and 7 odd Chernobyl stories


       They were an odd bunch, the reinforcements for the radiation reconnaissance company.
       I mean, they were OK as far as reinforcements go — about a dozen guys, some a bit younger, some a bit older, toting kitbags, clustering awkwardly around our tents. It was the twenty something of July 1986.
       What was truly odd was the order that came with them.
       It said: these men are to be exposed to exactly 2 roentgens daily.
       2 (two) roentgens exactly. Every single day.
       We were flummoxed...
       For two reasons:
       2 roentgens was the maximum permissible daily dose. It was laid down in an order of the Ministry of Defence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (that’s what we were told, but the order was secret, so no one had ever actually seen it). If a commander allowed his men to get more exposure — he was disciplined. How exactly I can’t say, I don’t know: no one ever allowed it — on paper, of course.
       In other words, the main thing was not to exceed 2 roentgens. But this time it was something different: precise and accurate exposure — every day — every man — 2 full roentgens....
       The second point was, we simply couldn’t do it. Not in the sense that the levels we were working at were too low — or too high — we just couldn’t guarantee a crew would have exactly 2 roentgens exposure. We were a reconnaissance outfit, after all. With enough hassles of our own without having to keep track of this kind of thing...
       Of course, we could send them out to work at the nuclear power plant — like all the other companies in the Reconnaissance Battalion, ours had to allocate a team for clean-up works at the NPP. It would be easier there — usually the whole team works at the same level, and everbody gets the same dose. But there again, deliberately pushing for the maximum...
       And what was the point of it all?..
       Half an hour later everything was clear (information spreads fast in camp).
       All those men who were still hanging around our tents — they hadn’t been dispersed yet to their platoons — had been nicknamed:
       They truly were guinea pigs. Before being transported into the zone, each one of them had had a blood test — not the regular clinical one, from the finger, but a special biochemical test, taken from a vein, quite a lot of blood (a glassful, probably; I should make inquiries sometime). They were sent out on the usual duties clearing radioactive rubbish (and everything radioactive is rubbish — unless it’s ore). And simultaneously exposed to 2 roentgens daily.
       After being implanted with the dose required by science — sorry, ‘science’ — (within the 25 roentgens of maximum total exposure, permissible under the special Chernobyl regulations, so everything’s perfectly legitimate) they’ll be demobilised, following a second biochemical blood test. Along the lines of ‘The influence of chronic irradiation of 2 roentgens per day on the biochemistry of blood in males’. Or ‘acute irradiation...’ — depending on how you look at it.
       I had a pretty vivid idea (in my comparatively innocent civilian job I had dealings with military clients) of the pack of fat cats that would be feeding off these several dozen men — and by that time we already knew about other guinea pigs dispersed among various units in our camp... And why several dozen? They could just as well have driven in a whole pack of them — a load of guinea pigs herded through a number of camps — how many were there around the zone? — practically on top of each other, and all swarming with men...
       The distinguishing feature of a good experiment is the reliability of its results. This is achieved by, among other means (especially where grey matter is in short supply), using large quantities of experimental material... There you have it.
       To be honest, I don’t remember whether we sent them to work in the zone or not — they were taken away very soon after. All of the guinea pigs were concentrated in one of the Decontamination Battalions of our camp, assigned to clean-up work. Put simply, the battalions supplied personnel — in the absence of appropriate materiel — to clear all sorts of radioactive shit. So they put them all there — easier to manage them there, easier to control the dose. ‘Reliability’...
       Basically, that’s it.
       Except, perhaps, that we — a few officers in the reconnaissance company who had to decide who worked where and when — felt something like relief: we’d avoided having to take part in something evil — we struck lucky...
       Now that really is it.
       Except the most important thing:
       You might think this is just a story, a ‘work of fiction’.
       Like hell it is.
        Remember the title?

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Studio ARWIS  Kharkov, 2001