(10 December 1968, Russia) While reading about nuclear accidents, a
physicist found this Darwin Award. Mayak is a nuclear fuel processing
center in central Russia that was experimenting with plutonium purification
techniques. The report states that they were using "an unfavorable
geometry vessel in an improvised operation as a temporary vessel for
storing plutonium organic solution." In other words, they were pouring
liquid plutonium into unsafe equipment.
Keep an eye on the shift supervisor.
"It was noticed that the solution was a combination of organic and aqueous
solution [gunk in the tank.] Two operators [instructed by the shift
supervisor] used an improvised setup to decant the dark brown [concentrated
plutonium] organic solution. The shift supervisor then left to tend to
other duties. During the second filling of the bottle, a mixture of
aqueous and organic solution was drawn in. As a result, the
operators stopped filling the bottle."
One asked the shift supervisor for further instructions. He was told to
continue decanting the solution. This operator "poured it into the 60 L
vessel for a second time. After [most] of the solution had been poured
out, the operator saw a flash of light, and felt a pulse of heat.
Startled, the operator dropped the bottle, ran down the stairs, and from
The plutonium was too concentrated, and he had accidentally started a
nuclear chain reaction! The alarms sounded, and everyone evacuated. So
far, no fatal errors. But a second criticality happens while everyone is
safely underground. Here's where it gets good.
"The shift supervisor insisted that the radiation control supervisor
permit him to enter the work area. The radiation control supervisor
resisted, but finally accompanied the shift supervisor back into the
building. As they approached the basement room where the accident had
occurred, the radiation levels continued to rise. The radiation control
supervisor prohibited the shift supervisor from proceeding. In spite of
the prohibition, the shift supervisor deceived the radiation control
supervisor and entered the room."
So, with things more or less under control, the shift supervisor tricks the
radiation control supervisor and goes into the room full of plutonium.
His "subsequent actions were not observed by anyone. However, there was
evidence that he attempted to pour [the plutonium] into a floor drain. His
actions caused a third excursion, larger than the first two, activating the
alarm system in both buildings."
The shift supervisor proceeded to set off an even bigger nuclear chain reaction!
"The shift supervisor, covered in plutonium organic solution, immediately
returned to the underground tunnel. He died about one month after the
accident," having received four times the fatal dose of radiation.
Everyone else survived.
Even if the shift supervisor had lived, he would still qualify for a Darwin
Award. That much radiation causes sterility.
"A flash of insight."
"Now hiring: Nuclear Plant Shift Supervisor."
DarwinAwards.com © 1994 - 2012
Submitted by: Edmund Schluessel
Reference: _A Review of Criticality Accidents_, 2000 revision, Los Alamos National Laboratory document LA-13638, elucidated by Edmund Schluessel.