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Extra info for Nuclear Powerplant Generic Ageing Lessons Learned [Appendix B]
The operators thought that ‘no matter what you did with the reactor an explosion was impossible’ (Kovalenko, 1989). There were no RBMK control room simulators for operator training anywhere in the FSU. The kudos attached to nuclear power also affected the attitude of operators in a more subtle way. Operators were selected not only for their technical ability (typically it took a nuclear engineer seven years to get their first degree and four or five more for a PhD, in a highly competitive system), but also for their loyalty to the Party - it was not possible even to enter university without being an unswerving Party member.
The whole core was perhaps within 1 K of boiling, but no boiling was taking place. The operators overrode the many ‘trip’ commands coming from a variety of parts of the plant. Indeed, the whole process of keeping the reactor at power, in order to repeat the experiment if necessary, was not part of the test programme; the test could in fact have been carried out soon after switching the reactor off, using the decay heat of the fuel. Organisational Factors The remarkable actions of the operators - Legasov said they ‘seemed to have lost all sense of danger’ - cannot be explained in terms of ‘error’, but must be seen against the institutional background of the plant’s operation.
The important point is the effect that this had on the local populations. 34 MALCOLM C. GRIMSTON Bhopal At Bhopal, the Indian Government was seen to be underestimating the death toll, not only among humans (see above), but also for example among animals (the official figure of 1 047 being well below that of 2 000 which was estimated by studies ‘on the ground’ (Indian Council of Agricultural Research, 1985)). The controversy over cyanide exacerbated the distrust that local people felt over the accuracy of government information.