back to article Chernobyl cover-up: Giant shield rolled over nuclear reactor remains

The world's largest moving structure has been moved to cover up the melted-down reactor which caused the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the former Soviet Union. In April 1986, Reactor Number Four at the Chernobyl nuclear power station went into meltdown as a result of a botched systems test which the plant's night-shift …

Bronze badge

Whilst I'm aware of the incident, I didn't know that the other reactors on site continued working until the year 2000! It's a brave man who goes to work there.

5
0
Silver badge

Radiation is not instant death.

If you're working on a reactor, you're going to get a hit, which is why you carry badges which monitor it, etc.

Working near Chernobyl is the same - fine so long as you monitor and don't do over-long shifts near it.

For reference, Chernobyl was detected by people outside the Ukraine / Russia - in a nuclear plant. Finnish workers at a nuclear plant were all setting off warning alarms because of the radiation that had spread that far.

Did everybody on that path die? Not even close.

Did the equipment at a nuclear power plant detect a leak originating from thousands of miles away? Yes.

Did the workers obey the usual nuclear safety procedures and limits / levels? Yes.

People drive into Pripyat on a regular basis - look for the photographs of the abandoned places. You just can't stay there for long periods.

Similarly, the workers who put the rails right up to the door of the blown reactor only the other week - fine so long as you don't stick around longer than necessary.

Radiation is scary not because it's instant death (yes, it can be, if you're quite literally in front of the reactor) but because of the cumulative effect. So long as you don't let it build too high in your body, too often, it's fine.

And even then, an exposure to a single radioactive atom could give you cancer, in theory. It's incredibly unlikely because of the body's DNA repair processes and the chance of it causing a mutation, but in theory you can even be born with cancer caused by radiation despite living in perfectly ordinary places.

It's just sensible to avoid unnecessary exposure.

Hell, the wildlife are thriving since all the humans moved out.

67
2
Silver badge

Initially, it was part of the plan to pretend the incident is significantly less than what the western media has been (quite rightfully) howling about. Later on it became a matter of a pragmatic decision - getting rid of the reactor cores which have not finished "burning" their fuel would have been more dangerous. So they let the process complete properly so it can be decommissioned safely.

5
0
Silver badge

Regarding the wildlife

There are reports that thriving is not quite correct, it seems that biodiversity is not as great, population levels are lower and some species seem to still have problems now due to radiation.

5
2
Silver badge

Re: dosage, scientists regularly go inside the reactor building itself, even the most radioactive part which is all the crap that leaked out the bottom of the reactor is relatively safe to work around for a short period now.

As I pointed out elsewhere to people being stupid about this - even huge radiation doses are reasonably treatable with intensive care, it won't implicitly kill you like people imagine. It's very not nice but can be treated, one of the biggest threats is actually infection because it will destroy your immune system. In fact it's intentionally used for that when doing things like marrow transplants. Radiation cancers tend to be from things like getting particles stuck in places you don't want them like the throat or lungs.

Just don't ask Putin how much Russia paid towards the new containment building.

8
2
Silver badge
Meh

If I had lived in Russia in that time..

I probably would have found myself working in IT at that plant, such seems my luck.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: If I had lived in Russia in that time..

Marie Curie.

She studied the stuff for years, playing with uranium ore in a shed, and carrying vials of radium in her shirt pocket, not to mention taking X-ray images unprotected, and went on to live for another 30 years before she eventually died

Sure, it wasn't healthy for her, but it's not instantaneous death.

And her lab / papers are STILL radioactive 100 years later.

Radiation, really, is much safer than most people make out. Unless you deliberately make it into a weapon, it's probably safer than TNT.

22
5
Anonymous Coward

Re: If I had lived in Russia in that time..

"Radiation, really, is much safer than most people make out"

Not to mention, just about everything is radioactive to some extent - even people. The stat I remember is that sharing a bed with your partner each night adds about a millirem of your annual average dose of around 300-400.

8
2
Silver badge

"Did everybody on that path die? Not even close."

Never forget that 100% of people exposed to radiation die! More seriously though:

"Radiation is scary not because it's instant death (yes, it can be, if you're quite literally in front of the reactor) but because of the cumulative effect. So long as you don't let it build too high in your body, too often, it's fine."

