The Computer That Controlled Chernobyl

When you think of Chernobyl (or Chornobyl, now), you think of the nuclear accident, of course. But have you ever considered that where there is a nuclear reactor, there is a computer control system? What computers were in control of the infamous reactor? [Chornobyl Family] has the answer in a fascinating video documentary you can see below.

The video shows a bit of the history of Soviet-era control computers. The reactor’s V-30M computer descended from some of these earlier computers. With 20K of core memory, we won’t be impressed today, but that was respectable for the day. The SKALA system will look familiar if you are used to looking at 1970s-era computers.

Interestingly, the video shows some old newsletters from the reactor’s engineering staff detailing the trials of engineers installing the computer. As you might expect, the computer was made to be highly reliable and monitored several safety systems and special isolated software.

There are plenty of Soviet teletypes, magnetic tape drives, and paper tape punches in view. While the user interface looks daunting with cryptic codes. However, this is typical of the time to work around the limited hardware. The Apollo vehicles were not terribly different, for example.

SKALA got an upgraded helper in 1991 which looks a little more modern. Still nothing like we have today. If you are jaded at looking at old hardware from DEC and IBM, these Soviet computers will scratch your itch for novelty.

8 thoughts on “The Computer That Controlled Chernobyl

  1. Ummm…. The first Pacific Rim movie specifically taught that if I have a massive ‘transformer’ running on nuclear power, that it doesn’t have any electronics/computers in it; everything can run just fine on analog while I fight kaiju.

      1. The analog fluidic computers in my 1973 Fury’s carburetor and automatic transmission didn’t have any electronics. The newfangled electronic ignition did though, and that’s what broke.

        1. Well, that’s the trouble with these newfangled carbureted engines nowadays- you have to have electric sparks for the ignition because they’re too busy buzzing like bees trying to make up for their small size instead of using flame ignition at 200rpm like Otto intended.

          1. thanks. i’m not going to bother to look up the wikipedia but i am imagining a candle in a little cylinder with an opening in one side of the cylinder and as the cylinder rotates the opening is alternately exposed to the outside air and the cylinder, and the rotation of the cylinder is keyed to the timing chain

            good little daydream

    1. I’ve got some 3D core memory (salvaged from a skip years ago). It’s just loads of smallish 2D planes on top of each other. Address wires are shared by each plane. Each plane has a single sense wire and contributes one output bit, and you use as many planes as you need to make up the word size of the machine.

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