The silence about Chernobyl was a huge mistake, recalls Dana Drábová

Do you still remember what you did on that fateful April 26, 1986?
I really don’t remember that. I was at work, at the Radiation Hygiene Center of the Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, today’s State Institute of Public Health.

How and when did you find out about the events in Chernobyl?
About two days later, on April 28 or 29. Although the then regime tried to cover it up, a large part of the territory of Czechoslovakia was covered by the broadcast of the Voice of America and Free Europe. So around 28 April, a lot of people knew that something had happened in Ukraine. Two days later, the increased radiation values ​​were measured in our country as well.

So not much information was received from ordinary people from official positions, how did the experts react to the whole event? Did you take any measurements, for example, on your own T-shirt?
It was not on my own T-shirt, we measured on the instructions of the government emergency commission and the chief hygienist. It was not that the regime did not pay attention to the whole event at all and did nothing at all. He didn’t report it, which was a huge mistake. But since the arrival of the Chernobyl radionuclides, hundreds and thousands of measurements have been made, which I can say because I’ve been there. As experts, we really had a lot of information about the situation in Czechoslovakia.

It is common knowledge that after the accident, a radioactive cloud was released into the atmosphere, advancing over Ukraine, part of the Soviet Union, Scandinavia, parts of Central Europe. And also over Czechoslovakia. Is it possible to say whether some areas of Czechoslovakia were affected more than others?
That can be said. But I must emphasize at the outset that even though the drop after the Chernobyl accident in some areas of our country was higher, it was still not high enough to endanger people. It was therefore a belt that stretches from Opava through Vlašim and Benešov to Šumava. And it is followed by the exact same belt on the Bavarian side. There, however, the values ​​after Chernobyl were significantly higher and are still measurable there.

The Chernobyl disaster was discussed in the Chernobyl miniseries, which was broadcast in 2019. What is your opinion of him as an expert?
This series is great. Although not a document, it contains very good information about how Chernobyl was, it is based on the stories of the people who were there.

The Chernobyl disaster can also be described as a combination of human failure and a not-so-perfect reactor. You yourself mentioned in one of the interviews that the Chernobyl reactor was structurally weak. Are the same reactors still used somewhere? And do you think they could have a similar accident?
In the Russian Federation, somewhere between five and ten RBMK reactors are now in operation. Russia is gradually shutting down and replacing them with more modern reactors. But from the fact that in the 35 years of their operation after the Chernobyl accident, nothing serious has happened except for one minor incident on Sosnovy Bor near Leningrad, we can conclude that if this reactor is treated with respect and understanding of how it works, it can work safely. .

Is it easy to explain how the reactors used in Dukovany and Temelín differ from the problematic RBMK?
Our pressurized water reactors do not contain graphite as a moderator. They are cooled and moderated by water. And that is the fundamental difference. At the moment when the water evaporates and bubbles form in the refrigerant, at the same time the moderator decreases and the fission reaction tends to stop on its own. Whereas in the Chernobyl reactor, when bubbles began to form in the coolant, the graphite moderator accelerated the fission reaction. Another fundamental difference is the barriers that prevent radiation leakage in the event of an unpleasant event. In pressurized water reactors, radiation leakage into the environment is very unlikely to occur because they have a very robust barrier around the reactor vessel and the primary circuit. And they have a number of other barriers that prevent radiation leakage in the event that something starts to happen to the fuel, which we can never rule out. All this is missing in RBMK reactors.

Now the fourth destroyed block of the Chernobyl power plant is covered by a new sarcophagus. It is said to last a hundred years. Is the security sufficient to prevent further leakage?
For the moment and for the fourth crashed block, the sarcophagus is. But let us not forget that there are three more blocks in Chernobyl that are gradually being dismantled and liquidated. And in a while, the fourth block will be reached.

Chernobyl is already a historical event, but the issue of nuclear energy is currently moving the Czech Republic and most in connection with the completion of Dukovany. You have previously stated that, from a geopolitical point of view, you do not consider the Russian Rosatom to be a suitable partner for the completion. Now he has dropped out of the tender, do you agree with this decision?
My opinion is valid and I agree.

Even at the time when Rosatom was considered one of the possible partners, there were voices from critics who claimed that the limit of the required reactor up to 1,200 megawatts was directly recording Russia. Now that Rosatom has dropped out, can’t the whole selection process be lengthened and complicated?
She’s mainly a bit of mythology, because we really have the limit of 1200 megawatts and less. I do not find the fact that the limit of up to 1200 megawatts is tailor-made for Russia to be a reasonable argument. At least one other potential supplier has a 1000 megawatt reactor. And all tenderers showed interest in meeting its conditions.

Minister Karel Havlíček (for YES) mentioned that after the removal of Rosatom from the tender, the price of the completion of Dukovany could increase. Aren’t you afraid of something like that?
This is divination from coffee grounds. I’m not afraid, because I can’t guess something like that, and neither can the Minister. It is based on the general principles of economics that the more participants are in competition, the better the conditions are, but even for this complex investment, even this rule may not apply. In addition, something like this is always more expensive. The point is for the investor to be able to make sure that everything is as expensive as possible. None of the suppliers can arrange for the offer price to correspond to the final realization price. He who thinks the opposite has never built anything.

In the context of the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster and the debate on the future of nuclear energy, it can be said that there are still some people who are concerned about the nucleus. Is the tender for the completion of Dukovan set so that the safety of the new reactor is at the best possible level?
Yes, the requirements are set so that the supplier has to meet the current best world standards in this area.


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