The first nuclear disaster in the USSR could have occurred in Armenia in 1982 at the Metsamor nuclear power plant. Then, our nation miraculously escaped from this misfortune. A Metsamor disaster would have been – and now would be – tantamount to the second Armenian Genocide.
It is worth noting that the authorities of those days hid this fact from the people. And only in 2014 did blogger Hovik Charkhchyan write about this. Today, the second confirmation of this event has been received – an article by Vahram Tokmajyan, which is given below (Grigor Emin-Teryan).
The first nuclear reactor of the Armenian nuclear plant was put into operation in December 1976, the second reactor (currently active) – in January 1980.
Academician Andranik Petrosyants played an exceptional role in the design and construction work of the plant. He insisted and made sure that only the VVER-400 type reactor be installed at the Armenian nuclear power plant instead of the RBMK (“high-power channel-type reactor”) proposed by Moscow.
The thing is that Moscow was most likely more interested in the power of the nuclear plant than in its safety. With that, the stubbornness of the academician became crucial for the residents of Armenia.
The accident at the Metsamor nuclear power plant
In 1982, a fire broke out at the Metsamor plant. About 10 days before the fire, Colonel Mikhailov, the head of the department for the protection of nuclear power plants of the Main Directorate of Fire Protection of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union, arrived in Yerevan.
Inspections, courses, and practical exercises were carried out. Mikhailov wrote a 20-page report on the performance of Armenian firefighters, in which there were very few positive reviews.
And exactly during Mikhailov’s send-off, at 09:58 AM on October 15, 1982, the communication station of the militarized fire station at the nuclear plant received a signal about a fire that had broken out in two places independently of each other – in the cable tunnels of the second reactor (the first block was in the obligatory annual scheduled maintenance) and at the pumping station of the automatic fire extinguishing system located 400 meters away.
A fire broke out in the 16th mine of the nuclear plant. The cables coming out of this mine were going toward the reactor. All the efforts of the plant’s fire department to launch the automatic fire extinguishing system and to identify the source of the fire were unsuccessful. The nuclear plant was shut down.
The fire spread very quickly and almost unhindered through the numerous high-voltage cable insulators inside the cable tunnel, and the threat of a terrible catastrophe became a reality.
Within hours after the accident, the situation worsened. The efforts of firefighters and operational staff were unsuccessful. New fires appeared, and small and large explosions could be heard throughout the plant.
At 12:45 PM, it became clear that the control of the reactor was completely lost. The control panel could only be safely accessed in a gas mask. The station lost both external and internal energy supplies.
The cooling system failed, and a dangerous accumulation of hydrogen was recorded. Due to the damaged protection systems, any control became impossible, but the nuclear reaction inside continued. The temperature in the reactor was rising, which could lead to an explosion.
In the meantime, fire units from Yerevan and the surrounding areas were arriving at the scene of the fire. Fire extinguishing work lasted seven hours. And the general work which extinguished the fire and brought the reactor to a standstill continued for 3 days.
110 firefighters have arrived at the power plant. In many areas, they were forced to break down walls to get closer to the fires. The total damage to the plant amounted to about 1 million Soviet rubles.
The generators, turbines, the transformer, pumps of the mechanical department, and crucial 20-meter cable lines have broken down. But even without all these vital devices, specialists managed to save the nuclear power plant and prevent the explosion of the reactor.
Later, some Russian sources attempted to report the situation the other way around, claiming that during the fire, all the Armenian employees had escaped and that only specialists from the task force from the Kola Peninsula of Russia had been able to save the reactor.
These statements are not true. Russian firefighters, of course, arrived, but later, when it became necessary to investigate the causes of the accident and launch the second reactor.
The media were silent about the incident, and it was kept secret from the general public. This has been the first challenge of its kind for the USSR.
The authorities of the USSR refused to award the firefighters participating in the fire extinguishing with the title of Hero of the USSR. One of the participants and the head of one of the laboratories Vilen Arzumanyan died a few months later from radiation. The same fate awaited the firefighters who found themselves in dangerous areas.
Only after Brezhnev’s death in 1983, 14 firefighters were awarded the “For Courage” medal. 4 more were awarded various other government awards.
And only after the Chernobyl disaster when the authorities finally realized how the accident at the Metsamor nuclear power plant could have ended, the Kremlin decided to award 7 firefighters with the title of Hero of the USSR… But all 7 by that time had died from radiation exposure.
Vahram Tokmajyan, “Union of Informed Citizens”
Taken from Tigran Khzmalyan