Yevgeny Ilyich Mikerin (born 1928)
INTERVIEW - Dec 6 2014
Yevgeny Mikerin [sometimes "Evgeny Ilyich Mikerin"], "father of Vadim Mikerin, a representative of Techsnabexport who was arrested in the US, recalls his participation in the Soviet atomic project."
The following was translated in July 29 2019, with the help of https://translate.google.com/ .
Evgeny Ilyich, tell us how it all began?
In 1951 I graduated from the Moscow Institute of Fine Chemical Technology, I was sent to Glazov for three months at the Chepetsky Mechanical Plant. Probably, this time was needed for the paperwork, so that I could work in the First Head Office.
Chain of secrecy?
You can say so ... They called the personnel department and offered to go to Chelyabinsk-40. I refused. I enjoyed working in Glazov. There was a laboratory there, and I already had time to do something about uranium ... My interlocutor in the personnel department smiled hardly noticeably, and then showed the sheets of the document with the cap "Council of Ministers of the USSR". Showed the place where my name was (there were many others in the list) and the signature: “I. Stalin. " I had no doubts, no questions left. It is necessary - it means it is necessary.
Thus, the majority of specialists went to the "Base 10" (as in those years was called Chelyabinsk-40, and then - the plant "Mayak")?
No one refused. At least, I don’t know people who were able to say no after such a signature.
And how did you meet “Base 10”?
A tiny bus from Kyshtym station brought me to the “Far Dacha”, in which I lived for two weeks while my documents were being sent. Then it was a hut for those who went to work at a very secret Object ... The documents finally arrived, and the same bus took me to the DOCK (wood-finishing plant). There were barracks too. They put me in a room, ordered me to wait for a guide who was supposed to take me to my place of work. I arrived in the morning, and the guide appeared only in the evening. He brought me to the city in a hostel, where they showed me the room in which I was supposed to live. It was on Stalin Avenue. The dormitory was later rebuilt, adapted for a hotel. If you happen to be in Ozersk, then this is house 19. There was a personnel department next door, and the State Security Committee was closer to the lake through two houses. It was thanks to his staff that the journey to the place of work took quite a long time. I started working at the “25th plant”.
What is this plant? Does it exist today?
Yes, only now it is a factory of the Republic of Tatarstan, and earlier in closed literature it was called “factory B. This is the first radiochemical plant in the country, it was built and put into operation in 1948, in March 49th, it began to produce the first plutonium. A bomb was tested in August 1949.
As far as we know, it was the dirtiest enterprise in Chelyabinsk-40.
- So “dirty” that it was even supposed to close the enterprise. Having studied all the "weak points", they wanted to build a new plant. However, plans have changed: the government decided to reconstruct the plant and dramatically increase plutonium production. In addition to the first reactor “A”, new ones began to appear - “AV-1”, “AV-2”, “AV-3” ... So the political situation developed - the “cold war” began, and therefore it was necessary not only to deprive the Americans of the monopoly, but also to show that we have enough nuclear weapons to ensure our security. In general, the thesis “to catch up and overtake America” concerned not only milk and meat, but also atomic bombs. Major events unfolded just in Chelyabinsk-40. For us, this meant one thing: to fulfill the plan at all costs and at the same time to carry out reconstruction to switch to a new, more efficient technology for producing plutonium, which was developed in Leningrad at the Khlopin Radium Institute. We had to go on the move to remove all unnecessary and dangerous. For example, the same filters, in which radioactivity was terrible - residual plutonium and uranium accumulated there. They had to be removed. By the way, because of this, in many respects a new technology was created.
“Did you get huge doses there ?!”
- We worked at the rate of one x-ray per day. I use the old terminology - it is more understandable and familiar than the current one. For the shift - X-ray, and no more! These were the rules and "combat" rules. In general, as in war. Nuclear, of course ... If you get more x-rays, it means that you violated the rules of radiation safety. Once he broke - a warning, another time - one more, and then the prizes were deprived ... But how not to break if almost every day something happened?
- Simple arithmetic: 150 working days and radiation sickness guaranteed?
- I guess, yes. True, radiation - not always. Even operators who did not take part in the liquidation of accidents, so to say, “in a calm atmosphere” received 0.6–0.8 X-rays per shift. Well, if there was a spill of a product, then there was no time for calculating the doses received - the main thing is to eliminate the accident at any cost.
- And the protection?
- Rubber boots and gloves. Fortunately, then Petryanov's filters appeared, they protected the airways. And even before the gauze bandages lacked ...
- Sorry for being frank: how are you still alive? After all, you already - 84 ...
- Officially, I have 283 X-rays. At least as much again I received
A lethal dose - 400 x-ray?
- Well yes. If you get it right away ... Yes, I'm alive. But my colleagues, with whom I began to work, and almost all those who came to replace me, have long gone ... Plant “B” produced not only plutonium and uranium, but also professional diseases.
In the radiochemical, reactor and metallurgical plants, several thousand professional patients appeared. Half of them did not live up to retirement, they no longer needed it. The X-rays that workers received forced medical workers to remove workers from the main workshops in a year or two. I worked there for three and a half years. There was no one to replace. Constantly there was not enough personnel, because they were constantly replacing everyone. Technicians, operators, equipment, repairmen, electricians, all had to be brought to the “clean zone”.
