The Sandblasters of Chernobyl

The Sandblasters of Chernobyl

Posted by Blake Crowell on 25th May 2017

What is your most nerve wracking sandblasting experience? Everyone has their stories, but the story of the sandblasters working in Chernobyl is one of the most interesting. 

The Chernobyl nuclear plant's explosion, in 1986, covered 1600 square miles of Ukraine and Belarus with radioactive fallout and left the land there nearly uninhabitable. However, that doesn't stop people from salvaging the abandoned equipment left behind. There are a number of towns and factories entirely abandoned due to the immense radiation still lingering in the area. Workers dismantle anything left behind that is able to be scrapped. It has been estimated that they have collected over 1 million tons of scrap metal!

For the dangerous work they do, these workers make up to 8000 Hryvnia (or $280). While that seems hardly adequate to people living in America, that is actually a higher than average salary for Ukrainians. However, for the danger and health risks involved, only astronomically high wages would be appropriate for this work.

Sandblasting is used to eliminate irradiated parts of the salvage. Workers use Geiger counters to mark the irradiated spots on the metal. The metal is then transferred to a sandblaster and they sand off the marked areas. Next, the metal is shipped all over Europe to be melted down and recycled. I could not find any articles about the effectiveness of this process. Could it actually make the metal non-radioactive? I'm quite suspicious of this, but nonetheless the Ukrainian government grants licenses to the recycling companies who sell the salvaged material. If post sandblasting checks for additional radiation are thorough, this scrap could be a valuable safe resource. However, I am suspicious of their safety practices, as workers are not even required to wear protective suits in the deadly environment of Chernobyl. The people there also drink vodka and claim it can protect them from the radiation.

While I obviously do not recommend their practices, the story of the Chernobyl sandblasters is quite interesting. At the very least, they usually wear gloves and helmets when sandblasting. These people are making the best out of a tragedy that shook the world, and I encourage them to buy more safety equipment from us at Abrasive Deals.

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