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Chernobyl – Enformable http://enformable.com Tue, 02 May 2017 22:21:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.8 https://i2.wp.com/enformable.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/enfoicon-11-e1430233969135.png?fit=32%2C32 Chernobyl – Enformable http://enformable.com 32 32 29887482 Exploring the Chernobyl Unit 2 Nuclear Reactor Central Hall http://enformable.com/2017/01/exploring-the-chernobyl-unit-2-reactor-central-hall/ http://enformable.com/2017/01/exploring-the-chernobyl-unit-2-reactor-central-hall/#respond Thu, 05 Jan 2017 18:09:15 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=41548 As many of the readers are aware, I travelled back to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant again in November, 2016.  This year was even more powerful than our program in 2015.  I am working on putting together a new series of editorials documenting the continuing remediation activities taking place in Chernobyl.

I am focusing this brief article on our visit to the central hall of the Unit 2 reactor and would like to share this video that I captured during our visit that has been narrated by my friend Carl Willis, a nuclear engineer from New Mexico.

The video begins as we are walking through the deaerator corridor, also known as the golden corridor, which is used by workers to access the control rooms, dosimetry, etc, and includes an interesting experience we had riding an old elevator.

The Unit 2 reactor is an RBMK reactor, very similar to the Unit 4 reactor that was destroyed in 1986.  The Unit 2 reactor continued operating until a fire in the turbine building damaged critical safety equipment in 1991.

A photo of the Unit 2 reactor and fuel handling machine at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The reactor hall looms above the operating floor and contains a massive fuel handling machine that is used to transport fuel assemblies.

The RBMK reactor was designed to allow operators to swap out three to five fuel assemblies per day, while the reactor was operating, unlike US reactor designs which requires the reactor to be shut down for refueling.  This also means that the Central Hall is a sort of radioactive hot cell during these refueling operations.

The RBMK reactor design incorporates over 1,700 fuel channels, each is individually pressurized, meaning each channel is its own kind of reactor.

In the spent fuel pools the power plant is storing stringers which were used to raise and lower components in and out of the reactor.  Some of the stringers had localized surface contamination on them from being in the reactor during operation.  The exposure rates near the surface of one of the stringers was around 2 roentgen per hour, but were barely detectable from more than a few feet away.

To put the measurements in perspective, normal background radiation rates in most of Ukraine are between 6-12 uR/hr (microroentgen).  There are 1,000,000 microroentgen in a roentgen, but this is a localized surface contamination, not ambient exposure levels in the general area.

One of my favorite photos from Unit 2 is through the portal where operators could view fuel handling operations.

One of my favorite photos from Unit 2 is through the portal where operators could view fuel handling operations.

All of the reactor fuel has been removed from the reactor and the spent fuel pools and placed in the ISF-1 common storage facility until the ISF-2 facility is constructed and the assemblies can be placed in dry casks for storage.

 

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Movement of New Confinement Structure at Chernobyl signals new stage in decommissioning process http://enformable.com/2016/12/movement-of-new-confinement-structure-at-chernobyl-signals-new-stage-in-decommissioning-process/ http://enformable.com/2016/12/movement-of-new-confinement-structure-at-chernobyl-signals-new-stage-in-decommissioning-process/#respond Thu, 01 Dec 2016 16:12:03 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=41527

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine is entering a new period in the decommissioning and mitigation stage of the response to the 1986 nuclear disaster at the Unit 4 reactor.

During the last week of November, 2016, just before a fresh blanket of snow covered the plant, workers moved the new confinement structure in place over the sarcophagus that was erected in 1986 to stem the release of radioactive materials into the environment.

chernobyl-arch-movement-dscf5940-copy
The author at Chernobyl after exiting the control room of the Unit 4 reactor in November 2016.

I spent the majority of the last month in Ukraine, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, as a member of the last international delegation allowed on-site before the arch was moved.  I am currently working on reviewing my notes and data and will write a new series of editorials soon.  It was incredible to witness how much progress had been made on-site in just the last year.  The experience showed me that the workers at Chernobyl are willing, and able, to do the work – they just need the resources and assistance.

The majority of the time we were at the Chernobyl plant, the entire facility was closed down to international delegations in preparation for the movement of the New Confinement Structure.  We were very fortunate to have official status which allowed us to remain on-site even after it was restricted.  In the worker town of Slavutych I ran into Simon Evans – Hans Blix’s right hand man and Associate Director at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the international financier of the new confinement structure).  Evans first response to my salutation was “What are you doing here?”.

Those last days at the plant before the New Confinement Structure was moved in place were full of activity and anticipation, everyone was on edge, would everything go as planned?  It was incredible to witness the resolve and efforts of the Chernobyl workers, despite the pressures that were being placed upon them.

chernobyl-arch-movement-%d0%98%d0%b7%d0%be%d0%b1%d1%80%d0%b0%d0%b6%d0%b5%d0%bd%d0%b8%d0%b5-029
The New Confinement Structure in place over the Sarcophagus. The building to the left of the ventilation stack is the Unit 3 reactor, which was constructed as a mirror image of the Unit 4 reactor.

The new confinement structure, or “The Arch” as it is called, is the biggest movable object ever constructed, and there were many problems along the way that had to be dealt with.  Even up until the last week before the arch was moved, there were serious concerns about the ventilation system and the overall weight of the new confinement structure.  But now the arch has moved, and the workers can begin to focus on the next stages of the decommissioning plan – as soon as they locate the funds to acquire the necessary equipment and to perform the work.

A view of the New Confinement Structure from the west. The western end of the turbine building can be seen on the lower right half of the New Confinement Structure.
A view of the New Confinement Structure from the west. The western end of the turbine building can be seen on the lower right half of the New Confinement Structure.

It will still take a few years of close monitoring before experts are able to determine how stable the new confinement structure is, and whether any additional works will have to be completed to increase the integrity of the structure and improve its fit over the original sarcophagus.

There is still a great deal of concern at Chernobyl these days, now that the new confinement structure is in place, the international community will be content to walk away and forget about Chernobyl – little does the world realize that now is when the REAL work begins.  Now is when the workers of Chernobyl need us and our support the most!

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Nuclear Meltdown: Releasing radiation and containing the truth http://enformable.com/2016/02/nuclear-meltdown-releasing-radiation-and-containing-the-truth/ http://enformable.com/2016/02/nuclear-meltdown-releasing-radiation-and-containing-the-truth/#comments Mon, 29 Feb 2016 15:24:10 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=41219 The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant pictured in March 2011 (top) and March 2014 (bottom).
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant pictured in March 2011 (top) and March 2014 (bottom).

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) admitted last week that they should have declared a meltdown within days of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, instead of delaying the public announcement for months.

“We apologize for the great inconvenience and worry the delay caused”, a representative for TEPCO said this week.   The utility has also said it will investigate why the word “meltdown” was not used for months after the crisis began.

A meltdown is recognized by the public as severe damage to the core of a nuclear reactor with the potential for widespread radiation release.  Once the core is damaged, radioactive materials escape from the fuel rods into the coolant, make their way outside of the reactor vessel into the reactor building.  The reactor building is the last barrier between the radioactive materials and the environment.    The consequences and clean-up of a full-core meltdown are obviously more complicated and dangerous than a partial-meltdown like Three Mile Island – where only a portion of the core debris was damaged and all the fuel remained in the containment structure.

The word “meltdown” was so explosive, that TEPCO, the nuclear industry, and the Japanese government were loath to apply it until it could no longer be ignored.  The word has been so powerful, that it has crossed over into other fields – like personal meltdowns, financial meltdowns, political meltdowns, etc.

Within the first 24 hours, after the Unit 1 reactor building exploded on the morning of March 12th, TEPCO was aware that at least 50% of one of three cores at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was damaged within hours of the accident and notified the government of the ongoing meltdown – but did not acknowledge that a meltdown had occurred to the public until May 2011, long after the melted nuclear fuel escaped from the damaged reactors into the containment vessels.

Tokyo Electric’s internal regulations stated that the utility should declare a meltdown if more than 5% of the reactor core was damaged.  TEPCO has since admitted that the reactor pressure vessel of the Unit 1 reactor was damaged within the first 12 hours of the accident.  This means that a meltdown should’ve been declared within a few hours of the onset of the accident, around the time that water levels in the reactor were falling and TEPCO began hinting at the possibility of venting operations.

Any member of the nuclear industry knew the severity of the accident must be critical if the utility was considering the manual release of radioactive materials into the environment, but the utility, regulators, and elected officials paraded in front of the media and downplayed the consequences of the venting operations to the public – further complicating an already very fast-moving and complex accident.

For months operators were unable to control the temperature and pressure levels in the reactors.  They were forced to feed the reactors with water to hinder the rising temperatures and simultaneously bleed the pressure from the reactors through venting operations, in order to prevent the reactor vessel from being compromised or exploding.  Despite their efforts, they were unable to prevent full-meltdowns from occurring in the Unit 1, Unit 2, and Unit 3 reactors, and the hydrogen generated in the crippled reactors destroyed the reactor buildings for Unit 1, Unit 3, and Unit 4.  Despite all of this, TEPCO chose not to publically acknowledge the full severity of the situation they were facing at Fukushima Daiichi.

When Masao Yoshida, the former plant chief of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, later talked about the hydrogen explosion that tore apart the Unit 1 reactor he said “I thought it was all over”.  This is the man on the ground with first-hand experience of what was happening, knowing that there was a very serious situation – and still the message was not being communicated to the public.

Despite their knowledge, TEPCO did not confirm that the three reactors had actually suffered meltdowns for months, a situation which cannot be tolerated or allowed to be repeated.  Though the embattled utility admitted in 2012 that it played down safety risks (fearing that additional safety measures would shut the plant down and turn public sentiment away from supporting nuclear power plants), the true consequences of these actions has as of yet to be fully investigated and analyzed.

Fukushima Daiichi Units Meltdown Postulated Start Day Meltdown Announced
Unit 1 Within 6 hours May 12th, 2011
Unit 2 Within 100 hours May 23rd, 2011
Unit 3 Within 36 hours May 23rd, 2011

All of the blame cannot be placed solely on TEPCO.  Within 24 hours of the accident – by the time radiation levels on-site were over 1,000 times the normal limits in the control rooms of the reactors, the nuclear industry, nuclear safety regulators, and the Japanese Government knew enough details of the severity of the accident to inform the public of the core damage and ongoing meltdowns, even while they were denying it in press conferences and interviews.

There were multiple indicators offsite that severe fuel damage was underway at multiple reactors within 48 hours of the earthquake and tsunami;

  • The high temperatures of the reactor cores,
  • inability to control pressure levels in the reactors,
  • increasing radiation levels onsite and offsite,
  • the evacuation of members of the public within 3 kilometers of the plant,
  • the contamination of some evacuees near the site,
  • the evacuation of members of the public within 10 kilometers of the plant,
  • venting operations taking place at multiple reactors,
  • the injection of seawater into the reactors,
  • explosions destroying multiple reactor buildings,
  • authorities confirmed the presence of iodine and cesium off-site,
  • officials distributing KI to residents,

An aerial view of Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant on March 11.

In the May 15th, 2011 press release from Tokyo Electric updating information about the meltdown in the Unit 1 reactor it reads “regarding the Unit 1, nuclear fuel pellets have melted, falling to the bottom of the reactor pressure vessel at a relatively early stage after the tsunami reached the station.”  Are we really to believe that this catastrophic fuel damage, which occurred within hours of the tsunami, was not known by TEPCO, the nuclear industry, and the Japanese government?  If we were unable to determine the status of a damaged nuclear core for months after the onset of fuel damage, even after all of the fuel has escaped the reactor core, what would that say about our collective ability to safely operate nuclear reactors?