Once I was informed that a group of young technicians was sent to us. They had to accept and distribute to jobs. I came to the office, and there I see the frightened eyes of two dozen girls. They were 18 years old. All dressed in worn coveralls are not for height. And I thought: What have we reached, if these girls are sent here? Until now, I have met some of them, and it is hard for me to look them in the eyes ... But I had to accept them, arrange them in shifts, in workplaces — I had no other choice then ...
As for me, my age, I can explain everything that happens only by the will of the Most High. As a joke, I say this: the 600 x-rays I received burned out all the harmful bacteria and microbes that were inside me. This made it possible to live to this day.
- And how did you encounter the first accident at the factory?
- I would call it “accidents”. Accident is when the whole plant is involved, commissions are created and so on. And technological accidents happened all the time. A female operator, for example, overlooked it - the solution overflowed the column and poured out. It spread throughout the premises. Radioactivity is awesome.
“And what happened to that woman?”
- She was tried. A criminal case was initiated against her ... Such were the times ...
- Is it true that academician Petryanov, seeing the girls in your factory, immediately invented special filters to protect their breathing?
- True. Moreover, the academician insisted that the girls should not be sent to the radiochemical plant. However, he was not listened to. And how else: after the war, the first issues of chemical faculties of universities and colleges consisted only of girls. There were no men. They took the war. When I arrived at the factory, I saw that all five shift supervisors were women. We gradually began to replace them.
- And how did your meeting with Beria happen?
- He came across quite often. Once, it was the 52nd year, and I was already working as a shift supervisor, and it lasted from 8 pm and until 2 am — they called me and said that there would be distinguished guests in the workshop, and therefore I should be at such and such a mark to wait. They will pass by, do not ask them about anything, and if they ask questions, they will answer. They walked along the 10th mark of the main workshop. There was unloading of irradiated fuel and the primary dissolution of uranium blocks. Three people are coming. The new director of the radiochemical plant Demyanovich. A very large man, tough, sometimes even merciless. He did not know the technology well, but he was appointed to restore order at the plant, which he did quite successfully. Someone from the bosses of the First Main Directorate was walking, and in the middle was a little man in a cap and pince-nez. There was a guard behind. I recognized Beria, said hello. He introduced himself, as was the case at the defense enterprise, they say, the shift supervisor, we carry out the task according to the plan, there are no comments on the work of the personnel. Suddenly, Beria said that he was explained in a nearby shop that such and such a product goes there, then another product goes to some banks and columns, and the next product is transferred to this shop. And he says: "Can you not explain to me in a worker-peasant manner what is being done here and how everything is happening." I explained to him. My story took only a few minutes. I did not use special terms, and plutonium called plutonium, uranium - uranium, which of course was absolutely forbidden to do then. We used the “bird language”, which, by the way, was very difficult for the work, since it was really not always possible to understand what was going on. Beria says: “I meet the first person who explained everything clearly and precisely how this process is carried out. Thank you! ”He shook my hand and went on.
Two days later I was called to the "31st house", where the security service was located. The boss himself began to talk to me. At first he thanked, they say, Beria was satisfied with my report, and then gave a uniform interrogation. Firstly, how do I know the process technology in other workshops so well? I replied that even though I am a young engineer, I must know this, otherwise I will not be able to work well. It is simply impossible to “pull out” some area from the process. This explanation seems to satisfy him. Well, the second question was unexpected. He asked: "Why did you break secrecy, and the products were called by their proper names?" He didn’t say either “plutonium”, “nor uranium
- 1957 Power reactors are already working ...
- And just one radiochemical plant.
- But the second is already under construction ...
- Yes, it will be launched in the 59th. Later than planned. The delay happened due to an accident. It should be remembered that in the year 57, radiochemistry was only at Mayak. In Siberia, similar production appeared later, while there was only one factory. Reactors produced plutonium much more than our factory could recycle. In 1952 there was a task to develop a new plant. In the 55th started its construction. In the 53rd, I got a chronic radiation sickness, I had to leave, but I stayed in the factory - there was simply no one to replace. When the construction of a new enterprise began, I was transferred there. The accident of the 57th year I met there. We were preparing to put the first string in the factory. It was a long, five-hundred-meter-long building, in which the full automation of processes was carried out. There were two tasks: first, to dramatically increase the plant's productivity, and, secondly, to ensure the safety of personnel. These tasks were implemented at the design and construction stage.
One day, September 29, 1957, on Sunday, suddenly everyone heard a powerful pop. A few minutes later my bell rang. The duty officer says that I need to go to the factory. We arrived. Not a single person was already on the site. Builders and installers rapidly left her. Littered suits, pants, shoes. It turns out that they received orders to throw off all unnecessary and run towards the high road. There were no other teams. From the site of the explosion, a new plant was located 500 meters away, and a black cloud covered it. We were bombarded with radioactive ash, earth, pieces of concrete and iron. We were five people that evening at the factory. Radiation situation did not know. Finally, dosimetrists appeared. The background was huge, and we realized that the situation was extremely difficult.
- Covered and the city?
- Fortunately, no. The ejection was set aside, only by a small corner of the KP-2, which came from Sverdlovsk, and the new quarters of the city. All the rest of the pollution came from the equipment and clothing of people who came from the industrial site.
- Is it true that in the first hours there was talk of shutting down the production and evacuation of the entire city?
