Sunday, May 8, 2022

The man who challenged the Soviet Union to save the world

Valeriy Legasov was a Soviet chemist and member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Born in Tula in 1936, he graduated in 1961 from the Mendeleev Institute of Chemistry and Technology in Moscow, in the department of physical-chemical engineering; The following year he entered the graduate school of molecular physics of the Kurchatov Institute for Atomic Energy, where he became deputy director in 1983.

On April 26, 1986, at 1:23 a.m. in the nuclear power plantV.I.Lenin, located 3 km from the city of Pryp'jat, there was the explosion of the core of the reactor n.4, an event that went down in history as the Chernobyl disaster. Legasov became a member of the Soviet government’s commission to investigate the causes of the disaster.

He was one of the first to intervene after the emergency call and was the only scientist to work on the spot in the days immediately after the accident. By inspecting the exploded block, he was able to understand the real situation he was facing.

The explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, and the related fire, had released an enormous amount of radioactive isotopes into the air. The initial priority was to put out the fire using a mixture of boron, clay and lead substances. About five thousand tons of material were poured in before it could be extinguished.

Legasov informed the government of the situation and pressed for the evacuation of the entire city of Pryp'jat. On the other hand, the Soviet executive tried in every way not to leak news about the extent of the incident, neither at home nor, let alone, in the West.

In 1986, Legasov presented a report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). During the congress he spoke for more than five hours, reporting a detailed analysis of the disaster that helped appease the international community but angered his Soviet colleagues.

The official version of the USSR was based on human error, but later it emerged that the government was already aware of the malfunction of the plant. Legasov’s continued insistence on revealing the truth ended up negatively affecting his career first, then his health.

His condition had become precarious due to excessive exposure to radiation, absorbed while working close to the exploded reactor. He recorded a series of tapes as a sort of memorial where he expressed his views on the events in Chernobyl.

Exactly two years after the explosion, on April 26, 1988, Valerii Legasov committed suicide. After the suicide, the tapes he recorded were circulated among the scientific community and officials of the Soviets recognized the design flaws of the RBMK nuclear reactor that were later reconfigured.

Only in 1996, on the occasion of the first decade of the tragedy, the then President of Russia Boris Yeltsin conferred the title of Hero of the Russian Federation on Legasov for the courage and heroism shown in his investigation of the disaster. Show less


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