But none of the indicators listed above would have communicated to lay members of the public the full severity of the amount of fuel damage by themselves the way that an official announcement that there was a meltdown of core materials in the reactor would have.  The delay in announcing the meltdowns limited the public’s ability to determine the actual severity of the situation at the plant.

Instead of bringing these facts to light, the steady stream of spokespersons and officials speaking to the media would downplay the severity of the events to the public.  The public was repeatedly told there was no cause for alarm even though the government had declared a nuclear emergency.  There was seemingly nothing that would not be said to prevent the public from becoming too concerned about the disaster, it was even claimed that the radioactivity being released during the venting operations would not affect the environment or human health.

When seawater was added to the reactor cores, officials acted as if the operation would resolve the problems, when they really knew it was a last ditch effort to reduce the amount of damage that was already known to be happening to the nuclear fuel in the core.

In Japan, TEPCO, the nuclear industry, regulatory agencies, and government officials worked to provide a unified front to the public.  No one had all of the information they felt they needed, but they had enough to make some very serious determinations.

To convince the public that the water inside of the Unit 5 and Unit 6 reactor buildings was not a serious health threat, a Japanese politician named Yasushiro Sonada drank a glass of what he claimed was decontaminated water from inside of the reactor buildings to prove it was safe to drink after decontamination.  Whether or not it was an actual health threat to drink the processed water, it was an obvious publicity stunt that was carried out for effect (it also turned out to be the subject of quite a few satirical comments by the public on media coverage articles).

Fukushima Daiichi - PhysOrg Article

When Japan raised the level of the disaster from a five to the maximum seven on the international scale, the same rating as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Japanese government took special care to point out that “far less” radiation had been released then from the 1986 disaster.

A Japanese professor named Syunichi Yamashita, who held the title of “Fukushima Radiation Health Risk Advisor” in Japan, worked to convince the public that the risks from radiation were low – and is perhaps most notorious for claiming that radiation would not affect the public if they were “happy”.

In the span of two months, Nature published two articles, one claiming there was no meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, and the next confirming there was a full-meltdown at the crippled Japanese plant.

On March 22nd, 2011, Nature blog published an article called “The meltdown that wasn’t”.  The article claims that there “has never been a full meltdown in a boiling-water reactor”, a fact that already had been proven wrong three times over at Fukushima Daiichi.

Fukushima Daiichi - Nature Blog Comment

A comment on that March article (see highlighted text in image above), published two years after the article was published, expressed confusion about whether or not a meltdown had actually occurred years after the disaster.  A demonstration of the persistent confusion of the general public about the details of the accident.

By the time the meltdowns were announced to the public, it was passed off as mysterious old news.  Another article published in Nature blog published on May 13th, 2011 titled “Understanding the complete meltdown at Fukushima Unit 1” told readers “Whatever happened inside unit 1, it happened weeks ago”, and quickly worked to quell any concern by noting that the temperature trends in the reactor were much lower than in March when the fuel had melted.  There is little argument that the delaying of the announcement of the meltdowns likely led to far less questions and concern then if it had been announced when officials were first aware of the extent of the damage.

Fukushima Daiichi - TEPCO Presentation Slide to NRC

This collective front was organized, very public, and very necessary for TEPCO and Japanese authorities.  On May 7th, 2015 at a closed-door briefing by a senior TEPCO official Kenji Tateiwa for select members of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Tateiwa highlighted that an “International consensus on (the) health impact of low-dose radiation” was critical to relieve the anxiety, general perception of, and lack of trust towards, TEPCO and the Japanese government – in order to make evacuees feel comfortable returning to the areas where they used to live before the disaster.

Most of the vital accurate information that was disclosed early on during the disaster was more or less drowned out by the overwhelming number of instances where government officials would contradict themselves or someone else when bringing information to the public.

For example, on Saturday, March 13th – two days after the onset of the disaster, the Japanese government was still unable to nail down their own analysis of the event.

  • Yukio Edano, the Japanese chief cabinet secretary, told reporters that a partial meltdown may have occurred at two reactors (Unit 1, Unit 3),
  • Toshihiro Bannai a director of international affairs for the Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency (NISA) reported that “At this point, we have still not confirmed that there is an actual meltdown, but there is a possibility.
  • Ichiro Fujisaki, Japanese ambassador to the United States said that “there was currently no evidence of a meltdown” at the Fukushima Daiichi site.
  • an unnamed “top Japanese official” said there was likely a “partial meltdown” at a second reactor at Fukushima Daiichi, implying that more than one reactor core was at risk,

One of the government officials who spoke out and was cut down in the first days of the disaster was Koichiro Nakamura, a senior official at the former Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency (NISA) at the time of the disaster.  Immediately after Nakamura confirmed at a press conference that a meltdown could be taking place at Fukushima Daiichi, he was removed from his position at the agency.

The nuclear industry response was just as muddled as that of international governments.

On the morning of March 12th, experts from the nuclear industry made the following statements;

  • Ian Hore-Lacy, Director of Communications for the World Nuclear Association told the “Early Show on Saturday Morning” after the explosion of the Unit 1 reactor building that the possibility of a meltdown was “most unlikely” and “diminishing by the hour”.
  • Yaroslov Shtrombakh, a nuclear expert from Russia told reporters that a Chernobyl-style meltdown, explosion, and large release of radiation was unlikely and added “I think that everything will be contained within the grounds, and there will be no big catastrophe.”
  • Ryohei Shiomi, a nuclear official from Japan, told CBS news that even if there was a meltdown, it wouldn’t affect people more than six-miles away from the plant.

In the United States, Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists was providing clear analysis to American news services warning that Japan would only have a few hours to prevent a meltdown.

Though the information they were receiving was very confusing, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission was also very worried about the events in Japan.  In documents released through the Freedom of Information Act, the concern about the serious situation at Fukushima Daiichi is evident.

By the end of March 11th, 2011, the NRC was aware of and gravely concerned about the following facts:

  • There was an extended station black-out affecting multiple reactors
  • TEPCO was taking extraordinary measures to supply water to the reactors
  • Despite all efforts, operators were struggling to bring the reactors to a safe configuration
  • The emergency diesel generators were lost at multiple units, implying a common cause failure
  • The diesel fuel supply onsite was destroyed by the tsunami
  • Fuel in the reactors was damaged and radioactive iodine and cesium was being released into the environment
  • Temperature and pressure levels were rising in the Unit 1 reactor
  • The Japanese were preparing to vent the containment under “high radiation conditions”
  • Radiation levels around the site were far above normal and implied fuel damage
  • The Unit 2 containment pressure was almost double the design basis
  • Residents within 10 kilometers were evacuated

The NRC workers in the Emergency Operations Center monitoring the event in Japan were aware of the dangers of an extended station black-out and that nuclear power plants get into trouble pretty quickly after they lose power for cooling.  This led them to conclude that there was core damage by the afternoon of March 11th.  Exelon had simulated the Fukushima event at a simulator designed for the Quad Cities reactors in Illinois with a similar design.  According to the NRC estimates at the time based off of their information and the simulations, Unit 1 core damage would begin 12 hours after the onset of the disaster and “significant offsite releases” would begin 8 hours after the core damage.

Clearly what information that was getting out, was of enough use to those who knew how to interpret it, to allow them to make fairly accurate determinations about the situation in Japan.  The NRC even knew that the situation at the plants was more precarious than the official reports suggested and could potentially get much worse.  Why was that information not communicated to the public?

The average person who followed the situation at Fukushima Daiichi could tell that they were not receiving all of the story.  How can a government quantify the erosion of public trust that occurred over the handling of nuclear disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi?  No one has been able to fully measure what the fallout of the betrayal of public trust will amount to, but it will undoubtedly affect the trust of future host communities for nuclear facilities and waste storage sites alike.

Did the delay prevent the public from believing the accident at Fukushima Daiichi wasn’t as serious as it was?

Another question that has to be asked is, would fewer people have been put in harm’s way if the meltdowns had been announced promptly?   Would evacuees have had more time to gather their belongings, determine where to evacuate to, and take better routes?

The answers to these questions and more are important to consider and should be brought to the focus of public attention.

Source: TEPCO

Source: Reuters

Source: CBS News

Source: CBS News

Source: CBS News

Source: CNN

Source: CNN

Source: Time

Source: USA TODAY

Source: NJ

Source: NPR

Source: Nature

Source: Nature

Source: Nature

Source: TEPCO

Source: Phys.org

Source: Enformable

Source: Enformable

Source: Enformable

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Source: Enformable

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Pripyat: City for the Future, City of the Past http://enformable.com/2016/01/pripyat-city-for-the-future-city-of-the-past/ http://enformable.com/2016/01/pripyat-city-for-the-future-city-of-the-past/#respond Thu, 07 Jan 2016 15:30:06 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=41090 The following is the fourth installment of a new series of editorials which will communicate portions of my recent trip to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (Read the first installment herethe second installment here, the third installment here, and a bonus installment about the animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl here.).  

After we visited the Unit 4 control room and observed the construction site from the roof of the Sanitorium, we ate lunch before piling in a van and heading to Pripyat.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 50

I flicked on my survey meter and held my sodium iodide scintillation probe up to the window as we travelled down an old road southwest of Unit 4.  As we passed the southern side of Sarcophagus, the radiation levels rose and crested.

A historic photo of newlyweds posing in front of the sign for the City of Pripyat.
A historic photo of newlyweds posing in front of the sign for the City of Pripyat.
The Pripyat sign today.
The Pripyat sign today.

The road curved to the right as we passed the Red Forest and approached the sign for the City of Pripyat, where newlyweds once stood and posed for pictures in their wedding attire.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 89

The road connecting the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to Pripyat is quiet now, the trees and brush continue to work their way up to the very edge of the road.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 51

We stopped at a security checkpoint before entering the city.  Yellow stakes with small triangular signs constantly reminded us of the contamination in the area.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 53

Our driver was from nearby Chernobyl City and remembered Pripyat before the disaster.  He had grown up in this area and could never find it in him to leave it.  He works for the nuclear power plant now, which helps him to stay close to the places he has known for almost 70 years, by the way he describes the area I got the feeling that he will always remember how it was before the accident – like no matter how old a person may get, they will still be their mother’s child.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 52

A uniformed officer stepped out of a guards building, walked around and inspected the vehicle, opened the doors and eyed the passengers and their bags, turned to the driver and began asking him questions in Ukrainian.  Once he reviewed our documentation and was satisfied that we were authorized to enter the city, the guard walked over and lifted the gate as we passed through.  As we passed through the gate we passed by a figure of the crucifix, surrounded by little yellow signs.

The administration at the nuclear power plant is not associated with the City of Pripyat, or the management of the exclusion zone, but we were able to arrange for our liaisons from the nuclear power plant, Anton and Stanislav, to accompany us instead of hiring a private service.  This was a great benefit to us because of their personal familiarity with the area and buildings.

Anton’s mother had lived in Pripyat at the time of the accident and was in a leadership position for the Communist Youth League.  After the accident she was in charge of evacuating certain blocks of the city and stayed at the Hotel assisting the high-ranking officials who were responding to the disaster.  Anton told me how he had gone back once to find the apartment that his mother lived in before the accident.  I asked him if that had been a powerful experience for him, but he said that it was hard to associate that empty apartment, holding only a few pieces of furniture, with any real emotion.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 100

The city of Pripyat is located in Northern Ukraine near Belarus on the banks of the Pripyat River it was named for.  It was created to support operations at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which before the disaster was actually named after Lenin.

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Article that ran in The Times newspaper on April 29th, 1986, describing the accident at the "Chernobyl nuclear power plant".

