28 Newly Translated Documents on Chernobyl, 1973-1991 | Wilson Center

28 Newly Translated Documents on Chernobyl, 1973-1991

Image: A helicopter sprays a decontamination liquid nearby the Chernobyl reactor in 1986. Source: IAEA Imagebank #02790036, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Image: A helicopter sprays a decontamination liquid nearby the Chernobyl reactor in 1986. Source: IAEA Imagebank #02790036, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Nuclear Proliferation International History Project and the Cold War International History Project, both part of the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program, have published new translations of 28 documents about the Chernobyl nuclear accident from the archives of the Ukrainian Security Service, or the Ukrainian KGB.

This collection comes from a group of records which were declassified and shared on the website of the Ukrainian Center for Research on the Liberation Movement’s in 2016 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident. This is the first time the collection has appeared in English translation.

The new accessions include technical memos on the construction and operation of the Chernobyl plant in its early years, immediate post-disaster reports, as well as discussions of societal views of and responses to the 1986 accident.

These records complement 17 records contributed earlier in 2019 by Anna Korolevska of the Archive of the Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum and author Adam Higginbotham.  These materials were introduced by Higginbotham in an essay titled “‘An Explosion Occurred in Power Unit No. 4’”.

A full list of the new translations available on DigitalArchive.WilsonCenter.org is provided below. The archival location data is transliterated from Ukrainian, while titles, locations, and descriptions are transliterated from Russian, the language of the original source material.

April 2nd, 1973 – Memo Report from the Head of the KGB Administration under the Ukr. SSR Council of Ministers for Kiev Oblast, Fesenko, to Comrade Tsybulko V.M., First Secretary of the Kiev Oblast Committee of the CP of Ukraine. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 991, Tom 1)

This document discusses the violation of technical rules of reinforcement and concrete work in the construction of the Chernobyl plant, concluding that these deficiencies will diminish the quality of the energy output.

July 24th, 1973 – Memo Report from Tiutiunnik, Chief of the Kiev-Sviatoshinskii District Department of the KGB Administration, to the Acting Director of the KGB Administration, Comrade G.I. Glushakov. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 991, Tom 1)

The report contains further reports of violations of technical regulations at the Chernobyl NPP.

December 19th, 1978 – Director of the Chernobyl District Department of the Ukr. SSR KGB Klockko, 'Information about Violations in the Construction of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station'. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 991, Tom 1)

The document explains violations of technological norms, labor laws, and assembly work at Chernobyl within one year of its official opening.

September 15th, 1982 – Chair of the Committee of State Security [KGB] of the Ukrainian SSR to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, 'Informational Message for 14 September 1982'. (HDA SBU, Fond 16, Sprava 1097)

This routine KGB report features information about the number of foreigners who visited the Ukrainian SSR, rumors of military training of OUN fighters in Southern England, the suspected murder of a Soviet ship captain in international waters, and an accident at the Chernobyl Unit 1 reactor.

May 20th, 1983 – Colonel A.I. Samoilov, Head of the 3rd Department of the 6th Service of the KGB Administration of the USSR for the City of Moscow, 'Information about Several Problems in the Use of Atomic Energy Stations in the USSR' (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 6)

This document discusses weaknesses in the technical designs of nuclear power plants in the USSR and their potential consequences, concluding that the Leningrad, Kursk, and Chernobyl plants are dangerous.

March 1st, 1984 – Report to M. Z. Banduristiy, the KGB Chief of the Ukrainian SSR in Kiev and the surrounding region on the emergency at the 3rd and 4th units of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 991, Tom 2)

This report discusses to violations of reactor design plans and the disintegration of load-bearing concrete due to extreme temperatures and improper wall insulation.

July 20th, 1984 – Captain A. E. Nikifiorov, Operative Plenipotentiary of Division I, Department 2 of the Sixth Service USSR KGB Administration for Moscow and Moscow Oblast, 'Information about an Interview with Trusted Individual "Zh. V.A."' (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 6)

This document relays a conversation with a specialist in nuclear energy who explains how gaps at the joints of pipes are causing problems in the blocks at both the Chernobyl and Kursk plants.

August 8th, 1984 – Report from Colonel M.A. Turko, Director of the 6th Department of the KGB Administration, to the Director of the Pripyat City Department of the Ukr. SSR KGB Administration for the City of Kiev and Kiev Oblast, Lieutenant Colonel Comrade Iu. V. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 6)

This document summarizes the specialists' report on the lack of reliability of the reactors at Chernobyl, citing that the lack of protective layers and other structural flaws in the reactor that could lead to radioactive contamination and accidents.

April 26th, 1986 – Untitled notice about the categories of the population and body parts most susceptible to radiation. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

This document discusses how radioactivity is measured, radiation safety norms and categories, and the permissible dose of radiation for different groups (i.e., accident responders, plant personnel, local residents).

April 27th, 1986 – Untitled notice on levels of radiation in Chernobyl NPP and steps taken in response. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

This notice relays the level of radiation in the affected area and the measures undertaken for planned evacuations.

April 27th, 1986 – Notice from the Operative Plenipotentiary of the 2nd Division of the 6th Administration of the Ukr. SSR KGB. (HDA SBU, Fond 65, Sprava 1, Tom 34)

This document refers to the detention of a civilian vehicle which exceeded the level of radiation permitted by the decontamination project of the Institute for Nuclear Research, USSR Academy of Sciences.

