Chernobyl TRIAL

After the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl, Ukraine, which occurred on the morning of April 26, 1986, questions were raised as to what the cause of the disaster was. Naturally, the public and the authorities also wanted to know who was responsible for the famous explosion which took the lives of over 4,000 people — a truly incredible and unfortunate number. Of course, at the time of the incident the cause was unknown. Indeed, it could have been a technical error, but of course if this was not the case and it was actually human error, somebody would need to be punished, and the real cause of the incident could be found.

The accident at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl is the only accident in the history of commercial nuclear power to cause fatalities from radiation. From this fact alone, we can deduce that this type of major incident is not a common one.

Aftermath of Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986

After the devastation, it was found that the cause of the accident was indeed contributed to by human error. The plant operators took action in violation of the plant’s technical specifications and regulations.

Aftermath of Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986
Control room #4 after explosion

An experiment was put in place to test the backup power in the event of a power failure. The plant workers ran the plant at very low power (under 700MW), without adequate safety precautions. No anticipation on the effect of the safety of the reactor was present, so the test program was not formally coordinated with either the chief designer of the reactor or the scientific manager. Instead, the director of the plant approved the test, which still was not consistent with established procedures.

The reactors were specified as ‘Bolsho Moshchnosty Kanalny’, meaning ‘High power channel reactors’. These were different from standard commercial designs, and were highly unstable at low power. The core eventually exploded during emergency shutdown of the reactor; therefore it is evident these human-aided factors led to the extremely powerful blast that led to the reactor’s subsequent destruction.

Pripyat town centre now and before

Chernobyl town was the chosen place of trial for workers accused of the Chernobyl accident as according to Soviet law, the trial must be held close to the crime. Chernobyl is just 12km from the nuclear power plant, therefore its citizens were evacuated at the beginning of May 1986. Understandably, entrance to this zone was possible only through special authorization.

Chernobyl was repeatedly decontaminated after the disaster, and later refurbished with new paint laid on renovated paving. By the end of July 1987 the centre was ready to hold the ‘Chernobyl Trial’.

Defendants V. Bryukhanov and N. Fomin during trial in 1986.

60 guests attended the hearing, including soviet and foreign journalists. The remaining seats were taken by Chernobyl NPP (Nuclear Power Plant) personnel, 30km — zone personnel and participants. In total, there were 6 accused, including the director of Chernobyl NPP, the chief engineer and the shift supervisor — all were in a position of high responsibility.

The trial of the Chernobyl disaster began on 07/07/1987 and lasted three weeks. During the proceedings 40 witnesses, 9 complainants and 2 victims were heard. Surprisingly, the media did not release a lot of information on the hearing and instead released information on the weather in Chernobyl.

Yuri Shadrin, the government lawyer, announced that defendants are accused of crime described in the clause 220, part 2, of the Criminal Code of Ukrainian SSR, which implies responsibility for breaking the accident prevention rules in highly explosive plants that led to serious consequences and human sacrifices. Furthermore, accusations were brought on the basis of clauses 165 and 167 of the Criminal Code of Ukrainian SSR, for abuse of power and irresponsibility during course of duty.

At the end of the trial, all 6 of the defendants were sentenced to labour camp terms ranging from 2 to 10 years for violating safety rules and neglecting their duty. The former plant director, Viktor Brukhanov, received the maximum penalty of 10 years. He was found guilty of violation of safety rules and criminal negligence. Former chief engineer Nikolai Fomin, and his deputy, Anatoly Dyatlov, received 10-year sentences for their roles in the accident.

(Front to back) Bryukhanov, Dyatlov and Nikolai Fomin

Boris Rogozhkin, shift chief at the fourth reactor, was given 5 years. The reactor chief engineer, Alexander Kovalenko, received 3 years. Senior engineer Yuri Laushkin served 2 years. Today, Dom Kulturi, the site of the trial, serves as a small art gallery and historical museum, and the makeshift courtroom has returned to its use as an auditorium.