(Interesting note: It was actually the western media that mislabeled the nuclear power plant.  The nuclear power plant near Chernobyl City was soon dubbed the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  Above: “Article that ran in The Times newspaper on April 29th, 1986, describing the accident at the “Chernobyl nuclear power plant”.)

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A view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant from the rooftops of Pripyat.
A view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant from the rooftops of Pripyat.

Pripyat and the nuclear power plant sprang up together, Pripyat was founded in 1970, while construction at the nuclear power plant began in 1972.  The future for the city seemed to be brighter than other Soviet nuclear cities because it had a port on the Pripyat River, was close to the railways, and also benefited from an efficient local highway system.  However by 1986, workers would be constructing a new city, Slavutich, in order to replace Pripyat after it was heavily contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

A photo showing the carefully planted trees after the construction of apartment buildings.
A photo showing the carefully planted trees after the construction of apartment buildings.

Although it was relatively young, Pripyat was once a model city for the Soviet Union – a vision of the future, it was not uncommon for specific requests be made to settle there.  The average age of the population was 26 years old.  Residents thought of the city as a type of paradise, it was clean, beautifully landscaped, and some of the lowest crime rates in the country.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 2

In the summer the river provided great fishing, boating, and yachting for locals.  Young teens would race small sailboats back and forth past the city.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 7

In the winter for the holiday of walruses some of the braver residents would run out to the Pripyat River for a polar swim.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 9

Pripyat also had its own rock band, named PULSAR.  The band would play live shows on holidays like this one on Neptune Day.

During the 1970s and 1980s personal fitness and working out at gyms became much more popular around the globe.  In the United States we saw the formation of companies like World’s Gym and Bally’s Fitness, and television shows like American Gladiator.  This was also happening in the Soviet Union, and because of the youthful median age of the population, great care was taken to provide ample athletic facilities, gymnasiums, pools, and tracks for athletes of all sports.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 101
Pripyat was divided into five districts and the main central square.

Art installed in one of the city parks.
Art installed in one of the city parks.

The Prometheus statue installed outside of the Prometheus movie cinema in Pripyat. After the accident the statue would be decontaminated, transported to the nuclear power plant and installed in front of the Administration Building.
The Prometheus statue installed outside of the Prometheus movie cinema in Pripyat. After the accident the statue would be decontaminated, transported to the nuclear power plant and installed in front of the Administration Building.

Residents enjoyed every amenity and attraction the Soviet government could provide including a hospital, the best department stores, hotels, restaurants, ten daycares, five schools, four libraries, two stadiums, the Prometheus statue and movie cinema, a concert hall, athletic fields, cafeterias, sports complexes, an art school, hobby clubs, book stores, a palace of culture, even a technical college.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 59


Chernobyl - Pripyat - 18


Chernobyl - Pripyat - 26

Buildings were adorned with and proudly displayed ornate badges, beautiful signage, colorful frescos, and modern art.

Chernobyl - Pripyat - 22

Even apartment buildings were adorned, one bearing the coat of arms for the Soviet Union and a Ukrainian flag.  Looking out the broken windows of one of the buildings across the central square, I wondered how beautiful the city would have been today, as it would’ve continued growing and maturing.

The city before the disaster.
The city before the disaster.

In fact many new architectural innovations were tested at Pripyat before being implemented as part of the Soviet standard.  The city was designed in a way to maximize the comfort of living.  Buildings were arranged in a way that maximized the use of space between structures for parks and gardens, instead of being packed tightly together.  Even the roads in the city were designed to be “traffic jam safe”.  Other towns like Volgodonsk and Togliatti are never jammed with rush hour traffic, even today – and Pripyat likely wouldn’t have been either.

The street names in Pripyat are indicative of the times the city was inhabited, Lenin Square, Heroes of Stalingrad Street, Friendship of the People Street and the Prospects of Builders and Enthusiasts Avenue.

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We parked the vehicle near Kurchotova Street and Lenina Avenue, and as I exited I looked at the abandoned apartment buildings 10 stories tall that loomed over the trees.  District 1 and District 2 are the two oldest districts of the city.

Kurchotova Street was named after Igor Vasilyevich Kurchatov, the Soviet nuclear physicist and father of the Soviet atomic weapons program and nuclear power program.

A photo of some of the flowers decorating the city before the accident.
A photo of some of the flowers decorating the city before the accident.

At the time of the accident, nearly 50,000 people lived in the city.  Pripyat was known as the city of flowers.  It was always well-landscaped, everything in its rightful place, and the city was especially proud of over 35,000 rosebushes that decorated it.

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As we left the vehicle and made our way into the city we followed a sidewalk towards one of the schools.

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Within a few hundred yards, the sidewalk was difficult to find and we were forced to rely more on our liaisons to guide us.  We came into a small clearing just before the school building and found a spot of contamination in the middle of the asphalt.

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Today the city is barely recognizable from the ground, the roads and sidewalks are being overtaken by trees and vegetation.  In the summer it is very easy to walk between buildings without even knowing they are there.  It is like someone has taken all of the people and replaced them with trees; little trees, big trees, tall trees, wide trees.

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It is easy to disassociate in a way while you are walking through Pripyat, if you don’t pay particular attention – it could easily become less of a city and more of an endless series of empty abandoned buildings.

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After thirty years of disrepair and overgrowth, many of the unique characteristics of buildings are lost or hidden, and the most easily perceivable differences are the ones that contain beds, school desks, art, or morgues in them.  Still if you take the time to really appreciate the city as a place where people lived their lives; here was the store, this was the way the children would go to school, here is the balcony where young lovers would watch boats pass up and down the river, etc., I think you achieve – in some small way – a greater understanding of what was lost.

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A bright yellow booth was at the corner of the old “rainbow” store – which used to be a popular spot for lunch, the glass windows now broken, with a little white stool and a small tree slowly growing inside.

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Inside of Middle School Number 3, broken glass litters the floors, desks and books are scattered throughout the building, and the paint slowly peels off of the walls.

A view of the kitchen in the Number 3 school.
A view of the kitchen in the Number 3 school.

Electrical wires dangle from light fixtures attached to the ceiling in one of the science labs in the school.
Electrical wires dangle from light fixtures attached to the ceiling in one of the science labs in the school.

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When walking through Pripyat, you have to really pay attention to identify what things have and haven’t been manipulated since the accident – you can’t just assume that this was how it was left by the evacuees.

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For example, one of the most photographed collections of Cold-War era gas masks on the floor in the school are not from the evacuation, rather from looters who raided the supplies after the city was evacuated for the tiny amount of silver in the filters.

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In other areas it is very clear where photographers have staged the scene to give the most dramatic effect.  Still to me, some of the most powerful and moving images – the ones that I remember Pripyat by – came from the actual decay and sense of abandonment found in the city, not any of the staged photos – like those of dolls with gas masks strapped across their faces.

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We visited the pool “Azure” where employees of the nuclear power plant and residents of the city would come to relax after a long day.  Today all of the windows are broken and the trees are making their way inside of the facility.  In the last few years some of the visitors have brought spray paint and “tagged” the pool with different symbols and signs.  Even after thirty years of neglect, it is still easily apparent how beautiful of a pool this would have been before the accident.

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In the main square the “Energetic” Palace of Culture (an elevated form of a community center) still stands in all its marbled glory.  It once hosted parties, bands, ceremonies, lectures, concerts and other performances.  There were recreational facilities inside including, a gymnasium with seating 15 feet above the floor, cinema, swimming pool brightly lit by windows, boxing ring, a dance hall, and a shooting range in the basement.   The Energetic was also a place where artists could always go to find buyers for their works.

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Moss and trees are starting to cover many of the paved areas in the center of town.

In front of the Energetic are the remains of two large square water fountains, recessed into the central square. Inside of these fountains I found the some of the highest count rates I saw in the city.

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In the middle of the city used to stand small monuments that would have been meant to encourage the citizens of Pripyat and promote their national values.  Today they are either obscured by the overgrowth or in disrepair.

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We followed what sidewalk we could make out until we reached the outer track of the Avangard Stadium, where helicopters once took off and landed while conducting emergency operations at the power plant in 1986, now is overgrown by a grove of trees – some of which are over thirty feet tall.  Around the perimeter of the facility the tall metal structures that used to hold lights and speakers slowly rust away.

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The Hotel Polesie

In the center of the city is the main square, where you will find administrative buildings and the famous abandoned Hotel Polesie – one of the tallest buildings in Pripyat, which was used as the base of operations for liquidators in April 1986.  From the top of this hotel, on the observation deck, spotters would direct helicopters to drop materials into the crippled Unit 4 reactor.

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A few years ago, artists came and spray painted the “Shadows of Hiroshima”, black silhouette images depicting those who died during the disaster.

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As we passed the Hotel Polesie we came upon one of the administration buildings that had been utilized as a base of operations after the accident – a tree now growing out of the concrete stairs leading up to the building.

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There are many abandoned apartment buildings.  Inside any one of them you can find signs of the people who used to live there.  Beds, couches, broken ceiling light fixtures, and clothes still hanging from laundry lines on the balconies of apartments.

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The fairgrounds are a popular tourist spot just behind the Energetic, in the middle of the city, but they are also where you will find some of the higher ambient radiation levels. The fair was supposed to open on May 1st, a few days after the disaster.

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The big yellow Ferris wheel rises over the trees, while the bumper cars underneath slowly rust and decay.

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The radiation levels throughout the city are relatively homogeneous although frequent spots of contamination that can still be found if you have the right equipment and know where to look.  After the disaster most of the topsoil was scraped up and taken back to the nuclear power station where it is stored.  Additional decontamination efforts focused on removing surface contamination from sidewalks, roads, and building structures.

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The trail through the central part of town still has patches of residual cesium contamination.

A historic photo of "The Dish" overlooking the pier.
A historic photo of “The Dish” overlooking the pier.

Exiting the back stairs of "The Dish" leading to the balcony overlooking the river.
Exiting the back stairs of “The Dish” leading to the balcony overlooking the river.

The interior of "The Dish" today.
The interior of “The Dish” today.

Down by the docks is “The Dish”, a beautiful café with stained glass art and a rounded balcony out back overlooking the water.

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Anton explained to us the interpretation of the art and scientists before and after the disaster.  Residents used to come pack the balcony of The Dish overlooking the river and docks in order to watch boats arrive and depart from the pier.

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We walked down the stone steps to the edge of the pier where we found two scientists doing tests in the river.

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Halfway down the steps leading to the water was a small 10-foot landing, in the corners we found pockets of contamination.

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A nearby leaf reminded us that even though nature is regaining control over the city doesn’t mean that it is not unaffected by the contamination of the environment.

The waiting room in the Pripyat Hospital.
The waiting room in Hospital No. 126 in Pripyat.

There was some debate about whether or not we would be allowed to visit the hospital.  As the hospital received many of the first victims of the accident, there are areas of the building including the unlit basement (where you can still find gear from the firefighters that responded that night) that are still incredibly contaminated.  Some of the highest radiation levels can still be found at the hospital, but be careful of all of the radioactive dust – make sure to at least bring gloves and a mask.

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Inside of the hospital some of the old potted plants that used to decorate the facility have continued to grow and reach toward the light coming in through the windows.

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As we explored the hospital we entered one of the operating rooms and found some residual contamination on some of the rags littering the floor.

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As we left the city, we stopped by one of the old bookstores.  The roof was caving in and the building looked to have been scavenged pretty hard.  This is the problem with Pripyat these days, what to do with it?  It will forever attract tourists and no one is maintaining the buildings, at the same time there would be an assured international outcry if they did try to demolish the city – and that would be expensive.  In the meantime, the city continues to transition from a brief period of human inhabitation back into a part of the wild.

