As a researcher at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Protvino, Bugorski used to work with the largest Soviet particle accelerator, the U-70 synchrotron. On 13 July 1978, Bugorski was checking a malfunctioning piece of equipment when an accident occurred due to failed safety mechanisms. Bugorski was leaning over the piece of equipment when he stuck his head in the path of the proton beam. Reportedly, he saw a flash “brighter than a thousand suns,” but did not feel any pain.
The left half of Bugorski’s face swelled up beyond recognition, and over the next several days, started peeling off, revealing the path that the proton beam (moving near the speed of light) had burned through parts of his face, his bone, and the brain tissue underneath. As it was believed that he had received far in excess of the radiation dose that would normally kill a person, Bugorski was taken to a clinic in Moscow where the doctors could observe his expected demise. However, Bugorski survived and even completed hisPh.D. There was virtually no damage to his intellectual capacity, but the fatigue of mental work increased markedly. Bugorski completely lost hearing in the left ear and only a constant, unpleasant internal noise remained. The left half of his face was paralyzed, due to the destruction of nerves. He was able to function well, except for the fact that he had occasional complex partial seizures and rare tonic-clonic seizures.
Bugorski continued to work in science, and held the post of coordinator of physics experiments. Because of the Soviet Union’s policy of maintaining secrecy on nuclear power-related issues, Bugorski did not speak about the accident for over a decade. He continued going to the Moscow radiation clinic twice a year, for examination, and to meet with other nuclear-accident victims. He “remained a poster boy for Soviet and Russian radiation medicine”. In 1996 he applied unsuccessfully for disabled status to receive his free epilepsy medication. Bugorski showed interest in making himself available for study to Western researchers, but could not afford to leave Protvino.
Bugorski is married to Vera Nikolaevna, and they have a son, Peter.