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010.mp3 ( Firefox users, please download the audio file )

Seconds from Disaster: Meltdown in Chernobyl

In the Ukraine, thousands still suffer the debilitating effects of radiation released nearly 30 years ago in a nuclear plant meltdown. See how events spiraled out of control when a safety test went horribly wrong.

12:05 a.m. Preparations for the test begin. Leonid gradually reduces power. For the next 20 minutes, everything goes as planned. But just 3 minutes later ???

For some reason, power levels in the reactor plummet. This isn't part of the drill. And Leonid needs to get the power level back up again. To his relief, he fixes the problem.

By one o'clock in the morning, Leonid thinks the reactor is stable. So the preparations proceed. 3 minutes later, Boris who controls the pumps takes his turn. He switches on 2 auxiliary water pumps. But they force water into the reactor too quickly. This means that not enough water can be turned into steam to drive the turbines. They're out of balance.

1:19. Leonid thinks he can help by increasing power in the reactor's core. It works. The reactor gets harder creating more steam to drive the turbines. Leonid and Boris think they have the situation under control. So again, they continue with the test preparations. What they don't know is that the core's heating up to dangerous levels.

In the turbine hall, Yurikanev gets a phone call. Someone in the control room tells him that preparations are complete, and the tests are about to start. To the crew on the night shift, everything at Chernobyl appears to be normal.

1:23. An operator shuts down the turbines as planned. This is the start of the test they've been preparing for since the beginning of the shift. But just as Leonid  monitors the reactor, he sees its temperature begins to soar. Pressure in the reactor is . Warning alarms blare through the control room.  Leonid and Boris know they have a serious problem. But they don't know that they're only moments away from a full-blown nuclear catastrophe.

 
 
debilitating   to make someone or something physically weak
     
auxiliary   giving help or support, especially to a more important person or thing
     
full-blown   fully developed
 
 
 
 
 

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