In A Nutshell
During the well-documented Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a pool of water used for emergencies in case of a break in the cooling pumps or steam pipes became flooded with a highly radioactive liquid that was in danger of blowing up. The size and specific conditions meant it could have caused virtually the whole of Europe to be enveloped in radiation. Three divers equipped with wetsuits and a faulty lamp dove in to allow the water to drain, with full knowledge they’d die as a result.
The Whole Bushel
Ten days after the initial explosions and resulting disaster, another potential disaster in the making was uncovered among the smouldering debris of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Water that was used to try and fight the flames unsuccessfully had become contaminated and then pooled beneath the reactor core. The reactor had had substances such as clay, sand, and boron dropped onto it by helicopters in an attempt to smother the flames. The resulting mixture was like lava and was slowly burning through the floor. Had it reached the water, the resulting fallout would have turned most of Europe into a nuclear wasteland caused by a mass steam explosion.
The only way to drain this water was by opening the gates. And the only way to do this was if someone dived down into the highly radioactive and contaminated water. Whoever did that would almost certainly die.
Three men volunteered: Valeri Bezpalov and Alexie Ananenko who were engineers from the plant, and Boris Baranov was another plant worker. With full knowledge of the danger and with basic scuba gear and a dodgy lamp, they dived down to find the valve. Despite Boris’ lamp failing while diving down, the trio found the valve to open the gates and swam back up. Twenty-thousand tons of water was drained out, and a report stated that had the dive not taken place to open the gates, a thermonuclear explosion would have occurred as a result.
Valeri and Alexie died two weeks later in a Moscow hospital with Boris succumbing to death not long after. Due to the high radioactivity levels on their bodies, they were buried in lead coffins that were soldered shut.
Their brave actions no doubt saved hundreds of thousands of lives throughout Europe.