Valery Legasov

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Valery Alexeyevich Legasov (Russian: Валерий Алексеевич Легасов; born September 1, 1936 in Tula, Russia, Soviet Union; died April 27, 1988 in Moscow, Soviet Union) was a prominent Soviet inorganic chemist and a member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. He is now mainly remembered for his work as the chief of the commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster.[1]

Early life and schooling[edit]

Legasov was born in Tula into a family of civil workers. He graduated from the Mendeleev Moscow Institute of Chemistry and Technology and then studied at the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy. He received the degree of Candidate in 1967 and his doctorate in chemistry in 1972, a remarkable achievement for a 36 year-old scientist. Legasov became a professor at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and, from 1983 until his death, was the chair of the department of Chemical Technology at the Chemistry Department of Moscow State University. He became a full member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in 1981.

Chernobyl[edit]

By the time of the Chernobyl disaster on April 26, 1986, Legasov was the First Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy.[2] He became a key member of the government commission formed to investigate the causes of the disaster and to plan the mitigation of its consequences. He took the most important decisions to avoid repeat accidents and informed the government of the situation in the disaster area. He did not hesitate to speak to his fellow scientists and to the press about the safety risks of the destroyed plant and insisted on the immediate evacuation of the entire population of the city Pripyat nearby. In August 1986, he presented the report of the Soviet delegation at the special meeting of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. His report displayed a depth of analysis and honesty in discussing the extent and consequences of the tragedy.[3]

On the second anniversary of the disaster, Legasov committed suicide by hanging himself from the stairwell of his apartment. Reportedly, before his suicide, he recorded himself on audiotape revealing previously undisclosed facts about the catastrophe. According to an analysis of the recording for the BBC TV Movie "Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster" (where he was played by actor Adrian Edmondson),[4] Legasov claims political pressure censored the mention of Soviet nuclear secrecy in his report to the IAEA, a secrecy which forbade even plant operators knowledge of previous accidents and known problems with reactor design. The programme implied that his suicide was at least partly due to his distress at not having spoken out about these factors at Vienna, the suppression of his subsequent attempts to do so and the damage to his career that these attempts caused. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists also stated that Legasov had become bitterly disillusioned with the failure of the authorities to confront the design flaws.[5]

Legasov's suicide caused shockwaves in the Soviet nuclear industry. In particular, the problem with the design of the control rods in Chernobyl-type RBMK reactors was rapidly admitted and changed.[4]

On September 20, 1996, then Russian president Boris Yeltsin posthumously conferred on Legasov the honorary title of Hero of the Russian Federation for the "courage and heroism" shown in his investigation of the disaster.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Chemist, investigator of Chernobyl nuclear accident dies at 51". AP News Archive. The Associated Press. Apr 30, 1988. Retrieved 26 April 2014. "[the official Soviet news agency] Tass said Legasov made a significant contribution in the working out and realization of immediate measures aimed at liquidating the consequences of the accident." 
  2. ^ The Ukrainian Weekly, page 2, Sunday January 26, 2003
  3. ^ Bella Belbéoch, RESPONSABILITES OCCIDENTALES DANS LES CONSEQUENCES SANITAIRES DE LA CATASTROPHE DE TCHERNOBYL, EN BIELORUSSIE, UKRAINE ET RUSSIE, in: Radioprotection et Droit nucléaire [eds.: Ivo Rens and, Joël Jakubec, collection SEBES, 1998, pp. 247–261 (English translation: "Western responsibility regarding the health consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe in Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia")
  4. ^ a b Surviving Disaster: Chernobyl Nuclear DisasterBBC
  5. ^ David Marples (September 1993). "Chernobyl's Lengthening Shadow". The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. p. 40. 

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