That's not really accurate. Radiation doesn't build up in your body in the way that things like heavy metals tend to. In fact, there's decent evidence that constant low exposure to radiation is actually beneficial, since it stimulates the protective and repair systems that fix damage to cells and DNA. The real problem with radiation is that the effects are simply too variable. A low dose might be beneficial, but what exactly counts as low? Is continuous exposure at some level more or less damaging than a single higher exposure? How exactly do short and long-term effects vary with different doses and exposure patterns? And of course, this is all before you start looking at different types and energies of the radiation involved - equivalent doses of alpha, beta and gamma radiation won't all have the same effect.

Of course people have tried to study all this, but given all the variables involved you'd need to deliberately expose tens of millions of people to all kinds of radiation and then follow them around for the next 70 years or so. Even if there weren't any ethical problems with doing that, the logistics make any comprehensive study impossible. We occasionally get lucky (maybe not the best word) and find a useful group to study, such as the well known watch painters, and there's the occasional unethical study, such as the military exposing people to nuclear tests, but this only covers a tiny portion of the question in a completely uncontrolled way. And no matter how well me manage to study the actual effects, that still does nothing for people who aren't radiation workers and so have no idea what dose they might have received anyway.

Radiation is scary to people mainly because it's unknown. You usually can't tell if you've been exposed, even if you somehow know that you usually don't know how much you've been exposed to, and even if you somehow know that it's almost impossible to know what the effects might be. It's not a particularly rational fear given how low the risk of any significant exposure actually is, but fear of the unknown is not exactly uncommon.

13
0
Anonymous Coward

Regarding the wildlife: Citation?

0
0
Silver badge
Trollface

"Regarding the wildlife: Citation?"

What are you talking about? We have extensive research...!

3
0
Silver badge

Regarding the wildlife: Citation? @AC

http://cricket.biol.sc.edu/chernobyl/Chernobyl_Research_Initiative/Management_Team.html

http://jhered.oxfordjournals.org/content/105/5/704

http://www.nature.com/articles/srep19974

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0016862

http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/9/5/20130530

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0100296

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02074.x/abstract

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1470160X10001172

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000632071100317X

http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/5/3/356

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1470160X12003767

http://jhered.oxfordjournals.org/content/105/5/704

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1470160X10001172

This one is natural high level background radiation for comparison

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1469-185X.2012.00249.x/abstract;jsessionid=BDC084AAC36CB14A1A5BA215E88D930B.f02t01

12
0
Silver badge

Citation:

http://jhered.oxfordjournals.org/content/105/5/704.full

The ones that tend to say "hey everything is great" are observational studies, such as, hey look there are loads of animals there.

Well that may be, but as there is plenty of food and water there, with little human interaction, that would occur anywhere.

Are they living as long as animals in other similar protected environments?

Are the equally healthy as other animals in similar environments?

You could fill a indoor stadium full of chain smokers on 200 a day and say look how many there are here! Doesn't mean it's a great place to live.

5
1
Silver badge

If you are talking to me, then I agree, my earlier comment was that there are effects in the high radition areas on biodiversity and also healthineess of other animals. Seems like there are some animals that suffer less, wolves for example, and some that suffer more like passerine birds.

Some of the reports of it being a wildlife haven as well are coming from areas with a lot lower radiation.

Impression I get is for a area that does not have any resident humans the wildlife population is not as healthy as it should be in some parts, mainly due to raidiation effects.

The citations above are in support of my earlier post about this, at request of the AC. They mainly come from the scientist lised in the first link.

2
0

This post has been deleted by its author

Silver badge

Its been 30 years

There's a direct correlation between radioactivity and half life - the worst stuff that's the most radioactive also has the shortest half life. So a lot of that really bad stuff is mostly gone now. There is still plenty of danger from the stuff that will stick around for hundreds of years if you tried to live there full time, but as the wildlife shows you can do that still be OK.

Some wildlife isn't doing as well because the food chain has a way of concentrating radioactivity in certain food sources. i.e. if certain plants are good at taking radioactive substances out of the soil, then anything that eats those plants will get a higher dose than those that eat other plants. And of course carnivores that eat the ones who ate the higher dose plants get a higher dose as well. So some animals are able to continue on and think it is great because there are no people around to bother them, others have a tough time because they're getting particularly concentrated amounts of radiation due to their diet.

