Nuclear energy was once thought to be the best idea since the invention of the wheel. Little did anyone the noxious side effects that come along with it. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster is the pivotal example of what a nuclear disaster entails. On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl power plant had a major meltdown. The explosion killed dozens of people immediately after, but it’s the aftermath of the disaster that has scientists reeling. Some 30 years after, the death toll has gone up from a couple dozens to tens of thousands. But the efforts of three doughty men have been able to keep the death toll from reaching the millions.
About a week and half after the Chernobyl meltdown, there was a new threat that came to light, the threat of nuclear steam explosions. The water-cooling system at the plant failed, subsequently a pool formed under the extremely radioactive reactor. Since there was no cooling, it would have only been a matter of time before a lava-esque substance melted through the barriers which would drop the reactor’s core into the pool. Had this happened, steam explosions would have been set off sending radiation into the atmosphere spreading across Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Soviet physicist Vassili Nesterenko further explained the impending disaster. “Our experts studied the possibility and concluded that the explosion would have had a force of three to five megatons. Minsk, which is 320 kilometers from Chernobyl would have been razed and Europe rendered uninhabitable.” Knowing what was at stake, three courageous plant workers agreed to a seemingly suicidal mission. They would dive under the plant to release the critical pressure valve, in order to save the world. Alexei Ananenko was one of the plant’s engineers and was the only who know where the pressure valve was located. The men were told that they could refuse the inquiry, “How could I do that when I was the only person on the shift who knew where the valves were located?” Ananenko recalled.
Valeri Bezpalov, also an engineer, and Boris Baranov the shift supervisor were the two other men who entered this dangerous task with Ananenko. Fortunately, the three men were able to release the valve in enough time to avoid a complete catastrophe. Tragically, when the men resurfaced from under the reactor, all three of men had severe radiation poisoning. They all died within a few weeks of their world-saving mission. Like all the victims of the Chernobyl meltdown, they were buried in lead coffins. To think of what the word “hero” actually means, these three men would be in the definition. They knew outright their lives were in danger and they would very likely not make it out alive. And even if they did make it out alive, they would not have lived for very long. Selfless acts such as these, have allowed humanity to continue to thrive. But with all the irresponsible things humans are doing to the environment, it’s a wonder if these three deaths have been taken completely in vain.