Tag Archive | "sarcophagus"

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Chernobyl Still Threatens; Has Animals & Tourists

Posted on 23 October 2015 by Jerry

Protected space around the once power plant at Chernobyl is a very risky place. Climate change is raising temperatures and reducing rainfall everywhere. Brush and trees have taken over 70% of everything in the exclusion zone that is an area about four times the size of New York City. The area is prone to fires. The smoke that would be produced is especially toxic and can release contaminants that include radioactive isotopes of cesium, strontium and plutonium into the air.

This poses a risk certainly to Chernobyl but also to all of Europe. Wildfires have broken out in 2002, 2008 and 2010. They cumulatively redistributed an estimated 8% of the cesium-137 deposited by the original explosion. No one knows how damaging new fires would be but redistribution of the original cesium, strontium and plutonium might lead to crop contamination throughout Europe.

This possibility, that there might be crop contamination in Europe, is in part a result of the severity of the original contamination at Chernobyl. While this accident was one of only two events earning the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) rating of 7 it released 10 times the radiation of the other event that earned a 7 rating that was the meltdown at Fukushima, Japan. This 7 rating indicates “countermeasures to protect the public.”

While still not completely funded, the new Chernobyl protective cover is scheduled to be finished by November 2017. As you may remember a previous article on this blog (see Chernobyl 2012: the Disaster That Keeps Reminding) gives a complete description of the radiation damage suffered by the tons of concrete and iron used in the original covering of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl.   The convex structure being built over the original ‘sarcophagus’ hopefully will allow us to dismantle the original reactor and remove all radioactive material from the power plant itself.

There is a conspiracy theory documentary about Chernobyl developed by Chad Garcia shown at the Sundance Film Festival entitled The Russian Woodpecker.  It points to the recent Russian actions in Ukraine and labels them an outgrowth of continued Russian meddling in the region. More importantly it offers an alternate description of the original meltdown at Chernobyl. This film points to other nuclear accidents like the 3rd most damaging contamination at Kyshtym (identified as a level 6 disaster by the International Nuclear Event Scale) also in the Soviet Union and draws an unflattering comparison to Chernobyl.

A recent international study of animal life in the Chernobyl exclusion zone headed by Tatiana Deryabina of the Polessye State Radioecological Reserve (PSRER) showed that wildlife in the zone has rebounded since the accident. Based on this study, there was no evidence of long-term radiation damage to the large mammal populations. The numbers of elk, wild boar and wolves grew. The wolf population is more than seven times larger than those in nearby uncontaminated nature reserves. The conclusion of these efforts was that the reason wildlife blossomed was more a result the absence of humans than anything else.

Co-author Jim Smith, a Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Portsmouth in the USA said, “This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming, and forestry, are a lot worse.” A recent article in The Guardian from early October 2015, stated, “But sadly, this study clearly shows that putting a big fence around an area to keep people out is beneficial to wildlife, even if the negative effects of radiation contamination on wildlife – increased mutation rates, cancers and other abnormalities – may be masked by this advantage.”

This series of articles implies that no people are allowed in the exclusion zone because of the dangers and yet there are several tour firms that care for the tourists who want to tour a once forbidden place or stay in one of the few hotels inside the exclusion zone.

Visitors are brought into the zone by tour busses from Kiev. Once in the exclusion zone they have to sign a disclaimer that warns them not to touch anything or sit on the ground. Body scanners are used just before tourists leave on the tour busses. If an alarm sounds, guards sweep the person for radioactive dust before they are allowed to leave.

It is just under thirty years since the explosions and nuclear contamination of Chernobyl. And yet, the surrounding town looks just as it did when it was evacuated days after the meltdown. The city of Pripyat looks the way it did before the fall of the iron curtain. Its Ferris wheel is rusted and traces of life in the former USSR are strewn everywhere.

As the site ages the radioactivity may lessen a little but will stay radioactive for decades. It is important we not forget why the area is off limits and what happened here lest we repeat it in the future or have another event that spreads radioactivity over a wide area.