4
0

" Hell, the wildlife are thriving since all the humans moved out."

But how many heads do the cats have!

The Chernobyl_New_Safe_Confinement structure

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_New_Safe_Confinement is some work of engineering! I hope someone makes a program about it. I take my hat off to the designers and builders.

5
0
Silver badge
Coat

The world's largest moving structure has been moved

They used a Maersk Triple E class container ship, at approximately 200,000 tons fully loaded?

3
0

You could fill a indoor stadium full of chain smokers on 200 a day and say look how many there are here!

Ahhh... the Smoking Olympics. Whatever happened to that?

4
0
Silver badge

Radiation is not instant death.

"Come on in; the fallout is lovely!"

A Dustbin of Milligan by the magnificent Spike.

Goon, but not forgotten.

4
0
Mushroom

@DropBear

Extensive Reseach:

http://xkcd.com/radiation/

6
0
Silver badge

"Ahhh... the Smoking Olympics. Whatever happened to that?"

Never really caught fire. It was just a pipe dream, after all. ☺

4
0
Pirate

Kidd of Speed

you should check out Kidd of Speed's (Elana Vladimirovna) motorcycle tour of the Chernobyl area... it is very interesting with a lot of pictures...

http://www.angelfire.com/extreme4/kiddofspeed/index.html

0
0

I have to agree, I have been to the zone 3 times now over a few years for photographic trips and it's not that bad. We have been stood on the 'safe' side of the concrete door into reactor 4 for a few minutes and no danger has come.

It is all about exposure and time, short hit is not that bad and your body will repair the DNA faster.

We observed higher radiation from the flight from the UK to Ukraine than the week spent free roaming Pripyat.

0
0

It would appear that exposure to humans is more dangerous than exposure to low-level radiation.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

"Let the whole world see today what Ukraine and the world can do when they unite, how we are able to protect the world from nuclear contamination and nuclear threats,"

He must have said this while pissing/shitting into the sea during a visit to Fukushima.

1
26
Anonymous Coward

Re: Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

It was aimed at Russia. Don't you know how politics work?

19
1
Silver badge

Re: Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

A structure like this is not needed for Fukushima. The amount of debris and destruction is not even close to comparable between the 2 incidents. Not to mention the reactor construction differences. Fukushima is currently expected to be fully cleaned in about 15 to 20 years. The Chernobyl reactor was destroyed to such a degree (and so radioactive) that the only option was to "bury" it and wait a few dozen years for things to cool off.

What isn't mention in the article is that one of the main purposes of the New Safe Containment structure is not just keeping the dust in place. It will be used to finally stabilise the reactor lid precariously dangling over the remains of the reactor vessel. After that a start can be made to finally begin with the proper cleanup of the reactor.

29
1

This post has been deleted by its author

WTF?

@AC: Re: Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

Ac,

you are a gormless idiot, I assume you don't talk about this based on your experience as a Chartered Engineer?

/sighs

15
1
Silver badge

Re: Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

"The Chernobyl reactor was destroyed to such a degree (and so radioactive) that the only option was to "bury" it and wait a few dozen years for things to cool off."

It already has done to a significant extent.

People forget that "highly radioactive" also means "won't be radioactive for very long"

25
3
Silver badge

Re: "A structure like this is not needed for Fukushima."

The amount of radiation actually leaking out at Fukushima is below normal background levels at many other places on the planet. Those contaminated tanks of water are slightly less radioactive than "an olypmic swimming pool with an old-style glow in the dark watch dropped in the middle".

If Japanese radiation level standards were applied in Europe, most of downtown Helsinki would be too hot to handle thanks to the granite there, along with the thermal pools at Bath - and in the US Denver Colorado would be a no-go area along with anything at the same altitude.

38
2
Silver badge

Re: Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

NSC isn't for stabilising the upper bio shield, I don't think anybody dare touch that, they are going to be stripping the roof off the old shield though because it's a mess. IMO the best thing to do would be to fill it with a mix of sand and boron and leave it for a few decades - sand would help protect it if the bio shield did fall.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: "A structure like this is not needed for Fukushima."

"Its good that the ice wall all worked out and nothing is leaking into the ocean...."