Chernobyl Series

Part 1 – Experiencing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Part 2 – Visiting the Chernobyl site and the Unit 2 control room

Part 3 – Inside the Chernobyl Unit 4 control room

Part 4 – Pripyat: City for the Future, City of the Past

Bonus Coverage – The Animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl

All images courtesy of Carl Willis, Heidi Baumgartner, Lucas Hixson, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

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The Animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl http://enformable.com/2015/12/the-animals-at-fukushima-daiichi-and-chernobyl/ http://enformable.com/2015/12/the-animals-at-fukushima-daiichi-and-chernobyl/#comments Mon, 28 Dec 2015 15:06:22 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=41070 Animals of Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl - 2

TEPCO released images this week of what appeared to be a fox that had entered the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 reactor.

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The animal pokes his head around and explores the contaminated structure.

The images demonstrate how hard it is to keep animals out of sites like Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl.

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Dogs sleeping together at the Sanitorium Building at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

In September, I was at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and saw hundreds of stray dogs that live on-site.  While the workers feed them and pet them, we chose not to.

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A small stray puppy in front of the new confinement structure at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

What we saw at Chernobyl was that the animals would have access to any area that was not fenced off.

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A dog walks underneath a gate at the ISF-2 facility at Chernobyl.

As can be seen in this image, just a gate is not enough to prevent access to our four-legged friends.

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A sign warning of wolves at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The dogs at Chernobyl are strays and they look like it, but they are a little safer from the wolves in the exclusion zone while on-site.

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I don’t know what the long-term solution is for animals like this, but when I showed pictures we had taken on our trip of the Dogs at Chernobyl to a veterinarian here in the United States, the first thing he did was offer to go over and spay and neuter them for free.

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Chernobyl Series

Part 1 – Experiencing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Part 2 – Visiting the Chernobyl site and the Unit 2 control room

Part 3 – Inside the Chernobyl Unit 4 control room

Part 4 – Pripyat: City for the Future, City of the Past

Bonus Coverage – The Animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl

All images courtesy of Carl Willis, Heidi Baumgartner, Lucas Hixson, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

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Inside the Chernobyl Unit 4 control room http://enformable.com/2015/12/inside-the-chernobyl-unit-4-control-room/ http://enformable.com/2015/12/inside-the-chernobyl-unit-4-control-room/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 12:30:21 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=40978 The following is the third installment of a new series of editorials which will communicate portions of my recent trip to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (Read the first installment herethe second installment herethe third installment here, the fourth installment here, and a bonus installment about the animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl here).  

When I visited the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in September, I was aware that we would be visiting the Sarcophagus and the Unit 4 control room.  Once we had arrived at the site however, we began to hear rumor that maybe we wouldn’t be able to access the control room due to some worker activities inside of the structure that would hinder our access to some areas.

That is just the nature of working at an extremely contaminated place like Chernobyl, it is impossible to predict what the on-site worker conditions will be like in the future, things can pop up which require immediate attention and may alter day-to-day activities.

After coming face-to-face with the Sarcophagus on our first day on-site, while inspecting the new confinement structure under construction at the nuclear power plant, we didn’t see much of the Unit 4 structure while we visited other areas of the site the second day.  On Wednesday evening we first learned that we would be visiting Unit 4 after all, and a few of us stayed up late into the night preparing to make the most of the time that we would have available in the structure.

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The next morning a thick layer of fog hovered low over the city of Slavutich.  We walked through the tall pine trees in the park, past a beautiful bronze statue of a father, mother and child, on the way to the station to take the train to the nuclear power plant.  The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see the train until it appeared abruptly nearly at the station.

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Once we had boarded and taken our seats, we met Irina Kovbich, the head of the Information Department at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  During the train ride, the fog precluded us from seeing outside of the train windows, so we were left to our thoughts and conversations during the 45 minute trip to the power plant.

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Once we arrived at the plant, passed through security, and were accepted onto the site we made our way to the bright blue sanitorium building, where workers change in and out of protective gear to enter critical areas at the plant.  The sanitorium also provides decontamination showers, medical staff, dosimetry, and meeting areas for workers.

We were taken inside to change out of our clothes and gear, men went one way to a small room with lockers – women went another way to the ladies locker room.

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Inside of the first room we took off our clothes and stored whatever gear we were not taking into Unit 4 in lockers.  We changed into small cotton robes and sandals and carried our items with us.

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The workers led us into a second room where we were given a light cotton undershirt, pants, and socks.  We were also given a heavier cotton jacket and matching pants which we put on over the undergarments, a canvas head covering, gloves, boots and a hard hat.

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After we put on our clothes and arranged the gear we wanted to take into Unit 4, we grabbed our boots and walked downstairs to get assigned a disposable mask and second dosimeter that would allow us to monitor our exposures in the more contaminated areas of the site.

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Inside of the sanitorium workers employ the “clean line” principle.  In the downstairs lobby where workers enter and exit the building there is a line with benches.  Workers are not allowed to wear boots or shoes inside of the building over the clean line.

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Looking out the window, we could see the top of the Sarcophagus and ventilation stack peeking above the building across the street.

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After donning our gear and putting our boots and masks on we made our way onto the site  from the south and entered the clean road between the new confinement structure on our left and the Sarcophagus and turbine building on our right.

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By the time we reached the site the sun had risen and was shining down brightly from above, the fog had lifted, leaving us with perfect conditions for taking photos and videos of the site.

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We paused at the entrance to the clean road and surveyed the site.

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High above our heads workers were suspended on work platforms by cranes as they worked on the new confinement structure.

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Large cranes positioned inside and outside of the new structure under construction were installing and testing the panels on the east side of the structure that will be lowered in place after it is moved in place over the Sarcophagus in the years to come.

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A blue and green dump truck rumbled past us and parked next to the new confinement structure, it was covered in radiation signage indicating that it was used to move materials around.  As soon as the vehicle came to rest a dosimetrist ran up and began surveying the materials.

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The site today is very similar to many other construction sites but it also happens to be heavily contaminated and has high ambient gamma radiation levels emanating from the melted nuclear fuel in the sarcophagus.

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There are piles of materials and pipes and heavy equipment moving about.

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Workers help guide cranes move heavy loads,  survey areas for new structures, and climb up and down the scaffolding erected along the western wall of the Sarcophagus.

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There are posters hanging throughout the site, to remind workers to be safe, to check their harnesses, etc. – but my favorite was the Simpsons-themed shielding poster.

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Bright orange plastic fencing outlines the clean path areas workers pass through on their way about the site.

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Our boots crunched along gravel paths as we walked to the southwest corner of the turbine building and headed north towards one of the entrances which would take us to the control room.

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Workers are still working to repair the portion of the roof of the turbine building that collapsed in 2013.  We were told that initially, the plan was to leave the turbine building roof – because it would just be covered by the new confinement structure once it was moved in place anyways, but the international outcry caused them to commit the manpower and resources to repairing the turbine building roof in the interim.

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We walked up a set of concrete steps to reach the northern side of the turbine building where our entrance was located.

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White cranes were moving large sections of concrete walls for structures that are being constructed near the Sarcophagus.

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As we approached the entrance we passed underneath an awning made of aluminum sheets and passed by a small bench where some workers were seated as they watched us climb up to the structure.

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Once we had entered the building we clicked on our flashlights and headlamps and lined up to enter the hallways to access the control room.

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The hallways were dimly lit and the paint was slowly peeling off of the concrete walls.

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We ascended a narrow concrete stairwell as we navigated the winding twisting hallways to our destination.  It became hard to remember exactly how we had travelled the farther we went, we passed through countless doors and access hatches.

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I was almost caught by surprise when we passed through one door and found ourselves in a tight room and as our eyes adjusted we began to make out the control panels and indicators of the control room.

The control room has changed quite a bit in the last thirty years.  Portions of the control room ceiling have been removed, exposing the concrete beams hanging above our heads.

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I vividly remember standing in the Unit 4 control room, just trying to take in the surroundings and considering what it must have been like on that fateful night. I was surrounded on all sides by a sea of dials, indicators, and actuators.

In April 1986, operators in this room were running an experiment which would help them determine how much electricity would be generated while the turbine was running down.  The rundown was supposed to occur with the reactor operating between 700-1,000 megawatts per hour.  During the experiment, operators had trouble maintaining power levels, the reactor power dipped below 30 MW and fell into the iodine pit.  The reactor was entering dangerous waters now and becoming evermore difficult to control.  The operators didn’t want to increase power after it had fallen, but a special supervisor was on duty because of the test named Anatoly Stepanovich Dyatlov who ordered the operators to increase the reactor power levels –  Dyatlov argued that the experiment could not be allowed to fail just because the operators were having problems and accused them of ruining the test.

Three of the men in the room, Aleksandr Fyodorovich Akimov, Leonid Toptunov, and Boris Stolyarchuk attempted to manually control the reactor by adjusting the steam pressure and water level, but were unable to keep the water in the fuel channels from boiling and steam from being generated – which led to a surge of power in the reactor.  When Toptunov noticed the power increase he warned Akimov.  Akimov briefly hesitated, then pressed the emergency power reduction system button (A-Z) which was designed to drop the control rods into the reactor and stop the nuclear chain reaction.  No one in the room at the time could’ve have guessed in their wildest dreams what sequence of events would be set into motion by that action.  After the button was pressed and the control rods began to insert, the reactivity in the reactor accelerated out of control, leading to a prompt neutron power surge that was beyond control and completely destroyed the reactor.

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Our liaison with the power plant, Stanislav, indicated to us the control panel that held the A-Z button, which once fatally pushed, attempted to lower the control rods into the core and sealed the fate of the Chernobyl Unit 4 reactor.

The control rods were graphite tipped.  Akmiov hit the A-Z button at the same time as steam was building up in the reactor causing a rise in reactivity and when the rods began to insert they displaced some of water in the core but did nothing to slow the nuclear reaction.  The control rods began to drop, but almost immediately stopped.  They never fully inserted partly because of the forces inside of the reactor and the destruction of the fuel channels – therefore they only displaced some of the water in the reactor (which was moderating the reaction) and did nothing to stem the increase of reactivity.  Once operators realized that they could not get the control rods to insert they also realized that they had completely lost control of all ability to stop the chain reaction in the core.

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Only a handful of the servo-indicators remain in the panel, but they still show that the control rods were never fully inserted into the core.

When Akimov realized that the control rods had not fully inserted he yelled out, “The reactor’s out of control!” and began attempting alternative methods trying to insert the control rods which would bring the reactor back under control, but he was unsuccessful.  Akimov and Toptunov, like many others, would later die from the radiation exposure they received that night.  With the tips of the control rods displacing some coolant water, combined with the rising temperature and boiling of the coolant water, and the lack of enough absorbing rods to slow the multiplication of neutrons in the reactor – the reaction ran out of control.

Loud banging noises began emanating from the Central Hall housing the reactor and the floor in the control room began to shake.

Inside of the reactor, water levels continued to drop, steam formation intensified, fuel assemblies began to fail and the fuel channels began to fall apart.  The pressure in the reactor increased by 15 atmospheres per second and prevented the flow of water into the core altogether – which instead began to fill up with a mixture of radioactive gases, including hydrogen and oxygen.

Within seconds at least two powerful explosions ripped through the reactor and destroyed the reactor building spreading contamination around the site and into the environment.

One analogy is that the reactor was like a car travelling down the road at 60 miles per hour approaching a stop, but as soon as the operators hit the brake (the A-Z button) to bring the car to a stop the car starts to accelerate instead of brake and speeds up until it blows up.  The operators had done what they had been instructed to do, they had tried to bring the nuclear reaction under control, but their actions unwittingly led to disaster.

Men like Akimov and Toptunov would die without knowing why the reactor blew up.  Only after the accident would it be discovered that the flaw that caused the power surge that occurred after the tips of the control rods inserted was known to some senior engineers and designers but was never fully investigated and communicated to the operators of RBMK reactors.