- Such a proposal arose in the morning of September 30, until all the consequences of the accident were known. At that time, they did not have control over the situation and did not really understand what was going on. On Sunday evening, a working committee was already established. It was headed by Nikolai Nikolaevich Semenov (at that time he was deputy chief engineer, then he became director of the plant). We spent the whole day measuring in different directions. We built a new factory in a clean place, and by the evening of September 29 it turned out to be one of the most polluted.
Doctors spoke in favor of closing the city and the enterprise as a whole. I can immediately say that their proposal was not even discussed. Everyone understood that this was impossible - the country would have remained without nuclear weapons. All the directors of the factories were unanimous: we can do it on our own.
It was the first major accident. Pripyat and Chernobyl happened much later. By the way, I think that the zone, of course, is needed at Chernobyl, but the city of Pripyat could have been completely cleaned and saved. Had started decontamination work from the very beginning, but first - to make such a decision. As it was done in the year 57 in Ozersk. Then the work was planned clearly, and therefore it was possible to secure the territory in a fairly short time. But that's my personal opinion.
- Why is this experience not used in Chernobyl?
- In coordination with Moscow, or even as directed, from there all the work was done under the heading "owls." secret. " We gave a non-disclosure subscription, strangers were not involved in the works on the territory of the plant. Until the end of the 80s the secrecy was not filmed, he acted. This did not allow to fully use the experience of liquidation of the accident at “Mayak” in Chernobyl.
- After “Mayak” there was another, no less legendary Object - I mean “Krasnoyarsk-26”.
- The number of reactors and radiochemical plants was calculated in such a way as to produce a sufficient amount of nuclear ammunition. From this point of view, the appearance of the complex near Krasnoyarsk is justified. However, no documents about who had the idea to climb the mountain, did not survive. It can be assumed why it was decided to create everything underground. It was already known by the example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how great is the power of atomic weapons. That is what determined the fate of the project. It was necessary to build a plant that would be protected from a direct nuclear strike. A great impression was made on the leadership, in particular, on Beria, the underground factories of the FAA missiles in Germany. In the spurs of the Sayan Mountains in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, the site for such an unusual construction was chosen.
I got there in 1965, having already worked for four years as a chief engineer at a plant in Chelyabinsk-40 and, as an ideologue of this reconstruction, being awarded the Order of Lenin. It was then that they decided to transfer me to Krasnoyarsk. We went down with the director of the plant Meshkov for the first time into the mine. Water, trucks with rock scurry back and forth, wires hang. It was December. Workers go underground in boots. Cold, damp, gloomy ... In general, the usual picture of the mine for that time. Three reactors were operating there - an underground nuclear power plant. And what is typical for nuclear scientists? Clean and tidy facility. So we began gradually to turn the mine into a unique structure, which was not equal in the world ... But it was not possible to fully realize my ideas, because later Meshkov was recalled to Moscow and appointed head of department, and I changed him as director. And then I began to engage in not only the mine, but also the city. It turned out the most beautiful of all ten closed cities of Sredmash. This is a common opinion.
Krasnoyarsk-26 is a unique structure. Once the minister, Efim Pavlovich Slavsky, having examined everything, said: “as a metro, even better than the Moscow metro!” Of course, he was somewhat exaggerated, nevertheless the comparison has a right to exist. It was not only interesting to work, but also pleasant ...
“But now everything that was done underground turned out to be unnecessary?”
- In the nuclear industry there is always a problem: what then when the object stops working? In Zheleznogorsk, this is the “Mountain” problem, as the mines later began to be called. In scale, the Mountain was larger than the Moscow metro at that time. It requires constant maintenance - pumping water, ventilation. Necessary lighting. And so on. Three reactors stopped. Dismantled all that is possible. The rest of the equipment needs to be buried. A sort of sarcophagus will be made.
- How to use the workings? Or "Mountain" will die?
- There are two workings empty. The other plants in radiochemical plants have four threads each, and there are only two. There are huge workings. The miners say that in the world no one has made such workings. It is 60 meters high and 500 meters long. Imagine ?! Mine workings have one feature. She even looks fantastic. Production is compressed. The breed tries to eliminate its wound. Collapse should be prevented.
- And now what to do in "Mountain"?
- Maybe a museum? There is such a proposal ... Now there is placed the production of MOX-fuel, which is necessary for fast neutron reactors. But you need to think about using the “Mountain” - you need fresh ideas and projects.
- Such a department as the Soviet Sredmash need modern Russia?
- In a market economy, such a powerful department cannot be created. Sredmash fulfilled its role by implementing the "Atomic Project of the USSR". It seems to me that he, together with the Soviet Union, is in the past. Nowadays, the development of nuclear energy in Russia is called by some “the Nuclear Project No. 2”. It is not right. After the war, the “Atomic Project” was implemented by the whole country. Yes, poor, yes, bloodless, but mighty with her people ...
