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‘There Is No Need to Fear the Atom; It Only Works for the Good of Mankind’

On April 26, on the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, an interactive exhibition was held in the atrium of the Pokrovka complex. Students learned about the history of nuclear power in Russia and how nuclear power works today. In addition, visitors were able to measure the radiation level of their smartphones (spoiler alert: non-life-threatening) and even try their hand at building a nuclear power plant.

April 26, 2021 marks the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Has nuclear power changed since then? What are modern nuclear power plants like? What objects emit radiation? Visitors learned the answers to these questions and more at the interactive exhibition, which was organized by the HSE Student Development Office, the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom, and the network of Atomic Energy Information Centers (AEIC).

‘We are showing students that nuclear energy is green energy, that there is no need to fear the atom. It is a peaceful element and works only for the benefit of humanity,’ says Nikita Perfilyev, AEIC Network Development Manager.

One of the network’s main tasks is the popularization of the nuclear industry and nuclear science. It is a task that can only be achieved in live dialogue with people, so events such as the exhibition are especially valuable. ‘This is our first time holding an exhibition like this at HSE University. We very much hope that we can do this on a regular basis,’ he said.

Nikita Perfilyev
© Daniil Prokofyev/ HSE University

The atrium of HSE’s Pokrovka complex was chosen as the venue for the exhibition: here students could participate in a variety of activities, where a complex scientific topic transformed into an exciting game. Students synthesized chemical elements, studied the development of the nuclear industry in Russia by examining Rosatom photo archives, measured the radiation level of objects with a Geiger counter, and tested their knowledge of historical events.

First-year students of the Faculty of Computer Science, Lyudmila Khanina and Yan Maksimov, for example, played the mind game, ‘Atomic Suitcase’. Players had to correctly answer all the questions of the presenter and thereby ‘launch’ a nuclear power plant and provide electricity to the city.

‘We didn’t do too well, but it was quite interesting,’ Lyudmila admitted. ‘Also, as far as we understand, this was all organized because of Chernobyl. It’s very cool that events like this are now being held so that we younger people who did not see that time, can learn from it and start figuring out what happened and how to work with it [i.e., the peaceful atom].’

After playing ‘Atomic Suitcase’, they proceeded to the Geiger counter with the unusual purpose of checking themselves for radiation. ‘They said you can stick your hand in and find out.’

But more often than not, students measured the radiation level of their own smartphones. According to AEIC Development Manager Anastasia Mikhailova, who explained to the students how the meter works, this is due to the myth of the danger of cell phones.

‘In fact, they are not dangerous. Smartphones emit microwaves, and this has nothing to do with radiation. But all the same, students worry. They check and make sure that their phone is OK and can be safely used. They are very surprised when they learn this,’ said Anastasia Mikhailova.

The event concluded with a scientific and musical talk show, ‘Evolution Square’. Director of the Leningradsky branch of the All-Russian Research Institute for Nuclear Power Plants Operation, Dmitry Rozideev, spoke about the evolution of safety systems at nuclear power plants, and violinist Nikita Demin spoke about the evolution of the violin and the rethinking of the instrument in different eras.

Pavel Zdorovtsev, Director of Student Development, HSE University

The Chernobyl disaster, which occurred 35 years ago on April 26, was humanity’s first encounter with a man-made disaster of such large magnitude. Thousands of residents of the USSR and European countries felt the consequences of the design errors of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the inadequate training of plant personnel, and the concealment of what was really going on. In partnership with the state corporation Rosatom, we want to tell HSE students and staff, on the one hand, about the great work that scientists and designers have done to improve the safety of complex energy facilities, as well as about the responsible use of technology. On the other hand, we want to show the beauty of engineering solutions that are now used at the forefront of Russian nuclear technologies.

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