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One can only imagine the conditions the operators were trying to work under after the explosion while the panels and indicators were lighting up like a Christmas tree and the ground was heaving and shaking with the force of the runaway reaction in the reactor.

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The control room is silent now, it seems like even the air is quiet, and our flashlights provided the strongest source of light. For some time I just stood there, camera in my hand, but all I could do was contemplate.

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Dust was heavy in the air and clung to the rusting control panels.  Many of the components in the control room have been salvaged for use in the control rooms of the other 3 reactors at the site.

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After a while we began inspecting around the control room monitoring the radiation levels and looking for hotspots of contamination.

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We succeeded in finding several areas with alpha and beta contamination and located a few hotspots, the hottest of which was located behind the control room indicating panels in a corner.  After spending another twenty minutes monitoring the radiation levels in the control room we exited back into the blue hallways of the upper floors, traversed back down the stairwells and hallways back to the exit.

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As we exited the building we walked past three large sheets of lead and a concrete ALARA box, both of which can be used by workers to lower exposures from the gamma shine coming from the nuclear fuel in the Sarcophagus.

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We found that standing with the lead between us and the structure cut the dose rate from the gamma shine in half.

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We walked a little farther up and down the clean road monitoring the radiation levels.

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From our vantage point we could see the large yellow gantry that will remove the roof panels of the Sarcophagus someday and workers assembling the inner panels of the new confinement structure.

After we returned to the Sanitorium we went through the reverse process that we had taken when we had gotten geared up for our trip to the Sarcophagus.  After putting our clothes back on we exited the Sanitorium and went up on the roof for the best view of the Unit 4 Sarcophagus facing the west side of the structure.

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The top of the Sanitorium will offer the best view of the new confinement structure being moved over the Sarcophagus in a few years.  From this vantage point we could see the Western and Southern walls of the Sarcophagus and the roof.

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Piles of debris could still be observed just west of the new confinement structure.  To the northwest we could see the tops of the remnants of the buildings of the City of Pripyat, which we would be visiting very soon.

Stay tuned as this series of articles will be continued in Part 4.  


Chernobyl Series

Part 1 – Experiencing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Part 2 – Visiting the Chernobyl site and the Unit 2 control room

Part 3 – Inside the Chernobyl Unit 4 control room

Part 4 – Pripyat: City for the Future, City of the Past

Bonus Coverage – The Animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl

All images courtesy of Carl Willis, Heidi Baumgartner, Lucas Hixson, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

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Visiting the Chernobyl site and the Unit 2 control room http://enformable.com/2015/10/where-you-will-and-will-not-find-radiation-at-chernobyl/ http://enformable.com/2015/10/where-you-will-and-will-not-find-radiation-at-chernobyl/#comments Thu, 01 Oct 2015 14:06:50 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=40838 The following is the second installment of a new series of editorials which will communicate portions of my recent trip to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The first editorial focused on what it was like to experience the plant, this article is focused on different areas we visited at the Chernobyl plant (outside of Unit 4 – that is still to come) and I document many of the radiation levels that I observed in those areas.  As you will see the radiation levels vary in different areas of the plant and even room-to-room inside some of the buildings.

Prometheus positioned in front of the ABK-1 Administration Building Photo Credit: Heidi Baumgartner
Prometheus positioned in front of the ABK-1 Administration Building
Photo Credit: Heidi Baumgartner

In front of the Administration Building at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is a statue of Prometheus that originally was located in front of the cinema in Pripyat which was called by the same name (“The Prometheus”).

Radiation levels near the Prometheus monument were between 15-27 uR/hr.
Radiation levels near the Prometheus monument were between 15-27 uR/hr.

The statue was covered in radiation from the Unit 4 reactor that likewise coated the city and the work of art required comprehensive decontamination before it was relocated from Pripyat and installed at the entrance to the office building.

Looking to the north from the Prometheus statue I could see ABK-1 Administration buildings which has a large piece of art that incorporates an atom in the design. 
Looking to the north from the Prometheus statue I could see ABK-1 Administration buildings which has a large piece of art that incorporates an atom in the design.

An old bridge over one of the cooling pond canals.
An old bridge over one of the cooling pond canals.

If you walk east from the Prometheus monument, away from the sarcophagus, you approach an old iron bridge for trains which spans a channel of the cooling pond.

Some of the fish that live in the cooling pond waters.
Some of the fish that live in the cooling pond waters.

From the middle of the bridge we had the best vantage point to look at the fish who live in the cooling pond, including some of the enormous catfish that are so popular online.

The catfish were quick to eat any food we would share with them.
The catfish were quick to eat any food we would share with them.

At the canteen we would buy slices of bread and after lunch we would occasionally stop at the bridge to film the trout and catfish eating.

Enjoying a small break on 'Catfish Bridge'
Enjoying a small break on ‘Catfish Bridge’

Standing above the water, the readings on my detector ranged from 26-86 uR/hr.

Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility (IFS-2)
Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility (IFS-2)

Next we visited the new Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility (ISF-2) which is currently under construction.  Outside of the security gate I checked my detector and read 31 uR/hr.  In this large concrete and rebar building, specifically in the “hot chamber”, operators will prepare the RBMK spent fuel assemblies for storage in dry casks.  The casks will be stored horizontally in a large concrete bunker.

Workers pass in front of the concrete bunker where the dry casks will be stored horizontally.
Workers pass in front of the concrete bunker where the dry casks will be stored horizontally.

The construction of the facility began in 1999 and is currently 70-80% complete.  They hope to have the civil works finished by the end of 2016 and to begin cold and hot testing.

The concrete plant right next to the ISF-2 site.
The concrete plant right next to the ISF-2 site.

Right next to the ISF-2 facility is a large concrete plant, which supplies the necessary material for the construction operations.

An illustration of how the RBMK assemblies will be handled and loaded into dry casks at the ISF-2 facility.
An illustration of how the RBMK assemblies will be handled and loaded into dry casks at the ISF-2 facility.

We were taken to an administration trailer just outside of the construction area where we were given a comprehensive overview of the plan for spent fuel at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant by the Construction Manager of the ISF-2 project.  That radiation levels inside of the meeting room were very similar to the radiation levels near the security gate.

One selling point of the RBMK reactor design was that the reactor never had to be shutdown for refueling, instead 2 to 4 assemblies would be switched out while the reactor was operating.  The dose rate on top of the reactor during operation was 4 mR/hr.  The 21,000 spent fuel assemblies from the intact decommissioned reactors is currently stored in spent fuel pools inside of the reactor buildings.

This large equipment will transport the dry casks from the ISF-2 facility to the concrete bunker where they will be loaded.
This large equipment will transport the dry casks from the ISF-2 facility to the concrete bunker where they will be loaded.

The workers at Chernobyl feel that spent fuel should not be stored for long periods of time in water because it is an “aggressive environment” and there are other methods of storage that can better maintain the integrity of the fuel assemblies.  The plan is to transport the assemblies from the spent fuel pools in the reactor buildings to the ISF-2 facility where they will be inspected by camera.  If the process goes according to plan, 2,000 spent fuel assemblies will be processed each year (9 per day) and installed in dry casks.  93 spent fuel assemblies can be stored in each dry cask canister and it will take approximately 239 dry casks to store all of the assemblies.  Once packed with the spent fuel assemblies a large crane and gantry will transport the casks from the packing building to the bunker where they will be stored.

In the industrial area where they are constructing the ISF-2 facility the main priority for protecting workers is dust control.   The ISF-2 facility is on the opposite side of the nuclear power plant from the Unit 4 Sarcophagus and therefore is not greatly affected by the gamma shine coming from the structure.  The protection programs we witnessed on-site were focused on preventing the accumulation and tracking of dust and the radioactive materials that may be in the dust inside the management trailers or the processing facility.  They have scraped back the topsoil and brought in new fill materials and then laid concrete and asphalt over that.  Every couple of hours a sprayer truck will come by and wet down the road leading into the construction site and the surrounding paved areas.  The radiation levels at the entrance to the construction site bounced between 14-29 uR/hr.

One of the small metal trays with water to step in before entering the administration building.
One of the small metal trays with water to step in before entering the administration building.

Installed outside of the buildings are small metal trays that are filled with water.  Before you enter a building you step into the water to dislodge some of the dirt and dust that are on your shoes and prevent you from tracking it into the facility.

While we were at the ISF-2 facility we also met a dosimetrist named Pavel who was measuring radioactive levels on equipment that was stored outside to ensure that no excess contamination was building up on them.

When travelling between locations by bus, I was always trying to balance taking pictures out of the window and monitoring my detector to observe how the radiation levels varied.  It was interesting to watch the measurements jump up and then look around outside to see if any indication of the source could be determined.  Whenever we passed the Unit 5 and Unit 6 reactor buildings or the ISF-1 spent fuel storage building my measurements would always jump if I was seated on the closest portion of the bus.

After a quick lunch at the canteen I went outside to mingle with the workers and talk with our liaison while the other members of my group finished eating.  Once I got outside I decided to explore the surrounding area of the cafeteria.  I looked down and recorded 22 uR/hr in front of the canteen, but as I made my way around to the rear of the building the readings jumped up to 84 uR/hr as I approached a manhole in the middle of the road with a puddle of water around it.

Heading back to the ABK-1 building.
Heading back to the ABK-1 building.

We went back to the Administration Building (ABK-1) and were escorted up to the 2nd floor to a large two-level room.  I looked down at my detector as we walked up to the entry doors to the Administration Building and saw I was measuring 40 uR/hr, after I passed through the entrance and into the building the levels dropped to 15 uR/hr.

Model of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the ABK-1 building.
Model of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the ABK-1 building.

Inside the administration room we were taken to there was a large model of the entire nuclear power plant with all 4 connected units (Units 1, 2, 3, and 4), the 2 units which were under construction at the time of the disaster (Units 5 and 6), the cooling ponds, the switchyard, and all of the auxiliary buildings.

After we were briefed on the construction of the plant and the operating history of the Unit 1, 2, and 3 reactors we exited the floor and went down into the basement.  We eventually continued down until we reached two large blast doors which must be passed through to enter the fortified emergency shelter where the managers of the plant were stationed during the disaster.

Dmitriy Vladimirovich Kondratov (on the right), the Emergency Management Director at Chernobyl.
Dmitriy Vladimirovich Kondratov (on the right), the Emergency Management Director at Chernobyl.

We were guided by Dmitriy Vladimirovich Kondratov, the Emergency Management Director of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant whose clean-cut face and military high and tight haircut betrayed the fact that he had spent some time in the armed forces.  Dmitriy later told us that he had        enlisted in the Soviet Navy and worked as a turbine engineer on the K-3 (the first Soviet nuclear submarine).

The entrance to the emergency shelter and the contamination check portal.
The entrance to the emergency shelter and the contamination check portal.

To enter the shelter one has to gain entry through large blast doors and pass a contamination checkpoint.  The underground bunker has its own air supply and filtration system and enough food and water to stay completely sheltered for 5 days.

Chernobyl Trip 2015 - 2 - 20
Rows of bunks line the walls in a large room in the shelter.

The main room is still full of steel bunks with plywood covered with vinyl for a mattress, where workers slept between shifts during the disaster.  Branching off of the main room are adjoining rooms sectioned off for bathrooms, first-aid, communications, and the operational command center.

Dmitriy explaining how the command center operated during the 1986 disaster. Photo Credit: Heidi Baumgartner
Dmitriy explaining how the command center operated during the 1986 disaster.
Photo Credit: Heidi Baumgartner

The command center is a long rectangular room where the plant director and other top-level officials directed response efforts after the reactor exploded.  The radiation levels in the command room were just as low as in the basement of any house, between 8-9 uR/hr.