The `Master' of the Secret Cities;
Chief of the Minatom of Russia Main Scientific-Technological Administration on the Fate of Plutonium, Weapons Uranium, and on the Future of Closed Nuclear Centers
Interview with Yevgeniy Mikerin, chief of the Minatom [Ministry of Atomic Energy] Main Scientific-Technological Administration, conducted by Vladimir Gubarev
It would seem, the times of secrecy have passed. Previously, the cities, nuclear enterprises, and glavks [main administrations] of the Ministry of Medium-Scale Machine Building were designated only by numbers, which meant little to the outsider. Now all of them have received sonorous names, and finally we have learned that "medium-scale machine building" is none other than the nuclear industry, that the city of Chelyabinsk-40 is the "Mayka" combine, and that Krasnoyarsk-26 and Tomsk-7 are large reactor and radiochemical enterprises. And finally, that "Glavk Mikerina" [Mikerin's main administration] is a scientific-technological administration... And so, what has changed? Why, in fact nothing! The true secrets remain secrets. The closed thematics are still closed, and the tenth floor of the famous nuclear department on Bolshaya Ordynka is still inaccessible to outsiders. And I believe that this is for the better, because we should not share true secrets. They have been, are and always will be the property of the Homeland, because the people have invested not only huge material wealth in them, but also intellectual. To give them away for "the pittance of a few dollars" would be a crime (unfortunately, we are often seeing this today). And I am heartened by the fact that there are people who understand perfectly well that the numerous visits to our country by foreign colleagues have primarily one goal: To find out how things are going at our nuclear enterprises, to see with their own eyes the original technical resolutions, of which we have many. Today it is a recognized fact throughout the world, including also by USA specialists, that in very many parameters our nuclear industry surpasses the American, and that our radiochemical combines are much more effective and safe. I repeat: This is not our conclusion, but that of the Americans. And therefore, they are ready to engage in the broadest cooperation with Russia in this field. Well, of course, with benefit for themselves.
Yevgeniy Ilyich Mikerin heads up the ministry's main administration, which oversees and, as they say, "treats," half of the closed nuclear cities of Russia. All except those where nuclear weapons are developed and where they are series manufactured. And therefore, our conversation with Yevgeniy Ilyich began with my saying:
Correspondent: You are perhaps the most mighty man in Russia. After all, without you it would be impossible to develop nuclear weapons. Without you, the nuclear power plants could not operate...
Mikerin: Our main concern today is disarmament.
Mikerin: The main difficulties of disarmament fall not on those enterprises which developed and manufactured the components of nuclear weapons. These problems are associated not so much with the dismantling of the weapons themselves, as with the application of that which we obtain after this. And primarily those fissionable materials which had been produced for decades. And now we must remove them from the weapons and ensure their storage in a very skilled manner, or rather--not so much their storage as their application for the needs of man. And once again, the entire weight falls on those enterprises where the people, with the sweat of their brow and without a thought for their own lives, worked day and night to fulfill the state plans, the very large-scale, intensive and expensive plans for creation of the components of nuclear weapons. Now these same people are engaged in dismantling, and do not know what to do with what they get. Not in the sense of how to store it, but rather of how to utilize it for the current economy. And this is already a tragedy.
Correspondent: Let us assume, we have a nuclear warhead. What percentage of its parts and components can be utilized today?
Mikerin: In principle, it can all be used for developing a new nuclear weapon, but that is not the task of the present day. After all, we are sharply reducing the number of warheads. Therefore, we must think about where to send the materials after dismantling, so as to make use of them. The fissionable materials, and this is highly enriched uranium and plutonium, are suitable in one way or another for use in nuclear power production as fuel. This concerns primarily uranium. In a nuclear weapon, we use highly enriched uranium, with concentration of over 90 percent. Naturally, by diluting it, for example, with natural uranium, we can make it of low concentration. This is approximately the same as processing a certain amount of butter back into milk. Moreover, our reserves of this "milk" are quite sufficient... Please excuse such a household comparison, but it reflects the real state of affairs... Let us take the initial state, from which at one time and at great expenditure, both material and intellectual, we obtained highly enriched uranium. And now, during the reverse process, the losses of such a colossal labor are inevitable, labor which went for obtaining the conditioned uranium-235 by isotopes. Now we are de-concentrating it, turning it into low concentration... But this is also expensive! And not less expensive, but even more so. Plus, there are the losses of labor, resources and intellect. And it is specifically the "intellect" which is the saddest of all, because to make "butter" of such high condition was extraordinarily difficult.
Correspondent: And what about the plutonium?
Mikerin: With this, of course, the situation is even worse. Unfortunately, neither domestic nor world industry today are ready to utilize this material as fuel for nuclear power plants. It is necessary to conduct extensive scientific studies and bench testing of the heat-emitting assemblies, to develop regimens of operation of the active zone of the reactors. With plutonium we are still at the initial stages. It is true, in Europe a mixed uranium-plutonium fuel is rather widely used, but we are speaking here about plutonium which is obtained in commercial nuclear reactors and is isolated during the processing of fuel. Its isotope composition is entirely different as compared with our weapons plutonium--no one has ever really worked with it yet. First of all, no one has had any of it and, secondly, the thinking was oriented only toward using it in weapons. Therefore, this is a new direction of activity for scientists, designers and reactor builders. I believe that weapons plutonium will have to lie around, be stored, for about 10 or 15 years. And the main task is its protection, both from the standpoint of its radiation safety, and from the standpoint of its non-distribution. After all, this is a very "powerful" material from the standpoint of its power resource, and it has a low critical mass. Therefore, any actions--even accidental ones--by which this critical mass may be realized are not permissible. We need methods of separating this material, placing it in special containers which would prevent the possibility of occurrence of a chain reaction and, of course, special monitoring of its storage. Specifically, a large amount of thermal energy is emitted, and it must be released. And insufficient air tightness of the container in which it is placed may lead to the formation of various oxide compounds, and so forth, which is very dangerous. Therefore, there are special means of storage, special tare, containers and equipment for storing plutonium. Naturally, all of this is very expensive.
