November 01, 2018

Remembering a Friend

It was the mid 70’s and the United States had decided to do business with the Russians. Several major American companies signed large contracts to supply heavy machinery, and to build manufacturing plants in the USSR. One of those companies hired me to work in their Moscow office.

In the course of business negotiations, I met a young Russian who was working for the Ministry of Coal. He and I formed a friendship that was unusual and unlikely, because in those days it was dangerous for a Russian citizen to have any non-official contacts with foreigners, especially Americans. He invited me to his home, introduced he to his wife and daughter, and treated me like an ordinary human being, not like a spy nor an enemy.

This young Russian was Nikolai Melnikov, a PhD in mining science, who eventually became an Academician, Russia’s highest rank for a scientist. He, for many years until his death this year, headed the Kola Mining Institute in Apatity, Russia. He was Russia’s leading expert in underground mining. He carried a card that identified him as one of the people who helped to quell the Chernobyl disaster. His role there was to engineer the underground tunneling that was needed in the construction of the sarcophagus that, to this day, encapsulates the failed reactor.

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