ᐈ The story of 'Joker', the German robot that was sent to clean up Chernobyl and died almost immediately 🚧

The story of 'Joker', the German robot that was sent to clean up Chernobyl and died almost immediately

It is still hard to digest what we saw in 'Chernobyl', the harrowing HBO series that quickly became a television phenomenon and has become one of the 100 highest rated series in history by IMDb users. It is therefore normal that, after such an impact, certain more specific issues related to the history of this accident have been investigated.

One of these is that of "Joker", a German robot that was used by the police for tactical tasks, such as defusing bombs, and that was sent to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to help with the clean-up of radioactive material. Something that in the end did not work out as everyone expected.

Robots were the first option

In episode four of 'Chernobyl' we saw how clean-up efforts began in the area after the explosion of reactor number four. The idea was to use robots for these tasks and avoid, as far as possible, the intervention of humans. However, hopes were not long in fading.

After the reactor explosion, large amounts of debris, including pieces of radioactive graphite, filled the roofs of the facility. As the graphite had been used in the beginning to moderate the reaction, Soviet officials thought that dumping the graphite at the exposed core of the reactor could be a makeshift solution to contain it.

Carrying out this idea was not easy, since who would be able to clean up the radioactive graphite and throw it into the reactor? Workers with special equipment, known as 'biorobots' , could only expose themselves for a maximum of 90 seconds to this material and even then it was extremely dangerous. The solution? Make use of Soviet space technology.

This is how they decided to send some 'Lunokhod' (Lunojod Program), lunar rovers that were part of the Soviet space program. West Germany found out about this and offered to loan them 'Joker', their famous police robot that could be controlled remotely and which they believed would be ideal for cleaning tasks.

The bad news is that this did not go as planned, since 'Joker' was sent to clean the most radioactive part of the ceiling, where it did not take long to die. At first it was thought that it had gotten stuck in the rubble and they sent some men to take it down, but when they reached the place they discovered that it was fried.

The so-called lie as a desperate measure

It is not clear how the Germans offered to lend their expensive robot, but according to Telecon's documentary 'On the roof of Chernobyl', the reason is that the Russians decided to lie to the Germans because they were desperate and wanted to prove everything.

Supposedly, the Germans sent 'Joker' in the belief that it would withstand the radiation levels, as the Soviets told them that the ceiling was contaminated with 2,000 roentgens, when in reality the ceiling was radiating more than 12,000 roentgens. This resulted in the immediate death of the robot.

Craig Mazin, co-creator of the series, explained it like this:

"The Soviets - and this is mind-boggling to me - refused to accept how bad the situation was. Even then, months after the world knew what was happening in Chernobyl and how serious the situation was, even then they they refused to tell the West Germans how much radiation was on that ceiling. It was 600% or 700% more than it could handle. And what amazes me is that the Soviet power system thought that was okay. Why not "Come on, it's the same kind of attitude that caused Chernobyl in the first place."

What happened to 'Joker'?

After 'Joker's' death, the Lunokhod was used to clean the lower roof structure of radioactive debris and build the sarcophagus. The radiation on the lower ceilings was not that high, so the Soviet lunar rover was able to do its job. However, to the highest ceiling, where he was theoretically going to clean 'Joker', they ended up sending people in 90 second intervals.

The rovers are said to have ultimately failed despite being reconditioned to withstand higher levels of radiation. The Soviets knew what the actual radiation levels were and tried to prepare the rovers as best they could. However, the 'biorobots' were the ones who finished cleaning the ceilings.

The story of 'Joker', the German robot that was sent to clean up Chernobyl and died almost immediately

This image, whose origin is unknown, supposedly corresponds to the 'Joker' abandoned in a junkyard in the exclusion zone . The robot is believed to be extremely radioactive to this day. Apparently what's in the far left is a Lunokhod.