Correspondent: Can you say that we have resolved the problem of storage?
Mikerin: If we speak of the problem in its "pure form," then, of course, it has been resolved.
Correspondent: What do you mean? After all, there is a great deal of concern throughout the world...
Mikerin: Both in America and in our country, there are containers which reliably protect both uranium and plutonium under all physical effects which one can imagine...
Correspondent: Does this include accidents?
Mikerin: Accidents, airplane crashes, unsanctioned explosions of some devices, and so forth... And naturally, the containers which protect the personnel servicing the storage facility against ionizing radiation. In general, the problems of storage are well known, the appropriate devices exist, but it is necessary to build modern storage facilities. They are lacking. Both in our country and in America. I am speaking about the two countries which possess 95 percent of all the fissionable materials. The mobilization of considerable material resources is needed to create storage facilities. After all, it is necessary to store both uranium and plutonium reliably and for a very long time. Today "a threat" of great expenditures hangs over the country, if we may say so. Unfortunately, there is a catastrophic shortage of resources in Russia, but the system of storage facilities must nevertheless be developed, as long as we have agreed to global disarmament.
Correspondent: And why did you not tell the politicians who were making this decision on "avalanche" disarmament about such a prospect?
Mikerin: I believe it is not necessary to explain this to anyone--the problem is obvious! When a house is being dismantled, there is a pile of material formed, both useful and useless--is that not so? And therefore, before making the decision to dismantle a house, it is necessary to think about what to do with the bricks, boards, iron and rubbish. One does not have to be a very deep thinker to understand the need for utilization of all that is placed into a nuclear warhead. But those who were making the decision on disarmament thought very little about this. And they did not ask anyone! I am convinced that the politicians did not even ask those who ensure the security of our state... I am referring to the owners of the nuclear weapons, i.e., the Ministry of Defense.
Correspondent: A strange situation... For decades, we spoke of nuclear armament--and at that time they consulted with you. I am referring to Minsredmash. You were asked: "Can you do it, or not?"...
Mikerin: We always answered: "We can, but..." And then we said that, in order to do it, we would need this and this and this... And most often the state met us halfway.
Correspondent: Let us depart somewhat from this situation. Let us talk about you, about how you began, how you came to the nuclear industry?
Mikerin: After graduating from the Moscow Institute of Precision Chemical Technology in '51. A special course on radiochemistry was organized there. Of course, we did not become specialists, but the general preparation was good. Our group received special training for 2 years to work in the atomic industry. They selected the best students, sent them for re-training, and then placed them one-on-one with the new technology, which was secret, encoded, and unintelligible. And so we began mastering the new field...
Correspondent: You worked at the first, second or third plant?
Mikerin: It was called the "25th Plant," for processing irradiated nuclear fuel. I did not work with the reactor--it was primarily the physicists who worked there. But radiochemistry--the most "thankless" part of the chain--we got the difficult task of processing the fuel, purifying it of all the isotopes, obtaining plutonium in pure form, and isolating uranium for its repeat application. Well, and of course, removing various by-products which are formed in the process. This was called the "25th Facility," which was built by inspiration, by individual rumor, or more precisely--by intelligence, and by the experiences of laboratory scientists. It was a "facility" without sufficient protection against radiation, without a thorough knowledge of technology. We proceeded by the method of trial and error. And naturally, there was a constant turnover of personnel, because after receiving a certain dose of radiation, it was no longer possible to work there. It was a unique sort of "mill"...
Correspondent: And how long were you at this "mill?"
Mikerin: Four years. That is a rather long time for that very "dirty" type of production. Sometimes in a day we received as much as is today the standard exposure for a year. Moreover, this occurred in the normal situation, not in an emergency.
Correspondent: And did that happen too?
Mikerin: Of course... I might add, we are talking about external radiation. At that time, we never even guessed about internal radiation. After all, there were neither the means nor the methods of control. They were developed gradually. I might add, knowing very well those who worked at the "25th Facility," I understand that most of them were afflicted specifically not by the external radiation, but by the aerosols, which contained uranium, and especially plutonium.
Correspondent: Who is left alive today?
Mikerin: Not many... And of our teachers, perhaps, no one is left.
Correspondent: Did you know that you would soon be replaced in production. Were you frightened?
Mikerin: No. That was not my personal feeling. I began working as shift foreman, and I had 25-30 people under me. Workers, operators, fitters, instrument men... None of us spent much time thinking about radiation, and we had little concern for protecting our health. At that time, the words "necessary," and sometimes, "necessary at any cost," were the main thing for us, and this brought people together... After all, the war had just ended, and we had all been raised on examples of that gigantic war which we had just experienced. The feats of our soldiers, our entire people... And here in production, they were not even shooting at us, and so it seemed less dangerous...
Correspondent: Did you know what you were doing?
Mikerin: Yes. We knew that we were obtaining plutonium for a nuclear weapon, and were monitoring it until testing.
