor Legasov is mistaken. Bryukhanov reports that the reactor core is intact. And as for the radiation—
Legasov: Yes, 3.6 roentgen, which, by the way, is not the equivalent of one chest X-ray, but rather 400 chest X-rays. That number's been bothering me for a different reason, though. It's also the maximum reading on low-limit dosimeters. They gave us the number they had. I think the true number is much, much higher. If I'm right, this fireman was holding the equivalent of four million chest X-rays in his hand.
Shcherbina: Professor Legasov, there's no place for alarmist hysteria—
Legasov: It's not alarmist if it's a fact!
Gorbachev: Well, I don't hear any facts at all. All I hear is a man I don't know engaging in conjecture in direct contradiction to what has been reported by party officials.
Legasov: [Stammers] I'm, uh, I apologize. I didn't mean, uh...[clears throat] Please, may I express my concern as—as calmly and as respectfully as I—
Shcherbina: Professor Legasov—
Gorbachev: [Interrupts] Boris. I will allow it.
[Everyone sits right back down]
Legasov: Um...An RBMK reactor uses Uranium-235 as fuel. Every atom of U-235 is like a bullet traveling at nearly the speed of light, penetrating everything in its path: woods, metal, concrete, flesh. Every gram of U-235 holds over a billion trillion of these bullets. That's in one gram. Now, Chernobyl holds over three million grams, and right now, it is on fire. Winds will carry radioactive particles across the entire continent, rain will bring them down on us. That's three million billion trillion bullets in the...in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. Most of these bullets will not stop firing for 100 years. Some of them, not for 50,000 years.
Gorbachev: Yes, and, uh, this concern stems entirely from the description of a rock?
Gorbachev: Hmm. Comrade Shcherbina, I want you to go to Chernobyl. You take a look at the reactor—you, personally—and you report directly back to me.
Shcherbina: A wise decision, Comrade General Secretary. I—
Gorbachev: And take Professor Legasov with you.
Shcherbina: Uh...[chuckles] Forgive me, Comrade General Secretary, but I—
Gorbachev: Do you know how a nuclear reactor works?
Gorbachev: No. Well, then how will you know what you're looking at? Meeting adjourned.”
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