Charles Darwin at a green chalkboard.

1994 Darwin Awards

Honoring Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, Darwin Awards commemorate those who improve our gene pool--by removing themselves from it in the most spectacular way possible.

Absolutely Radiant
1994 Darwin Award Winner
Confirmed True by Darwin

(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 room."

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.

Reader Comments:
"A flash of insight."
"Now hiring: Nuclear Plant Shift Supervisor."

Share © 1994 - 2022
Submitted by: Edmund Schluessel
Reference: _A Review of Criticality Accidents_, 2000 revision, Los Alamos National Laboratory document LA-13638, elucidated by Edmund Schluessel.

Previous Directions Next