Correspondent: And after the "mill?"
Mikerin: After 4 years, the construction of a new plant began. The so-called "35th Facility." By order of the doctors, I already had to leave, and therefore I was transferred to the group dealing with the construction of this facility. Here I was able to utilize in full measure the experience which I had obtained in prior years. Even before the start-up of the "35th," we had re-organized both its technology and its equipment. We expended much effort to see that the new plant was up-to-date and safe, so that there would not be a single one of the "dirty things" which we had encountered at the old enterprises. "We" at first consisted of around 20 people, and then there were already around 100 specialists... Our primary efforts were aimed at not permitting any effect of radiation on the personnel. We had to make the people safe from the gigantic radiation field, and we were able to accomplish this. To this day, I am proud that we were able to solve this problem.
Correspondent: How was this expressed?
Mikerin: We employed a new arrangement of the plant, created reliable protection, the technological process was equipped with good instrument control, and there was an automated control system... We were able to realize the basic principle: Radioactive chemical production must be reliably protected against man.
Correspondent: Is the "35th" operating to this day?
Mikerin: No, the plant has already been closed. Not because it had outlived its resource, but because plutonium is no longer needed now... Altogether, there were three radioactive chemical plants built with the new arrangement, with the new equipment, with the new systems of control and management. At Chelyabinsk-40, at Tomsk-7, and later at Krasnoyarsk-26. When we began cutting back the production of plutonium in the late 80's, they shut down the reactors and the first plant in Chelyabinsk, where all the technology had been developed. But we are still proud of the fact that, in all the time of its operation, not one person got a single dose of radiation which would lead to any work-related illness.
Correspondent: You mean there was not a single case?
Mikerin: In the process of normal operation of the plant--no. Of course, I am not counting the accident situations. Naturally, the participants in the liquidation of some accidents received increased doses... And there was one other exception. At the terminal section, where the plutonium was already obtained and from where it went to the metallurgical plant, the radiation norms of the personnel were higher. But even there, excessive radiation above the norm did not occur, and there was not a single case of a "work-related" illness. The control was very strict, monitoring of internal radiation was performed very carefully, and therefore at the recommendation of doctors a person was transferred to a less dangerous or totally safe sector of work.
Correspondent: Did this system operate strictly?
Mikerin: It depended on the people. And since the human factor always existed, there were some exceptions. Generally among the managers, who sometimes knowingly exposed themselves to excessive radiation for the sake of the cause--their responsibility was always too great. But on the whole, the system of control and safety operated strictly.
Correspondent: And how did your fate turn out later?
Mikerin: When the plant in Krasnoyarsk was placed in operation, I was offered a transfer there as chief engineer. That was in '65. An "underground combine" was being developed there. Naturally, they needed experienced cadres. Working at the "35th Plant" was very interesting for me. I had invested too much effort and health in the cause. At first I was the chief technologist there, then the chief engineer. In general, the entire technology was in my hands. I might add that I was never interested in administrative work, and therefore I refused various duties which were not associated with technology. There was much to think about, much I will wanted to change and improve at the "35th," and therefore I did not want to transfer to Krasnoyarsk... But Ivan Dmitriyevich Serbin was a member of the party Central Committee. At that time, he was in charge of placement of cadres in our ministry. I met with him three times regarding the new appointment. Twice he let me go in peace, but the last time he said--"it is necessary!" Well and, of course, the question was resolved... And that is where I met Aleksandr Grigoryevich Meshkov, who was appointed as the new combine director. We quickly became friends, understood each other, and I went to Krasnoyarsk. At that time were were both almost 37 years old...
Correspondent: Why was it built underground?! Could it be in case of nuclear war?
Mikerin: The people have a great deal of imagination... Even under Stalin, in the late 40's, the decision was adopted to build such an enterprise. The sector was being developed, and it was believed that three combines were needed: One in the Urals, the second in Tomsk, and the third--in Krasnoyarsk. Considering the specifics of the relief there, someone proposed "digging" into the mountain, excavating it, and locating the entire enterprise for building nuclear weapons there. Then, supposedly, in case of attack on the USSR and on the exposed facilities, they would be put out of commission, but the Krasnoyarsk complex would continue to operate. That is how the situation appeared in those years... I might add, the experience of the war with Germany was taken into consideration. After all, there were underground plants there which manufactured weapons practically until the end of the war. Specifically, those same FAU missiles... And so that is how it was planned: The combine near Krasnoyarsk would ensure the production of nuclear weapons for all cases of war and life. But while the combine was under construction, it became clear that there was no mountain, no depth in the ground which could ensure security. Moreover, it turned out that such a combine would be much more easily put out of operation than a ground level facility. It would be enough to destroy the electrical transmission lines. And an autonomous system of power supply was possible only for maintaining viability, but not for production. No energy--and the combine turns into a monument.
Correspondent: And an atom bomb is not needed?
Mikerin: Exactly! It would be enough to have paratroopers and a small group of trained professional persons... But in terms of expenditures, this combine was much more expensive that its brothers. It is enough to say that the volume of soil excavated (we computed this in the late 60's) was greater than in the Moscow metro. And plus, under conditions of very difficult rock and soil formations--granites and gneisses. The manpower required was tremendous--miners, metro builders, soldiers, and prisoners... Nevertheless, the combine was built!
