The original title of 37 Hours was One-way dive. It was based around a story of three divers who saved Europe from being irradiated by a secondary explosion from the Chernobyl reactor during efforts to get it under control, back in 1986. As with many urban myths, at first I believed it was a true story, but as I dug deeper, I realized it was indeed much-exaggerated.
Nevertheless, I used it in the book, as it is heroic, and fits the moment. And in some small way I did want to praise those who gave their lives to rescuing the doomed plant. They were true heroes.
Here’s the scene where our heroine, Nadia, tells the story to her comrade-in-arms, Bransk, and then he tells her what really happened…
‘Yes, I heard the story,’ she said. ‘The so-called one-way dive. After they got the reactor vaguely under control, that is buried in concrete, they realised the molten sludge –’ corium, she recalled ‘– was burning its way through the floors, and beneath was a deep pool of water intended for emergency cooling. If the corium reached it, there would be a massive steam explosion, and the way the wind had been blowing, a big plume of radioactivity would have enveloped Western Europe. So, three volunteers donned scuba gear and dived the pool, only one torch between them, which failed during the dive, but they managed to find the valve that drained all the water, though not before getting a high enough dose to shorten their lives to a matter of days.’
He nodded slowly.
‘So, what really happened?’
His eyes fixed on hers. ‘A classic Russian hero-myth. They did volunteer. They did risk their lives. But the valve itself was in a room only knee-deep in water. They opened it. Two of them are still alive, the third died some years later of a heart attack.’
‘My version’s better.’
He turned around to study the site through binoculars again.
‘What was your point, Bransk?’
He carried on his survey. ‘Russia needs heroes. Our government is corrupt. We are not the great nation we once were.’ He put down the binoculars, faced her again. ‘We seek heroes, honourable soldiers who will do what it takes, whatever the cost.’
‘Again, your point?’
‘Your father was one such man.’
Now her mouth stayed shut. She picked up her binoculars, studied the scene for a while. But the question burned inside her. ‘Why was he such a man?’
Bransk pushed the binoculars down from her face. ‘He avenged his father. Did what it takes, though it cost him his way of life.’
‘Cost his family a damn sight more!’ Her words came out harsh. ‘And what about you? Are you aiming to be a Russian hero, or is this all about revenge?’
He studied her a moment, but didn’t answer. So she turned back to the shiny new sarcophagus, longer than two Boeing 777s, taller than the Statue of Liberty. Designed to keep radiation in. A uranium pressure cooker.
And we’re going in there…
What is waiting for Nadia inside Chernobyl’s Reactor 4 is her personal hell. She will come away scarred forever…