The command center in the underground shelter for the director and management of the Chernobyl plant.
The command center in the underground shelter for the director and management of the Chernobyl plant.

In the middle of the room is a large table with a direct line and internet connection for the officials.  At one end of the room is the table for the plant director.  On the walls are aerial photographs of the facility and the sarcophagus.

We found a small hotspot at the entrance to the stairwell of the bunker.
We found a small hotspot at the entrance to the stairwell of the bunker.

The radiation levels in the bunker were between 9-16 uR/hr.  After we climbed the stairs back to the ground floor and exited the shelter we found a small spot of contamination coming from under the tiles beneath our feet that was measured to be 67 uR/hr.

The changing room where we put on garments and shoe covers to prevent the transfer of contamination as we passed through the buildings.
The changing room where we put on garments and shoe covers to prevent the transfer of contamination as we passed through the buildings.

We walked through the Administration Building to a small room where we donned flowing white laboratory jackets and cloth caps and prepared to enter the 650-yard long deaerator corridor (+10m elevation) which connects all four operating reactors.  All of the windows down the entire deaerator corridor were blown out by the explosions.  The long hallway is now called the “Gold Corridor” because of the wood paneling and gold-colored metal covering the walls walls.

Walking from the ABK-1 building through the Golden Corridor.

The Gold Corridor starts at the ABK-1 building and ends at the Unit 4 control room.  As we stepped into the corridor my detector started rising from 17 uR/hr to 84 uR/hr until it settled around 53 uR/hr.  The hallway runs past the control room for Unit 1, 2, and 3, dosimetry rooms, switchyard control rooms, fire control rooms, and connecting hallways to each of the reactor buildings.

The Unit 2 control room at Chernobyl.
The Unit 2 control room at Chernobyl. Photo Credit: Heidi Baumgartner

We travelled down the corridor until we reached the Unit 2 control room.  The Unit 4 reactor is not the only reactor at Chernobyl which was shut down after a severe accident.  The Unit 1 reactor had a partial core meltdown in 1982, but later returned to operation.  The Unit 2 reactor was shut down in 1991 after a fire in the turbine building that caused the roof to collapse and destroyed the feedwater pumps.

As we entered the dimly-lit Unit 2 control room, my eyes scanned the room taking in the controls for the reactor, the core map display, the control rod servo display, and the gentle glow of the television monitors fixed around the room providing footage of auxiliary areas in and around the reactor building.  4 florescent lights in the middle of the room provided a little glow, but the only other lights were from lamps on the desks in the middle of the room.  I walked around the edge of the room between the controls for the reactor and the wall panels looking for familiar components and instrumentation.

As we explored the control room my detector ranged between 55-117 uR/hr, but I found a spot with elevated levels near the entrance that peaked at 458 uR/hr coming from up in the ceiling.  Situated directly above the control room on the +15m elevation is a “pipeline connection” room which houses feedwater lines which return coolant from the condensers back into the reactor building.  It is possible that the hotter area I found is coming from the feedwater sumps or other components located directly above where I was measuring.  The RBMK is a single-loop plant, meaning that the coolant returning from the turbine is radioactive during normal operation.

Continuing down the Golden Corridor past the Unit 2 building.
Continuing down the Golden Corridor past the Unit 2 building.

After 30 minutes, we exited the Unit 2 control room and continued through the golden corridor towards Unit 3 and Unit 4.

My detector alerts that the radiation levels are rising as we continue down the hallway.
My detector alerts that the radiation levels are rising as we continue down the hallway.

The radiation levels, which had started at 69 uR/hr, suddenly jumped to 462 uR/hr, then 628 uR/hr, and peaked at 763 uR/hr.   Looking out the windows as we passed through the passage we could see the reactor and administration buildings, but only one or two workers randomly passed by.

The ABK-2 building.
The ABK-2 building.

The windows of the ABK-2 administration building, where mid-level plant workers have offices, were all closed but practically all of them had air conditioning units hanging out.

We passed through the Unit 3-4 ventilation block, the Unit 3 main circulation pump engine halls, and cut through maintenance corridors.  We were all looking for hotspots as we passed through each area.  It was not uncommon to find high gamma levels in the form of loose surface contamination on top of pipes and vessels.

A fairly hot drain in one of the passageways. Note the plastic on the floor.
A fairly hot drain in one of the passageways. Note the plastic on the floor.

As we passed through the ventilation building we scanned drains and depressions in the floor where dirt collected and on top of pipes running along the floor.  In some areas the floor was covered with plastic to prevent the migration of contamination.

This Ludlum Model 26 is flashing 99.9 kcpm letting us know that it has reached its detection limit.
This Ludlum Model 26 is flashing 99.9 kcpm letting us know that it has reached its detection limit.

Some of the group members carrying new Ludlum Model 26 pancake survey meters would find levels of alpha and beta contamination that would easily max them out — until the meters were just flashing 99.9 kcpm and alerted the operators that they had gone off scale.

The Geiger-Mueller tube on the Radex glowing. Photo Credit: Heidi Baumgartner
The Geiger-Mueller tube on the Radex glowing.
Photo Credit: Heidi Baumgartner

One of the members of our group brought a new Radex RD1008 detector (measures gamma and beta) that he was beta-testing for the manufacturer, which featured a beta detector with a coil in it on the backside.  We found a few locations where the beta detector was so flooded that the Geiger-Mueller tube was glowing red in the darkness.

The Valery Khodemchuck memorial
The Valery Khodemchuk memorial

We continued through the maintenance hallways, which were very dark, until we came to a brightly-lit corner where we observed Valery Khodemchuk’s memorial.  Khodemchuk was the main circulation pump operator at Unit 4 and is recognized as the first person to die as a result of the disaster — having been in north main circulation pump engine hall that was crushed by the explosions in the reactor building — and his body was never recovered.  The memorial is located as near to the spot to where he is likely buried as the corridors will allow (thought to be under rubble on the other side of the concrete wall).  The radiation levels measured near the memorial were 469 uR/hr.

Flowers, chocolates, and cigarettes left on the alter for Valery Khodemchuck.
Flowers, chocolates, and cigarettes left on the alter for Valery Khodemchuk.

Soft light floods down from a fixture hanging high up on the wall and illuminates a pedestal in front of a carved monument of marble, wood, and bronze fixed against the wall.  Flowers, chocolates, and cigarettes lay on the altar, left by the workers for their fallen comrade, as they pass through the dark corridors.

The Main Circulation Pump room.
The Main Circulation Pump room.

A few yards down the hallway and suddenly we step into a large room with 4 large circulating pumps that used to move 8,000 m3/hr of coolant water into the reactor.  It is in a room like this that Khodemchuk was buried in.

The stairwell I poked my detector into and found
The stairwell I poked my detector into and found a gamma hotspot.

As we passed though the maintenance corridors I poked my detector in a dark stairwell and it immediately started alarming.  As I moved closer to the floor the readings rose to 48,260 uR/hr (48.26 mR/hr).

We found some radioactive dust.
We found some radioactive dust.

In another corridor, down in drain, one of the group members discovered a joint in the pipes running along the floor that maxed out the beta-window on his detector — the gamma levels measured on my detector were 1,330 uR/hr.

Making sure we hadnt contaminated our detection equipment in the buildings.
Making sure we hadn’t contaminated our detection equipment in the buildings.

We finally exited back to the ABK-1 building.  We removed our protective jackets and caps and surveyed each other and our equipment with our pancake detectors before we passed through two contamination portals to ensure that we weren’t transporting any contamination out of the controlled areas.

The weather had been overcast most of the day, which we had not really noticed since so much of our time was spent indoors.  As we stepped on the train to leave the nuclear power plant for Slavutich, the sun finally broke through the clouds and warmly greeted us through the windows of the train cars.  The lighting was perfect and I stared out the windows at the woods, wetlands, unused railroad tracks overgrown by nature, and abandoned buildings in the exclusion zone.

Chernobyl Series

Part 1 – Experiencing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Part 2 – Visiting the Chernobyl site and the Unit 2 control room

Part 3 – Inside the Chernobyl Unit 4 control room

Part 4 – Pripyat: City for the Future, City of the Past

Bonus Coverage – The Animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl

All images courtesy of Carl Willis, Heidi Baumgartner, Lucas Hixson, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

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Experiencing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant nearly 30 years after the disaster http://enformable.com/2015/09/experiencing-the-chernobyl-nuclear-power-plant-nearly-30-years-later/ http://enformable.com/2015/09/experiencing-the-chernobyl-nuclear-power-plant-nearly-30-years-later/#comments Mon, 28 Sep 2015 13:06:19 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=40803 The following is the first installment of a new series of editorials which will communicate portions of my recent trip to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (Read the second installment herethe third installment here, the fourth installment here, and a bonus installment about the animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl here.).  As we approach the 30th anniversary in 2016, each installment will focus around one area of the Chernobyl experience.  I will incorporate first-hand experience, on-site data, and a handful of the thousands of images I captured during my visit.  Sadly I won’t be able to fully communicate all of the details of the trip in these editorials, but it will be an intensive introduction into the Chernobyl experience and I hope to continue to put out other experiences in future commentary, presentations, and analysis that will help fully demonstrate what all I learned and experienced.

Chernobyl Trip 2015 - 013
An image of the memorial at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant with the Unit 4 Sarcophagus in the background.

In the beginning of September 2015, I had the rare opportunity to attend a first-of-its-kind vocational training program hosted by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  With eleven other participants, most from the United States, I departed Kiev on the 6th for Slavutich – the last Soviet town constructed which was designed for evacuees from Pripyat and workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and now boasts some 35,000 residents.

Sunset in Slavutich
Sunset in Slavutich

The site where Slavutich was constructed was selected because of its proximity to the nuclear power plant and the fact that it was less-affected by the radiation released from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster than other surrounding areas.  I carried a very sensitive CsI radiation detector through the beautiful cobblestone sidewalks which run through the city and never saw a radiation level above the same background levels that I would see back in the United States.

The entrance to the Hotel Slavutich where we stayed.
The entrance to the Hotel Slavutich where we stayed.

The city of Slavutich is beautiful – with plenty of parks and monuments (remembering both Chernobyl and World War II), the people are kind, the three main restaurants are open late, and the scenery can be breathtaking.

The memorial in Slavutich to remember those who died responding to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
The memorial in Slavutich to remember those who died responding to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

The memorial for Chernobyl is in the heart of the city and is comprised of three main components, a large metal column with a bell suspended 20 feet or so in the air, coming off the sides of the column are two marble walls with the faces of 30 of the first victims of the disaster are beautifully engraved into the rock, and finally a plaque standing in front of the column.  People still leave flowers at the memorial throughout the year.

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant training center in Slavutich.
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant training center in Slavutich.

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant hosts a training center in Slavutich, where on our first day we were briefed on topics ranging from on-site behavior, safety conscious activity, a briefing of the physics and processes behind the destruction of the Unit 4 reactor, and an overview of the design and structure of the sarcophagus and new containment structure currently under constructions.  At this training facility, workers at the nuclear power plant are trained on proper ways to store, put on, and operate different protective gear and detection equipment.  Workers preparing for critical tasks in high radiation zones will also train at the facility to become more familiar with the procedures and what risks are involved so that they can be more efficient and reduce stay-times in dangerous areas at the nuclear power plant.

