When Three Divers Swam Into The Jaws Of Chernobyl

By Will on Sunday, April 13, 2014
old rusty ships
“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” —John Wayne

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.

Show Me The Proof

Friends of Chernobyl’s Children: The Chernobyl Divers
Philly.com: 3 Soviet Workers Dived Into Chernobyl Pool
The Scotsman: Lead coffins and a nation’s thanks for the Chernobyl suicide squad

  • Hillyard

    Wow. To just go and save billions like that, fully knowing that they would die as a result of their bravery, is the mark of true heroes. I’d never heard of these three brave men before but I hope that they have an appropriate memorial for them. As i was stationed here in Germany at the time, their bravery help save my life and the lives of my family. I salute the three of them.

    • DatInDaHat

      e…. never heard of them ? whos “fault” is that

      • http://www.soundcloud.com/electricmle MissAmphetamine

        That’s why we learn new things…

      • Accipiter

        Not necessarily the fault of HIllyard. How many historical events are the majority of people unaware of, simply because they weren’t properly reported on or taught in schools? Lack of knowledge on a particular event or person isn’t necessarily due to willful ignorance.

    • sam

      THEY DID NOT DIE. THIS INFO IS ENTIRELY APOCRYPHAL

  • Hillyard

    Off subject, what’s up with just one Knowledge Nut these days? Shortage of articles in the archives or new policy?

    • Will

      I’m not sure, I think I’ll message Micah

  • patrick weidinger

    Incredible. I read a lot on nuclear incidents and have even written a few lists on the topic but I didn’t know of this heroic example.

    • Will

      I’m glad you learnt something then!

      • TheMadHatter

        More like this please! Great article, great topic!

        • Will

          Thanks, I’ll try my best!

          • lbatfish

            It’s nice to see an author who gives such good follow-through in the comments! 🙂

          • Will

            Thanks, I’ll have to check my list that was published today now!

  • Bagheera

    Those were heroes.

  • Check

    Thanks, Will, for this article. These men NEEDED to be mentioned. They deserve more, but recognition here is enough for us at the moment. Brave men indeed!

    • Will

      No problem, feel free to share it around!

    • Seola

      No they didn’t. Because it didn’t happen that way. If anyone comes on this article in the future, know that this is a fairy tale.

  • Doone00

    Wow, what amazing people!

    • Jack

      Let me search for a fuck to give….

  • lbatfish

    Point of clarification, Will — do you have an unllsted source that says that “a thermonuclear explosion would have occurred as a result”? I checked out the three sources that you provided, but saw only “steam explosion” and “thermal explosion” (meaning that the heat of the nuclear fuel would have built up enough pressure to cause an explosion).

    The dispersal of radioactive material from such an event would indeed have had a horrendous death toll, especially over the long run. But there wouldn’t have been the kind of blast wave that a true thermonuclear detonation would have caused (like at Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

    I’m no physicist, but my understanding of bomb-type nukes is that they need to be PRECISELY designed to achive cirtical mass before the intense heat boils away the nuclear material. It’s not the sort of thing that would occur “naturally” as a result of molten uranium or plutonium forming into a pool.

    • Will

      I’ve had a quick look, but I can’t seem to find it. I swear I saw it somewhere though

      • lbatfish

        I am flattered that you checked, though. 🙂

      • Jack

        You have no friends nobody likes you

        • Azeael

          You have no friends.

  • ReflectionsOfMe

    We are all alive today because of them !

  • Suraj Kumar

    Salute to those divers and thanks to the bloggers to bring this to our knowledge

    • Will

      Thanks man 🙂

  • http://srph.github.io/ srph

    Woah *speechless*

  • Raving Penguins

    that is just incredible, the bravery.

  • http://yourpockets.isr MuhFreedums

    Saviors or Evropa

  • thundercloud47

    One of the first stories that came out of the Chernobyl mess was of the helicopter pilots who had to fly into the radioactive cloud to dump sand and boron into the nuclear fire. I did not hear of the three brave divers until today. I hope that somewhere there is a fitting memorial for these folks because ALL of us, regardless of where we live, owe them a debt of gratitude.

  • TocTeplv .

    No, russians are rapists and killers invading countries.

    • Joshua

      Choke on a bag of dicks, racist punk.

  • Artemisia K

    Scary how many time we have come close to wiping out millions of people and damaging the earth for thousands of years. hose three brave men saved most of Europe, Ukraine and Russia. I lived in Europe until 1983 at which time my family emigrated to the US. There are many nuclear reactors all over the world and nuclear waste buried under ground in containers that are slowly deteriorating and leaking highly nuclear and toxic waste. The Hanford site in Washington State, WA contains 53,000,000. US gallons of highly radio-active waste. Hanford is currently the most contaminated nuclear site in the US.

    Sadly, there has been numbers of secret tests and experiments done that have effected many peoples lives and are covered up until they eventually leak out, at which time it’s too late for the ones effected or dead.

  • frostymarvelous

    Just found about about these three and went searching. Wow.

  • King Gummo

    Total salute to these three brave saviours, and not at all surprising coming from the intrepid Russian spirit.

  • JimboBillyBob Justice

    As an avid gamer…the only thing I can do to honor them at this point is to start naming my characters in games after these these brave men…so if you see one of those names in agame you play…say something …we can hold an honorarium for these MEN

  • Jez Davis

    Undeniably astonishingly brave, but seemingly not dead.

    http://www.techinsider.io/chernobyl-volunteers-divers-nuclear-mission-2016-4

    • Cellhawk

      Up you go.

  • http://batman-news.com CrocodilesPoor
  • LolKittunz

    As so many other people have already said: they did not die. What they did was heroic, but heroes don’t necessarily die horribly.

    It was also the reactor itself that was glowing hot, not the “clay, sand and boron”. The fuel mass was reacting uncontrollably, releasing more and more energy with no means to stop it (that’s why it’s called a “nuclear meltdown” in the first place).

    It was indeed like lava, and in danger of eating through the core containment and dropping into the cooling pools located below it. If you drop something really hot into cool water the result is of course, a steam explosion. It would have spread irradiated water into the atmosphere and into water sources. THIS was the real danger. Not the steam explosion itself (which would have been relatively minor). It was why they had to drain the pools before this happened.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4g401s/iama_fellow_redditor_and_author_of_a_new_book/

  • MrPixeldoc

    You´ve Copied a Wrong article…THEY DIDN´t DIE…better do your work and Inform yourself not Just Copy and paste.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/chernobyl-volunteers-divers-nuclear-mission-2016-4?IR=T

    However research by Andrew Leatherbarrow, author of the 2016 book Chernobyl 01:23:40, determined that the frequently recounted story is a gross exaggeration. Alexei Ananenko continues to work in the nuclear energy industry, and rebuffs the growth of the Chernobyl media sensationalism surrounding him.[92] While Valeri Bezpalov was found to still be alive by Leatherbarrow, the elderly 65 year old Baranov had lived until 2005 and died of heart failure.