Correspondent: And now this combine must cease operation!
Mikerin: It has practically ceased operation already. One atomic reactor is operating, and only because it is producing heat and electricity.
Correspondent: And what is to be done with this "nuclear mountain?"
Mikerin: The problem with which we began our conversation is much more complex for Krasnoyarsk-26. From the very beginning, it was clear that both the reactors and the radiochemical plant had a limited service life. But what to do with underground giant? Unfortunately, it is still unclear what the future of the "mountain" will be. It is imprudent to locate any civilian production at the primary facilities, because it would be necessary to "scrub" a large amount of equipment and communications--they are contaminated. And the main thing: Why should we go underground with any type of production? After all, operation here is much more expensive than at any analogous above-ground production. Should we make it a storehouse? We could, of course. We might add, part of the production is used for state reserves. But again this is very expensive... After all, you cannot throw away these developments. Nature does not tolerate emptiness. If they are not maintained, they will quickly go out of order.
Correspondent: Perhaps we could store spent nuclear fuel there?
Mikerin: It requires so-called permanent storage, and this requires the appropriate geological conditions. But the conditions for this are not very favorable at Krasnoyarsk-26. There is too much water there. And also, it is much simpler to build such a storehouse on land.
Correspondent: But, after all, a new plant is being built?
Mikerin: Yes, but it has nothing to do with the "mountain." Our nuclear power engineering is based on the ideology of comprehensive processing of fuel. A plant is needed for this, and it is being erected at Krasnoyarsk-26. I might add, the problem of waste utilization has been resolved there, specifically the deep burial of nuclear waste. Of course, there is much controversy surrounding this method. But I hold the opinion that, as long as we have given rise to nuclear power engineering, we must re-use the spent nuclear fuel and thoroughly and reliably store the by-products.
Correspondent: There was a discussion about the "Big Plant?"
Mikerin: Yes, that is what it is called. The idea of developing nuclear power engineering was planned in large volume, and by the time the AES [nuclear power plants] begin operating at full capacity, the plant in Krasnoyarsk-26 was to be built for processing the spent fuel. But after Chernobyl, the situation changed drastically. The rates of development of nuclear power production declined sharply, but in any case it is necessary to process the fuel elements..
Correspondent: One strong contradiction is always present in your thoughts. On one hand, you are not sorry that you worked your entire life in the nuclear industry, and on the other--we are constantly running into errors and dead ends in its development. How can you reconcile the irreconcilable?
Mikerin: In many ways, these are unrealized hopes and plans. Let us take that very same Krasnoyarsk-26. We believed that we would shut down the military reactors, but that in their place, or even on the surface, we would build commercial reactors, i.e., an electrical power plant. And such projects were developed in detail. After all, it was specifically the government which presented us with the task of increasing the capacity of nuclear power production by 10 times! And, naturally, we had to concern ourselves well ahead of time about the entire infrastructure of the sector. And this was done, believe me, in a very rational manner: The military reactors were replaced with civilian ones. This was conversion in real life, and not in slogans. And the construction of the "Big Plant" was, once again, a concern for the future. The city where very skilled cadres live is ready for such work. Unlike the present day, in those days we thought about the future, we cared about it, if you will, we constantly gave it attention. This was the strategic perspective, and not just immediate concerns. The same prospects existed also at Tomsk-7 and Chelyabinsk-40. We intended to change over entirely to nuclear power production.
Correspondent: And would this have been real disarmament?
Mikerin: Of course. And real conversion of that nuclear complex which was developed at Sredmash [Ministry of Medium-Scale Machine Building] over the course of many decades.
Correspondent: What is hindering you in this--after all, at the present time you still have the forces and the cadres?
Mikerin: First of all, it is you--journalists and newspapermen. You have begun stating that nuclear power production has no future. And you have frightened the community so much that now one does not even dare mention nuclear power plants.
Correspondent: The shadow of Chernobyl, how can one forget about it?!
Mikerin: Yes, our fault lies in the fact that we were too casual about the design of the reactors. I am referring to uranium-graphite ones... From the very beginning, the incorrect line was selected--the application of our experience and knowledge of military reactors and their transfer to the civil industry. The error consisted of the fact that we tried to develop cheap reactors. Chernobyl put an end to this erroneous line. Unfortunately, we did not take world experience into consideration, believing that "we were ahead of the whole planet." Such a psychology emerged after the first nuclear power plant, the first ice-breaker. Yet the whole world immediately followed a more reliable and safe path. Nuclear power production must have "its own" reactors, i.e., safer and more reliable than the military ones...
Correspondent: Does this mean that today the understanding of the future has changed, that it appears differently than it did before?
Mikerin: It is in a fog. And for the present not much can be seen. And that is why it is so difficult for us.
Correspondent: You are the master of closed cities. What do you think, how long will this last?
Mikerin: I am in favor of opening them... But the general situation in society in our country hinders us from doing so. Unfortunately, the currents of the criminal structures are great, as are the currents of various occurrences--theft, banditism, criminal groupings. If the country was at the level of the 70's-early 80's, the cities would have to be opened. After all, their closure gives nothing but additional problems. The secrets may be protected quite easily on the local territory of a specific facility. But the people living in the closed cities have become so accustomed to a normal life, to a decent human environment, that today they are asking that their cities not be opened. We held a referendum, and 95 percent of the residents spoke out against it. That was several years ago. But now, I am convinced, the figure would comprise the full 100 percent. So that, for the present time, we cannot open these cities.
