No One Knows What Happened to the Mercedes-Benz Truck Trapped in Chernobyl

No One Knows What Happened to the Mercedes-Benz Truck Trapped in Chernobyl

No matter how well you think you know a story, there’s always more details to discover. Like trying to map out a coastline, the real devil is in the details. So when YouTube creator That Chernobyl Guy came out with a video about a red Mercedes-Benz truck at the heart of the 1986 disaster, I knew I had to share it with you.

Wait, I hear you say, a Mercedes-Benz truck? But that’s decadent western technology! You got that right. But eagle-eyed fans of nuclear history may have spotted the bright orange piece of fancy bourgeoisie technology in the background of photos of the disaster. The story of how it got there, and what happened to it next, is pretty fascinating:

It’s a very USSR story; the newly redesigned (aka cheaper) turbines in nuclear reactors were faulty and needed occasional readjustments using advanced sensors and techniques to keep things running smoothly. To do this, technicians needed a mobile laboratory that could travel from reactor to reactor performing the delicate readjustments. Enter the Mercedes-Benz LK-class truck. It was a vehicle so rare, so expensive and so technologically advanced and important to the operation of the Soviet state that two technicians would later die of radiation poisoning because they wanted to protect the truck over their own safety.

This truck was only a few months old when technicians brought it straight into what would become the heart of the Chernobyl disaster, unit four. The technicians couldn’t measure the turbine’s vibration from outside, you see. So techs drove the truck all the way into the heart of the doomed unit four reactor. It just so happened that the technicians were running their tests at the same time as the Chernobyl workers were getting ready to run their own ill-fated test. When the reactor finally blew, the Mercedes and its crew of four had their turbines crushed by the roof caving in. Despite the dangerous conditions, the crew was focused on saving the Benz, rather than their lives.

The story gets weirder from there, and harder to parse out between Soviet style cover-ups and the invisible hand of the KGB possibly playing a part in disappearing the truck from the site, if it isn’t mouldering away in the woods of the exclusion zone today.

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