Use the following links to obtain additional information or access the original documents used to write this article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/07/science/forest-fires-threaten-new-fallout-from-chernobyl.html?_r=0

http://www.nei.org/master-document-folder/backgrounders/fact-sheets/Japan-comparing-chernobyl-and-fukushima

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/29/us-nuclear-chernobyl-idUSKBN0NK20A20150429

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jan/30/sundance-2015-review-the-russian-woodpecker-chernobyl-ukraine

http://www.theguardian.com/s cience/grrlscientist/2015/oct/05/what-happened-to-wildlife-when-chernobyl-drove-humans-out-it-thrived

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/151008-chernobyl-animals-thrive-without-people-science/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/05/us-science-nuclear-chernobyl-idUSKCN0RZ1TF20151005

http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/14/travel/chernobyl-tourism/index.html

http://www.cell.com/current-biology/issue?pii=50960-9822(14)X0043-6

 

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Chernobyl 2012: the Disaster that Keeps Reminding

Posted on 15 July 2012 by Jerry

In you need a reminder of how bad nuclear fallout and contamination can be just think about how panicked the world was about the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown.  Of course the world’s worst nuclear accident with the largest area of contamination was the April 26, 1986 catastrophic accident at Chernobyl, in the Ukrainian SSR.  Fukushima, at least up to this point, pales by comparison (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13050228 ).  Let us check in on the aftermath of that 25+ year old disaster to remind ourselves of why we cannot allow the use of a single nuclear weapon, let alone the 3100 launch ready warheads allowed the United States and Russia by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed on April 8, 2010.

After the accident at Chernobyl there was a race to bury the Unit 4 nuclear reactor and the remaining 95% of its radioactive inventory under steel pipes, steel panels, and concrete.  The structure that was created was officially called the Object Shelter, also known as the sarcophagus.  When constructed, workers faced extreme radiation and had little time in which to complete their work.  Put together as best they could, this structure has been steadily deteriorating in the last 25+ years.  This has forced the construction of a New Safe Confinement (NSC or New Shelter).

This new structure is being built in the sixteen mile exclusion zone around the facility that remains sealed because of the continuing severe radiation levels.  The NSC is scheduled to be completed in the 2014 – 2015 timeframe and is estimated to cost about $1.5 billion dollars.  Funded by a consortium of countries, the U.S. is the largest single contributor.  The NSC is designed to contain the radiation for at least 100 years while future generations decide how to handle the ongoing problem. A video animation at http://www.wimp.com/encasechernobyl/ provides an excellent description of the NSC and demonstrates the significant scale of the project.

Also within the sixteen mile sealed exclusion zone is a pine forest which poses a unique problem.  Some of this forest is so badly contaminated that a forest fire could create a sizable smoke cloud that could carry radioactive particles across the European continent.  The problem is “these dying radioactive plantations are considered too dangerous and expensive to clear.” Fire fighters in Chernobyl maintain a watch on the surrounding forests and lumber forth in traditional soviet fire engines to put out a fire when one is spotted.  This is very dangerous work for the fire fighters who are the first, and possibly last, line of defense protecting an unsuspecting European continent from a radioactive smoke cloud.

It is difficult to compare the damage done at Chernobyl with that which would occur as a result of an explosion of a contemporary nuclear warhead.  We shouldn’t doubt that a comparison has been conducted, but it is undoubtedly classified.  Our last public use of a nuclear weapon was on the city of Nagasaki, Japan on the 9th of August 1945. 

It is safe to assume the power of today’s nuclear warhead dwarfs that of the Nagasaki weapon.  Even with the release of the radioactive cloud that Chernobyl created, a containment structure was quickly constructed that confined 95% of the nuclear material that was in that reactor.  An above ground detonation of a nuclear warhead would release all of its radioactive material into the atmosphere.  When the radioactive material from the two sources is compared, it is very different; different isotopes with different half lives and different types of contamination.  Most experts believe today’s nuclear warheads would be worse than Chernobyl by some orders of magnitude.

Seeing Chernobyl and the ongoing effort to prevent further damage, and recalling the worldwide concerns caused by the Fukushima meltdown should reinforce our commitment to seek the elimination of all nuclear weapons.  We need to stop minimizing our view of these horrible weapons by assuming they are just one more arrow in our diplomatic and negotiating quiver.  They are much more serious than just an instrument of foreign policy.  They have outlived their usefulness and could literally end life on our planet.  We must redouble our efforts to maintain constant pressure on the two nuclear super powers to disarm.

Use the following links to obtain more information on this topic:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13050228

http://www.wimp.com/encasechernobyl/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18721292

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