Well, we're lucky that the ocean joins other oceans and 1,335,000,000 cubic kilometers of water is an awfully big radiation barrier.

In the mean time, how many lives have been taken by Cordite and derivatives.

7
1
Silver badge

Re: Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

@AC

"Its good that the ice wall all worked out and nothing is leaking into the ocean...."

The ice wall isn't intended to stop water flowing into the ocean! It's intended to stop groundwater flowing from the mountains to the ocean from entering the basements of the reactor and turbine building and adding to the water levels there. In fact, TEPCO isn't even allowed to close the ice wall completely and has been mandated to keep a section open by the NRA (Japans nuclear safety oversight agency) because the NRA fears closing it completely could cause the water levels in the basements to RISE if the wall is closed completely (Because a majority of the water there is from the leaks in the reactor cooling systems) There is a steel sea-side impermeable wall hammered into the ground all the way into the impermeable layers of bedrock for the purposes of stopping groundwater outflow, as well as a whole host of other mittigation techniques to keep as much ground water as possible from getting contaminated. (See: http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/decommision/planaction/seasidewall/index-e.html and http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/decommision/planaction/landwardwall/index-e.html )

@streaky

It is not a direct goal, because no-one has a a clue as to how it could be done. What IS a goal though is to disassemble the current containment structure and clear up as much debris as possible from around the upper bio shield to finally allow a proper assesment of its stability and position. Because right now noone has a clue as to what the actual status of the thing really is. NSC isn't FOR stabilizing the UBS, it IS intented to ALLOW it to happen if needed.

8
1
Silver badge
Happy

Re: Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

@streaky, rereading my original post I realise it is worded very incorrectly. I feel I should admit I got it wrong there. My second post is not an attempt to change my words, it's a correction.

0
0
Silver badge
Boffin

Re: "A structure like this is not needed for Fukushima."

""an olypmic swimming pool with an old-style glow in the dark watch dropped in the middle"."

OOOH LOOK::::

A shiny - or is that glowey - new Reg unit!

We need a proper diving mask icon.....>>

4
0
Silver badge

Re: Good luck to building the same for Fukushima.

Yeah AFAIK there's no plan to do anything with the upper bio shield right now, running through the thing with a bulldozer would "allow" it to be stabilised doesn't mean they will - but I get what you're saying; it's not like it's built to prevent work being done to it. I think currently the plan is just basically keeping the dust in as much as possible if it does fall. It's so heavy any attempt to do anything with it will result it in falling regardless, hence I'd just fill it with boron and sand - boron for the obvious and sand to vitrify anything that has residual heat and for support in case anything does fall and it'd keep the dust down and also reduce the fall height. They tried it after the accident because it's a sensible thing to do but they couldn't get near enough to get anything in there - at least now there's cranes in place relative containment that it might be worth filling what's left of the reactor vessel with. Honestly at this point you could probably mostly encase it in reinforced concrete and forget about it to a certain extent - would make it easier to work around for sure. NSC opens up a lot of options for making it safer.

0
0
Silver badge
Joke

Units

Crumbling cover replaced by 36,000-tonne radiation-proof structure

Would 36 Kilotonne be a better unit of weight for this, or would it bomb?

28
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Units

8.5 MegaJubs (MJb) would work better for me...

4
0

Re: Units

You may have a point, but it's not critical.

9
0
Silver badge
Trollface

Re: Units

Proper hipsters would express that mass in Joules, via emcee squared and all that jazz...

3
0
Silver badge

Misleading title

Oh wait...

Good to hear, must have taken some good and serious planning there.

4
0
Silver badge

Are they planning on building an even bigger dome to replace that one when it eventually starts to fall apart?

7
3
Silver badge

The decomissioning of this structure has been considered already yes. But it has been designed to last atleast several hundred years. In the meantime the cleanup of the reactor will finally start, so there is a good chance the containment won't be needed anymore when this structure hits end of life.

11
0
Gold badge

Are they planning on building an even bigger dome to replace that one when it eventually starts to fall apart?

Hahaha - yes, I saw what you did there.

However, Matryoshka dolls are generally made of wood :).

6
0
Silver badge

It was a genuine question, although I'm quite pleased I managed to make funny out of something serious!