Correspondent: Which of the cities in your charge do you like the best?
Mikerin: Krasnoyarsk-26. There I spent the best part of my life. First 4 years as the chief engineer, and then 10 years as director of the combine. As director, I was not so much caught up in developing production as in organizing the life in the city. And I was able to accomplish a lot, and that is why I have become "attached" to it. I am proud of the city, because much effort was put into every prospect, into every street, every house and structure. The city turned out to be convenient and beautiful. At least, that is how it seems to me. I love this city!... And, of course, the production as well. It was the most current. Many good and original ideas were realized there... And I did not want to leave there to go to Moscow.
Correspondent: There are other nuclear powers--the USA, England, France, and China. Do we yield to them?
Mikerin: In China today the technology in the nuclear industry is at the level of the 50's... So that it is best of all to make the comparison with America. Much has been disclosed now, and we know more about each other today. We have the right to be proud that in radiochemistry we have surpassed them, and consequently our productions are not only more effective, but also safer. And in terms of radioactive waste as well--both in quantity and in degree of purification of uranium and plutonium. And the main thing is that we have surpassed them in the problem of burying radioactive waste, in its utilization. In their country it is stored in containers which have long become outdated. They do not have any disposal methods. We have developed methods of deep pumping of waste. Yes, there is controversy surrounding it, but I am ready to defend this method at any level, because I have tested it out on "my own skin" in Krasnoyarsk-26. Two years ago, they even "gasped" when they learned that we were able to reliably bury the military portion of our waste at a depth of 500-800 meters in Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk. There are special strata there--collectors, which have no outlets. The radioactive waste is hidden and held by the soil there, so that for the present time I do not see any more reliable methods. We monitor these strata and see that there is no movement... The Americans have taken a cautious attitude toward this technology. Certainly not because it is bad, but simply because they have tried and failed to develop it... So that our level of military production does not yield to the American. And do not believe those who try to prove otherwise.
Correspondent: And what is the price of all this?
Mikerin: Much less! From the very beginning, the Americans' price for everything, from household needs to the most complex types of production, has exceeded ours many times over. It is characteristic that "a-la Chelyabinsk-40"--Hamford today receives $2 billion a year from the state budget. Yet there are no operating productions there! Reactors are kept there--but they are mothballed. Cleaning of equipment of radiochemical plants is performed there, laboratories of scientists are maintained, which continue to perform research on waste burial. In general, there is no less personnel there than at Chelyabinsk-40. But unlike our center, nothing is produced there. Nevertheless, it takes $2 billion! That is quite a bit...
Correspondent: Wouldn't you like to have a little part of that?
Mikerin: If we had even 10 percent of Hamford--even that would be a great help in solving the problems of rehabilitation of the territories in the region of Chelyabinsk-40. Unfortunately, in our time, we did not find suitable conditions there for underground burial of waste, and therefore we opted for the creation of open reservoirs and enclosed storage facilities. Therefore, a large network of open waste-filled reservoirs emerged at Chelyabinsk-40, including also highly radioactive ones. Everyone knows, specifically, about Lake Karachay. The radioactivity there is high, and there is plutonium and uranium there. Today we are completing the first stage of its burial, covering it over with dirt. This is not easy. An original plan has been developed--first the division of the lake into small check-dams, and then their gradual coverage. There are two reservoirs there--numbers 10 and 11, which contain low-radioactivite waste. The South Urals Nuclear Power Plant was to have been built near them, which would have operated on the evaporation of the reservoirs and on reduction of the activity...
Correspondent: But now everyone agrees that it should be built?!
Mikerin: Several years ago, there was a strong anti-nuclear campaign, and the construction of the nuclear power plant was halted. Time passed, and everyone realized--even the fierce opponents of the plant--that a mistake had been made. The oblast today needs power as much as it needs air, and therefore the administration is appealing to the government with a request to continue construction of the plant. And, it would seem, all the necessary decisions have been adopted, but the plant is not being built. The combine has developed a system of vitrification of the radioactive waste--and all the waste from the fuel obtained from the nuclear power plant has been vitrified. The glass blocks will be stored for 30 years at Chelyabinsk-40, and then, when the disintegration of the primary isotopes is complete, they will be placed in wells--for permanent storage.
Correspondent: In principle, do you have a specifically defined program of work for all the centers?
Mikerin: Of course. But everything rests on the economy. With a sick economy, the current nuclear industry cannot develop. I understand that time will pass, and the knowledge and experience of the nuclear engineers will necessarily come into demand once again. But today we must preserve the collectives, the experience and the knowledge which were accumulated over the almost half a century of history of nuclear science and industry. And we are trying to do this to the best of our ability.
"Mikerin, Yevgeniy Dich--Currently, and prior to 1989, Head of Fourth Department, Isotope Separation, Reprocessing, and Production Technology, Ministry of Atomic Energy (and formerly Ministry of Atomic Power and Industry); in charge of isotope production (production reactors and uranium e~chment), chemical separation, nuclear waste management, and plutonium and uranium componemt manufacturing - activities conducted at Chelyabinsk- 65, Tomsk-7, and Krasnoyarsk-26. "