April 30th, 1986 – Deputy Head of the 6th Department of the KGB Administration Lieut. Col. Aksenov, 'Notice of Emergency Incident' (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

This document relays data received from chemical protection troops on radioactivity levels in Pripyat.

May 1986 – Background Radiation in the Institute of Atomic Research of the Ukr. SSR Academy of Sciences (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

The paper shows a graph of background radiation levels from April 30th-May 2nd, 1986 within the IAR in Kiev.

May 2nd, 1986 – Deputy Head of the 6th Department of the KGB Administration Lieut. Col. Aksenov, 'Notice of Emergency Incident' (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 34)

The document describes levels of radiation in the immediate area, populations which may have been affected, and steps which have been taken in the days following the incident.

May 3rd, 1986 – Deputy Head of the 6th Department of the KGB Administration Lieut. Col. Aksenov, 'Notice of Emergency Incident' (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

This notice explains how the effects of the accident are being localized, levels of lead deposits in the area, and the evacuation of collective farms and the city of Chernobyl.

May 7th, 1986 – Minutes of Meeting of the Operative Group of the Kiev Party City Committee Office, 7 May 1986. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 32)

These meeting minutes detail the various forms of protection against radiation undertaken in and around the city of Kiev following the Chernobyl disaster.

May 8th, 1986 – Notice: Information from Places of Evacuation. (HDA SBU, Fond. 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

Two weeks after the accident, an unnamed KGB officer from the Ukrainian SSR reports on the situation in evacuation sites, the sentiment of local people, the situation in transportation hubs and at key industrial facilities in Kiev, as well as about the measures taken to prevent foreign journalists from gathering information about the case.

May 12th, 1986 – Untitled notice on public attitudes toward the Chernobyl accident (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

This document lists public responses to Chernobyl, citing a Ukrainian professor who attributed the accident to a Russian desire to exterminate Ukrainians, former members of underground Ukrainian Nationalist movements (OUN) expressing sympathy to those affected, and how several truck drivers refused to drive in area of the plant, choosing to quit their jobs instead.

May 1986 – Radiation Conditions in Kiev, Borodianka, Polesskoe, and Ivankov. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

This undated report shows levels of radioactivity of air and water in Kiev, Borodyanka, Polyesskoe, and Ivankov.

July 3rd, 1986 – Gordienko, 'Notice on "OS" [Environmental Conditions]'. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, Tom 29)

This note describes the levels of radiation around the reactor, decontamination techniques, the number of troops involved in the cleanup process.

July 8th, 1986 – Inventory of Information Subject to Classification on Issues related to the Accident in Block # 4 of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station (ChAES). (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, T 33)

The document lists the extent to which various information related to Chernobyl which should be classified, and for what reasons certain items may be shared.

August 1986 – Lieutenant-General S. N. Mukha to Army General V. M. Chebrikov, 'On Inadequacies in the Organization of the Use of Military Personnel involved in the Elimination of the Consequences of the Accident at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station'. (HDA SBU, Fond 65, Sprava 1, Tom 37)

A report on how military personnel involved in the response to the Chernobyl accident are being improperly managed at the site, leading to inefficiencies in the cleanup process.

August 15th, 1986 – Report Memo from S. Mukha to Comrade A.P. Liashko, 'On the Reliability of Measures taken for Dosimetric Inspection of Contaminated Environment and Food Products'. (HDA SBU, Fond 31, Sprava 1)

The document refers to the multifaceted work of ministries and departments of the USSR in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident and recommends numerous new to reduce contamination in the environment, food, and water.

August 30th, 1986 – Order from the Chair of the Committee of State Security [KGB] of the USSR, 'On Measures to Strengthen the Counter-Intelligence Work at Atomic Energy Units in connection with the Accident at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station' (HDA SBU, Fond. 9, Sprava 34)

The Chairman lists a series of directives and responses to the Chernobyl incident, addressed to different levels of KGB cadre, discussing ways to strengthen standards at nuclear power facilities, calling for increased responsibility for the failure of local KGB staff to inform the central command on plant issues, recommending that specialists be pulled in to ensure the safety of nuclear facilities going forward, and implementing more intense oversight at all nuclear plants and scientific research facilities to ensure that issues which may lead to accidents are known.

September 30th, 1986 – Order of the Committee of State Security [KGB] of the USSR. (HDA SBU, Fond 9, Sprava 73)

These documents contain information regarding acceptable levels of radiation on individuals, in foods, as well as on roads, clothing, and equipment.

February 3rd, 1987 – Intelligence Message on the Chernobyl Accident. (HDA SBU, Fond 11, Sprava 992, tom 30)

This translation of a French brochure about the nuclear accident at Chernobyl was provided by an undercover KGB agent. The brochure discusses the reasons for the accident and compares Chernobyl and Soviet-style plants to those in the West, concluding that the French and American reactors possess superior safety standards.

January 22nd, 1991 – Commission on Questions of the Chernobyl Catastrophe, Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR, 'On Some Problems in the Elimination of the Consequences of the Accident at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station'. (HDA SBU, Fond 16, Sprava 1028)

This report explains ecological and security problems which arose several years later as a result of the Chernobyl accident, as well as areas for improvement in control of the reactor site and medical testing of the local population. Importantly, it also acknowledges that the potential impact zone includes approximately 4.5 million residents of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, which was, at that time, not widely known.

Rose Hinman was a staff intern in the History and Public Policy Program at the Wilson Center in summer 2019. She is currently pursuing an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree in Central and Eastern European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies based at the University of Glasgow and holds a BA in Russian Language and Culture from Columbia University in the City of New York.
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