From what I had read, the dome is meant to last 100 years. Which is a long time, but not longer than the danger posed by what's left of the reactor. In 1988 engineers had said that the current sarcophagus would need replacing in 20/30 years time. It's taken nearly 30 years to get the dome in place so with that track record it'd be prudent to start to do something about it now at least.

That said, 100 years is 100 years and I won't be around to see what they do. And I feel a lot of the people involved are looking to their children and thinking "Meh, I'll let them sort it out". But I've grown up in Birmingham and we have the Spaghetti Junction and that, too, is meant to last 100 years. But it's not even 50 years old and that's falling apart, and it doesn't have the excuse of stupidly high levels of radiation to contend with.

4
0
Silver badge

Replacing this shield would be simple

It is on tracks, they could simply build a parallel set of tracks with a new dome, roll the old dome off and roll the new dome on.

Though realistically in a hundred years all of the really nasty stuff will be at such low levels it won't really matter. Probably best to simply cover the dome and everything under it with a few hundred feet of sand and soil and plant flowers on it.

2
0

"Which is a long time, but not longer than the danger posed by what's left of the reactor."

But in 20-30 years, those really dangerous bit would be dangerous bundled up in a bunch of nice safe casks buried in an underground facility designed specifically to hold such dangerous stuff rather than in a big precarious pile of miscellaneous crap protected only by a thin-ish concrete dome.

The reason this dome is so much larger is so that they can start moving automated equipment into the dome and have space to work and start removing contaminated rubble and debris that is in the way of accessing the reactor so they can start tackling the task of getting rid of it and making the site much, much safer (well, relatively). The radioactivity has greatly reduced in the last few decades to where it is now possible to do that soft of work, of course technology being much more advanced also helps so they can send in cheap remote-control vehicles operated by someone hundreds of kilometers away rather than having to send in ole Vladimir on a 30-year-old bulldozer...

This dome is also likely to live a much longer useful life since its constructed of proper materials and over-seen by highly-trained engineers rather than the original dome that was built by the same folks that brought you such wonders as the Berlin Wall, and the Chernobyl Power Station itself...

2
0
Silver badge

"The radioactivity has greatly reduced in the last few decades to where it is now possible to do that soft of work, of course technology being much more advanced also helps so they can send in cheap remote-control vehicles "

One of the initial problems at both Fukushima and Chernobyl was that the radiation levels were so high they fried the robots sent in to explore and do cleanups - turning them into more obstacles for the real cleanups in future.

Which should be a reminder that the best thing to do when a meltdown happens is to secure the perimeter and wait 3 decades rather than trying to wade in and remove red hot pieces - they're better off where they are until they're a bit less radioactive.

Whilst chernobyl was an old design, the biggest danger for nuke plants was - and remains - the water. In order to run at suitable temperatures to drive steam turbines (4-600C), it needs to be pressurised - which means steam explosions if there's a leak. It's also slightly acidic, but water at those temperatures and pressures is corrosive anyway. The other problem is that fission reactions tend to stabilise (doppler effects) at about 1100-1200C(*), so if the cooling pumps fails, your water's going to get very hot, react with metals in the vessel and generate hydrogen - which is what happened at Fukushima.

(*) That's the approximate temperature in the middle of a fuel rod too. because the fuel is oxide pellets, it takes a long time for the heat energy in the middle to percolate to the outside of the rod and _that_ is why it takes so long to cool a reactor down after a SCRAM event.

Alvin Weinberger solved these problems 50 years ago: Surely it would be better to use something like a molten salt as your working fluid/coolant/fuel carrier. No pressure, can safely go to 1200C, hot enough to be thermodynamically efficient. Can't burn, doesn't need large bodies of water to carry off the excess heat. (and a bunch of nice knock on effects such as easy chemical reprocessing, virtually no waste on the input vs the 75% wastage now and 99% reduction of the waste output (which is currently about enough to fill an olympic pool over the lifespan of a 1200MW plant), most of which can simply be stored for a few months/years and sold on - Say hi to the helium economy, amongst other things.

If Nixon hadn't killed LFTR research in favour of fast breeder reactors (Molten sodium coolant - whoever decided that would be a good idea??) we might have _really_ safe nuclear power, but even the unsafe version is 300,000 times safer than coal.

8
0

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2018