We also visited the Chernobyl museum in Slavutich, a two-story structure which houses the Chernobyl museum on the first floor and a Slavutich museum on the second floor.  The Chernobyl museum houses many photographs documenting the construction, operation, and shutdown of Units 1, 2, and 3 — as well as the disaster at the Unit 4 reactor. They also have a memory room dedicated to the deaths of the initial responders.  In the middle of the room hang four ornate bells which are rung once a year, on April 26th, to remember the disaster and those who gave their lives.  Some of the other items at the museum are very somber.  Hanging on the wall in the corner is a copy of a daily report filed about a worker at Chernobyl who had been at home sleeping at the time of the explosion.  According to the log, the worker was notified of the disaster around 04:00 in the morning and had proceeded to the plant.  He had performed various duties for more than 12 hours and according to the documentation ended up in the hospital by the end of the day because of radiation sickness.

The breakfast cafeteria in the Hotel Slavutich.
The breakfast cafeteria in the Hotel Slavutich.

Every morning we would gather in the cafeteria in the basement of the Hotel Slavutich at 6:30 am local time, where we would be greeted by a plate with yogurt, crackers, and jelly on it and a communal plate of toast for the table.  As we would get seated the attendant would bring us our breakfast, which generally consisted of a meat and potato side dish or a pickled vegetable.  We could also request a cup of expresso, which while potent — does not go far in stemming the average American’s lust for a large mug of hot coffee.  After we had finished with breakfast we would grab our packs and equipment for the day, assemble in the lobby, and head off to the train station.

The train from Slavutich to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant crosses briefly through Belarus and arrives at its destination in 40-45 minutes.  It is not uncommon to see birds of prey and cranes in the wetland areas of the exclusion zone near the train tracks.  When the train crosses the bridge at the Pripyat River, one can also see fishermen in their boats.  When you exit the train, you walk along a long covered platform with metal walls and columns and pipes painted baby blue, similar to one you would see in any city train stop.  As soon as you step off of the train, people instantly come alive.  There are a many rules to follow when you are on-site at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant; don’t set things down on the ground just anywhere, only walk on paved areas (don’t go trudging through the grass and weeds), and only eat and drink in designated areas (at the canteen.).

To gain access to the site, one must first be cleared by security — who take their job very seriously, and who ensures that each traveler has proper authorization for entry.  After entering the site from the train station, the tip of the exhaust stack of the crippled Unit 4 and sarcophagus can barely be seen if you know where to look.  The iconic 150 meter red and white striped ventilation stack that once soared above the sarcophagus has been removed and replaced by a 125 meter yellow and white stack.  The old stack was cut into pieces, but are so contaminated that they could not be disposed of, so the pieces are currently stored on-site at an adjacent location.  Removing the ventilation stack was a hassle, however it was a bigger obstacle while it was still standing.  Radiation levels on the roof of the sarcophagus are still high and the stack was not only aging it was also not helping reduce the radiation levels for workers on the upper portions of the sarcophagus.

Workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant walking to the new containment structure.
Workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant walking to the new containment structure.

Around 3,500 workers are on-site at any given day working on a myriad of various projects including the construction of the new confinement structure, the preparation for the installation of the new confinement over the existing sarcophagus, the identification and collection of contaminated debris, the construction of a new interim spent fuel processing and storage facility, the laundering of contaminated worker clothes, and other critical programs taking place on-site.  They arrive on-site every day in their personal clothes, and after passing through security they proceed to changing rooms where they have lockers and change into their respective work clothes.

The workers on-site are wonderful people, who believe that their work is important, and form bonds like brothers – based on trusting each other to ensure that each of them go home safe.  There is a unity that is formed by groups of people when the rest of the world counts you out.  The workers do not fear going to work at Chernobyl every day, they enjoy each other’s company, and I found that they have each grown to appreciate the plant in some way or another.

A incredibly detailed model of the Unit 4 reactor and Sarcophagus at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
A incredibly detailed model of the Unit 4 reactor and Sarcophagus at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

After we passed through security and into the site we were taken to an administration building where we met our liaison from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a bright and cheerful man named Stanislav.  In the lobby to Stanislav’s office is a window (some five feet wide and three feet tall) which looks directly at the Sarcophagus, which is only some 400-500 yards away.  In the middle of the room is an incredibly realistic model of the Unit 4 reactor building and sarcophagus which opens up to reveal all of internal structures and debris.

In many of the “industrial” areas of the plant, many projects have been taken to lower the levels of radioactivity that workers are exposed to.  In some cases topsoil has been removed, new clean fill has been trucked in, and concrete and asphalt have been laid down, all with the goal of reducing the on-site migration of radioactive particles – which have a tendency when present in an environment to be internalized or catch a ride out of the secured area on the clothes of workers and the tires on trucks.  The result of many of these on-site activities is to restrict as much as possible the exposure to workers and visitors to only gamma shine from the radioactive materials housed in the sarcophagus.  These mitigation actions also have helped to lower radiation fields in some indoor areas of the site to under 15 uR per hour, provided enough shielding is between you and the sarcophagus to overcome the gamma shine.  However, the on-site radiation levels still vary widely depending on the location and positioning, as illustrated below.

When living or working in areas with increased levels of radioactivity, one must remember the three basic principles of radiation protection; time, distance, and shielding.  Visiting a site like Chernobyl really allows a person to put these principles to work, with very interesting results.  For example, in the area of the site where Stanislav’s office is located, gamma shine from the Sarcophagus is the primary source of exposure.  When standing directly in front of the window and facing the sarcophagus with my detector I measured 731 uR per hour, if I turned around so my detector was facing into the room and away from the sarcophagus I would measure 61 uR per hour, and on the opposite side of the room from the window I measured 37 uR per hour.  This was a very good physical demonstration of gamma fields and the effects of distance and shielding from a known source of gamma shine.

After inspecting the model and viewing some videos on the construction of the sarcophagus for about twenty minutes, we were taking to a training room where we were briefed on the accident, post-accident mitigation efforts, and the continuing mitigation works including the construction of the new confinement structure which will be moved on top of the existing sarcophagus structure.  I will talk in more detail about the new confinement structure in future articles.

The new containment structure under construction.
The new confinement structure under construction.

After this final briefing, we were given a personal tour of the new confinement structure by the Novarka Construction Supervisor, who took us inside of the structure and pointed out key design features and how the structure would be moved in place over the sarcophagus.

Our liaison from the nuclear power plant, Stanislav, showing the hydraulic system which will move the new containment structure over the Unit 4 Sarcophagus.
Our liaison from the nuclear power plant, Stanislav, showing the hydraulic system which will move the new structure over the Unit 4 Sarcophagus.

Though the new confinement structure may not be the biggest project ever constructed, it is incredibly massive, large enough to allow enormous cranes and gantries to move freely under its steel roof.  The cover is being built on a large concrete pad, which is designed not only to carry the weight of the building, but also the supplies, hydraulics, and heavy industrial equipment moving in and out of it every day.  From under the new confinement structure we had our first up-close introduction with the Unit 4 sarcophagus.

Looking east out of the new containment structure we got our first glimpse of the Unit 4 reactor.
Looking east out of the confinement structure we got our first close-up introduction to the Unit 4 sarcophagus.

Looking east from the new confinement structure we faced the western wall of the sarcophagus, which barely peaks over enormous concrete walls used for reinforcing portions of the sarcophagus and shielding workers below.  Running over, in, and around these walls was a network of steel walkways, platforms, and stairs.  The roof of the sarcophagus was visible and the new ventilation stack.  At ground level we could see workers moving in and out of the base of the wall and an adjacent portion of the reactor building, where openings allowed them access.  The radiation levels in the new containment structure I measured were between 291-919 uR/hr depending on how close I was to – and whether or not I was facing the sarcophagus.

Chernobyl Trip 2015 - 016

The sarcophagus was a hastily built structure under extreme conditions and time constraints which was designed to stem the on-going release of radioactive materials into the environment.  (In Ukraine, they don’t call it the sarcophagus, it is called Объект “Укрытие” which means Object Shelter.)  Construction started within 3 weeks after the reactor exploded and was completed in a little over 200 days in November 1986.  The engineers who designed it said that the structure could be expected to stand for 20 years, it has been nearly 30 years and with some modifications and maintenance the structure is still standing.  Work has been done to deal with issues with the roofing and reinforcing portions of the structure.

The canteen (cafeteria) at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The canteen (cafeteria) at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The canteen (cafeteria) at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant serves amazing food for the workers.  After grabbing a tray one only has to walk down the line and pick and choose from foods like vegetable and meat plates, a choice of soups, a choice of a fish or meat entrée with vegetables, an assortment of drinks, and bread.  By the time you pass through the line, your tray is so loaded up that you wonder if you will ever make it back to your table without spilling.

The Fire Chief of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Fire Department.
The Fire Chief of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Fire Department.  Note the dosimeter hanging from his shirt pocket.

That afternoon we visited the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Fire Department.  I will admit that I have always been amazed on the response time of the firefighters after the explosions at the Unit 4 reactor.  When reviewing the reports of those on duty that night we find the firefighters are on the roof of the turbine building fighting fires before the operators in the control room even realize that the reactor has been destroyed.

A view of the Unit 4 reactor building from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Fire Department.
A view of the Unit 4 reactor building from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Fire Department.

When I visited the power plant I realized why the fire fighters were so quick to respond – looking over the concrete wall that surrounds the fire department it is easy to see the top of the Sarcophagus and the ventilation stack rising above the other surrounding buildings.  Once a firetruck leaves the gates of the fire department, it would take less than 90 seconds to pull up near the Unit 4 reactor building.

The hand-made memorial at the Fire Department.
The hand-made memorial at the Fire Department.

There is a beautiful monument at the Fire Department for the firefighters that responded so bravely that night, which was built by hand by the fire fighters themselves.  Inside the front door of the fire station they have a roster of all of the firefighters who were a part of the fire department during the response to the disaster.

One of the fire trucks at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
One of the fire trucks at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

The firetrucks at the Fire Department are not the same that you might find at your local fire station, but they appear like workhorses, sturdy and reliable.  The workers are obviously proud of and love these vehicles and know them inside and out.

At the end of every day workers go back to their changing rooms where they have the ability to shower and change back into their personal clothes.  Before you can get back to the train platform, you have to pass through two contamination monitoring portals, which ensure that you aren’t carrying unknown external contamination off of the plant site.  If one of the portals alarms there is a dosimetrist on hand who will come over and re-inspect you and instruct you on follow up activities you may need to take.

The train ride back from Chernobyl to Slavutich has a much different atmosphere than the morning journey.  In the morning, many (if not most) of the passengers sleep or read the morning news.  They greet each other and talk a little amongst each other, but the mood is quieter and seemingly focused on what tasks will need to be completed that day.  The afternoon rides are much more jovial and relaxed.  Plenty of passengers can still be found sleeping on the trains, exhausted after a long day at work, but more passengers are grouped together playing games or regaling each other with stories.

Different groups tend to sit together in train cars.  The management tends to be found largely in the first few cars behind the engine, engineers are known to fill up the forward and middle cars, and contract workers and administrative workers are most likely found in the rear cars.  On the train ride home, the contract workers play a game called “Fool” which is similar to the Western game “Cheat”, the gameplay revolves around getting rid of the cards from your hand in a certain order and bluffing about what cards you are laying and keeping in your hand.  The engineers enjoy a game called “Preferans” which is a game of probability, and the best players tend to have a keen mind for mathematics and counting cards.

After arriving back in Slavutich each evening, we would briefly disperse to our rooms at Hotel Slavutich to change clothes, journal our experiences, back up our memory cards, or maybe just catch a quick nap before we would meet up again for dinner at one of the local restaurants.

Chernobyl Day 1
Locations visited in this report; 0 – Train station 1 – Administration building 2 – Training Room 3 – New Containment Structure 4 – Unit 4 Sarcophagus

Chernobyl Series

Part 1 – Experiencing the Chernobyl nuclear power plant

Part 2 – Visiting the Chernobyl site and the Unit 2 control room

Part 3 – Inside the Chernobyl Unit 4 control room

Part 4 – Pripyat: City for the Future, City of the Past

Bonus Coverage – The Animals at Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl

All images courtesy of Carl Willis, Heidi Baumgartner, Lucas Hixson, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant


Stay tuned for additional reports which will focus in detail on other areas of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant including (but not limited to); the new containment structure, the Sarcophagus, the Unit 4 control room, the golden corridor, the Unit 5 reactor building, and more.

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Chernobyl cover likely delayed by up to two years amid ongoing crisis http://enformable.com/2014/04/chernobyl-cover-likely-delayed-two-years-amid-ongoing-crisis/ http://enformable.com/2014/04/chernobyl-cover-likely-delayed-two-years-amid-ongoing-crisis/#respond Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:53:21 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=40348 Chernobyl Cover - 2014

In 2010, workers began working on a new containment shield to cover the Number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to prevent further leakage of radioactive materials from the crippled reactor.  The project was estimated to cost €1.5 billion and to be completed by October 2015q.

The current unrest in Ukraine could potentially delay work to complete construction and installation of the shield by at least two years.

[Full Story Here]

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IAEA experts examining ceiling collapse at Chernobyl nuclear power plant http://enformable.com/2013/06/iaea-experts-examining-ceiling-collapse-at-chernobyl-nuclear-power-plant/ http://enformable.com/2013/06/iaea-experts-examining-ceiling-collapse-at-chernobyl-nuclear-power-plant/#respond Tue, 04 Jun 2013 14:30:29 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=37180 UKRAINE-NUCLEAR-HEALTH-ENVIRONMENT-ACCIDENT

The International Atomic Energy Agency has dispatched a delegation of experts to inspect the work at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant after the partial collapse of ceiling and wall constructions in the turbine room of the Number 4 reactor on February 12th, 2013.  The delegation will assess the status of cleanup operations, the supervision of building structures, the on-site safety culture, evaluate the consequences of the event, and plans to release a report of their investigation when completed.

Source: Interfax

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March 26th, 2011 – Don’t build nuclear plants in highly seismic areas thank you very much http://enformable.com/2013/01/march-25th-2011-dont-build-nuclear-plants-in-highly-seismic-areas-thank-you-very-much/ http://enformable.com/2013/01/march-25th-2011-dont-build-nuclear-plants-in-highly-seismic-areas-thank-you-very-much/#respond Sat, 19 Jan 2013 00:58:16 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=36414 MALE PARTICIPANT: Yes, Mike, the last thing I heard was the Russians showed up a week ago but then they left.

MR. FRANOVITCH: Wow. That’s interesting.

DR. SHERON: And their President gave them good advice. He said don’t build nuclear plants in highly seismic areas. Thank you very much.


Pages from ML13008A115 – March 26th, 2011 – Russians showed up a week ago and then they left by Enformable

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Low-Level Radiation Exposure Increases Leukemia Risk Says US/Ukraine Study http://enformable.com/2012/11/low-level-radiation-exposure-increases-leukemia-risk-says-usukraine-study/ http://enformable.com/2012/11/low-level-radiation-exposure-increases-leukemia-risk-says-usukraine-study/#comments Fri, 09 Nov 2012 14:42:17 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=35778

This week a 20-year study was published which tracked over 110,645 workers who helped clean up after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in the former Soviet territory of Ukraine shows that the workers share a significant increased risk of developing leukemia.  The new research is the largest and longest study to date involving Chernobyl cleanup workers, also known as liquidators, who worked at, or near the nuclear complex in the wake of the nuclear disaster.

The scientists conducted a followup health survey covering 110,645 cleanup workers through 2006. Of the workers, 137 contracted leukemia, including 79 chronic cases.

Of those surveyed, 87 percent had been exposed to cumulative radiation doses of below 200 millisieverts and 78 percent to below 100 millisieverts, indicating the impact on health of low-level exposure is not negligible.

“Low doses of radiation are important,” said the lead researcher Lydia Zablotska, MD, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF. “We want to raise awareness of that.”

Keigo Endo, a radiologist and president of Kyoto College of Medical Science, pointed to previous data showing an increased risk of leukemia with cumulative radiation exposure of as low as 120 millisieverts.  “The latest finding underlines the importance of long-term followup surveys. Further details of the survey should be examined to confirm specific dose levels that could cause leukemia,” Endo said.

The study sheds light on the need to consider some measures for protection from radiation exposure for workers engaged in procedures to scrap reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station crippled by the 2011 quake and tsunami.

Source: UCSF 

Source: The Japan Times

Source: E-Science News

 

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Lithuanians support referendum rejecting plans to build new nuclear reactors http://enformable.com/2012/10/lithuanians-support-referendum-rejecting-plans-to-build-new-nuclear-reactors/ http://enformable.com/2012/10/lithuanians-support-referendum-rejecting-plans-to-build-new-nuclear-reactors/#respond Mon, 15 Oct 2012 13:15:04 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=35586

The citizens of Lithuania have sent a message to government leaders after having passed a referendum which rejects a €5 billion plan to construct a new nuclear power plant.  The public support for the nuclear new build fell off sharply after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

Nearly two-thirds (62.7 percent) of the nation of 3 million voted against the project, leaving only 33 percent in favor.

U.S.-Japanese joint venture Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy (the same companies which helped to build the Fukushima Daiichi plant) were lined up to build the new nuclear plant on the site of the two shut down Soviet nuclear reactors at Ignalina (which are the same light-water, graphite-moderated design as at Chernobyl).

Ignalina 1 came online in December 1983, and was closed in 2004.  Ignalia 2 came online in August 1987, and was shut down in 2009.  Public support for nuclear power in Lithuania used to be strong.  In 2008, 78 percent of voters supported a referendum which would have kept Ignalina 2 in service.

Source: Reuters

Source: NHK

Source: Yahoo News

Source: The National

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April 5th, 2011 – Every Major Nuclear Accident Has Been Worse Than the Hypothesized Worst-Case – TMI, Chernobyl and Now Fukushima http://enformable.com/2012/07/april-5th-2011-every-major-nuclear-accident-has-been-worse-than-the-hypothesized-worst-case-tmi-chernobyl-and-now-fukushima/ http://enformable.com/2012/07/april-5th-2011-every-major-nuclear-accident-has-been-worse-than-the-hypothesized-worst-case-tmi-chernobyl-and-now-fukushima/#respond Tue, 31 Jul 2012 19:08:17 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=34833

From: Fleger, Stephen
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2011 6:09 PM
To: Barnes, Valerie; Peters, Sean; Desaulniers, David; Boggi, Michael; Martin, Kamishan; Marble, Julie; Xing, Jing;
D’Agostino, Amy; Morrow, Stephanie; Lapinsky, George
Subject: RE: CONSIDERATIONS OF WGHOF WITH RESPECT TO FUKUSHIMA EVENT

Hey Val –

I just returned from briefing the ACRS on our updated Advanced Rx R&D Plan (NGNP/HTRG plan) and I need to get across town for a 6:30 pm function so I can’t spend much time on this but the one thing that strikes me about the Fukushima event from a HOF perspective is the consistency with which the PRA/HRA “worst case” scenario builders underestimate the probability of common cause failures.

Every major nuclear accident has been worse than the hypothesized worst-case. TMI, Chernobyl and now Fukushima. For TMI the “implausibility’s” surrounded the hydrogen buildup in the RPV and core melt. For Chernobyl it was the positive reactivity void coefficient leading to multiple explosions. For Fukushima it was damage to the T/G, failure of backup power systems following a station blackout, and containment explosions resulting from hydrogen buildup as a result of an earthquake followed by a tsunami that happened in a country that arguably has one of
the best earthquake prediction & mitigation systems in the world.

Maybe this might be worth looking into?

Steve

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Researchers show risk of nuclear meltdown drastically undervalued in risk assessment models http://enformable.com/2012/05/researchers-show-risk-of-nuclear-meltdown-drastically-undervalued-in-risk-assessment-models/ http://enformable.com/2012/05/researchers-show-risk-of-nuclear-meltdown-drastically-undervalued-in-risk-assessment-models/#comments Wed, 23 May 2012 17:27:20 +0000 http://enformable.com/?p=33346

Based on the operating hours of all civil nuclear reactors and the number of nuclear meltdowns that have occurred, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz have calculated that catastrophic nuclear accidents may occur once every 10 to 20 years (based on the current number of reactors) — some 200 times more often than estimated in the past.

Currently, there are 440 nuclear reactors in operation, and 60 more are planned, however in view of their findings, the researchers call for an in-depth analysis and reassessment of the risks associated with nuclear power plants.

High human exposure risks occur around reactors in densely populated regions, notably in West Europe and South Asia, where a major reactor accident can subject around 30 million people to radioactive contamination. The recent decision by Germany to phase out its nuclear reactors will reduce the national risk, though a large risk will still remain from the reactors in neighbouring countries.

The Mainz researchers did not distinguish ages and types of reactors, or whether they are located in regions of enhanced risks, for example by earthquakes.

After all, nobody had anticipated the reactor catastrophe in Japan.

Their work found that Western Europe has the worldwide highest risk of radioactive contamination caused by major reactor accidents.

By using a global model of the atmosphere the researchers determined that on average, in the event of a major reactor accident of any nuclear power plant worldwide, more than 90 % of emitted Cesium-137 would be transported beyond 50 km and about 50 % beyond 1000 km distance before being deposited.

Their results show that Western Europe is likely to be contaminated about once in 50 years by more than 40 kilobecquerel of caesium-137 per square meter.

To determine the likelihood of a nuclear meltdown, the researchers applied a simple calculation.

They divided the operating hours of all civilian nnuclear reactors in the world, from the commissioning of the first up to the present, by the number of reactor meltdowns that have actually occurred.

The total number of operating hours is 14,500 years, the number of reactor meltdowns comes to four — one in Chernobyl and three in Fukushima. This translates into one major accident, being defined according to the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), every 3,625 years.

Even if this result is conservatively rounded to one major accident every 5,000 reactor years, the risk is 200 times higher than the estimate for catastrophic, non-contained core meltdowns made by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1990.


An accident risk assessment of nuclear power plants (NPPs) by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1975 estimated the probability of a core melt at 1 in 20 000 per year for a single reactor unit (NRC, 1975).


A follow-up report in 1990 adjusted this number and indicated that the core damage frequency is not a value that can be calculated with certainty, though an appendix presented the following likelihood of a catastrophic accident (NRC, 1990):

a. Probability of core melt 1 in 10 000 per year;

b. Probability of containment failure 1 in 100;

c. Probability of unfavourable wind direction 1 in 10;

d. Probability of meteorological inversion 1 in 10;

e. Probability of evacuation failure 1 in 10

The product of these possibilities is 1 in 1 billion per year for a single reactor (this assumes that factors (a)–(e) are independent, which is not the case, so that the actual risk of a catastrophic accident should be higher than this).

In light of the uncertainties, the simplicity of this calculation is appealing.


The researchers went on to add; “However, based on the evidence over the past decades one may conclude that the combined probabilities (a) and (b) have been underestimated. Furthermore, by using a state-ofthe-art global atmospheric model we can directly compute the anticipated dispersion of radionuclides, avoiding the need to guess the factors (c) and (d).

 In doing so, we find that the vast majority of the radioactivity is transported outside an area of 50 km radius, which can undermine evacuation measures, especially if concentrated deposition occurs at much greater distances from the accident, as was the case for Chernobyl in May 1986.

Furthermore, even if an evacuation is successful in terms of saving human lives, large areas around the reactors are made uninhabitable for decades afterwards.

Therefore, we argue that such events are catastrophic irrespective of evacuation failure or success, and exclude the factor (e).”

H/T – CaptD   –   Source: Atmos. Chem. Phys

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