The Chernobyl Disaster

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The Chernobyl Disaster It was to be the largest nuclear complex in the world, the Soviet Union's pride for the energy industry. But one day, something went terribly wrong. Chernobyl, a town located 70 miles north of Kiev, Ukraine (Pringle, 64), had four reactors to supply much of Ukraine's power in the region (Edwards, 104). To run an experiment on the reactor, technicians disabled key safety systems. The reactor had a good record of safety (Pringle, 64-65). Inside reactor Number Four, engineers reduced power below twenty-five percent (Edwards, 102-103). In order to maintain reactor power, they withdrew many control rods, which help control the chain reaction. Operators reduced cooling water flow to maintain steam pressure. The cooling water that remained boiled rapidly, and the reactor surged with energy. In fact, it surged so fast that the reactor went from seven percent to fifty percent power in just under three seconds. The operator then knew that the chain reaction was surging out of control. Another operator noticed this, and quickly pushed the emergency button. Control rods began to lower into the reactor chamber to slow down the out of control chain reaction, but failed to halt it. The reactor's fuel began to dissipate and fall into the pool of cooling water. As the hot material met with the water, a massive amount of steam was produced. The pressure from all that steam shattered the core's 1,000-ton lid and ripped through the roof. Radioactive material was launched over three quarters of a mile into the atmosphere. Only four percent of the reactor's radioactive material reached the atmosphere, but it was still more than was released by the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan (Pringle, 62-65). In fact, the explosion produced 90 times as much fallout (radioactive particles launched into the atmosphere and later fall to the earth) than Hiroshima received from one atomic bomb alone (McCuen, 33). Explosions and fires that followed the explosion sent 12 million curies (a measure of how radioactive something is) of radiation into the air in just 24 hours. An additional 38 million fell within the next ten days. In contrast, only 17 curies escaped at the Three Mile Island accident (Pringle, 65). Two point two million people now live within contaminated regions. Their lives have adapted to deal with it. Clocks atop government buildings in Minsk, Byelorussia, flash the time, temperature, and radiation level (McCuen, 33). Following the accident, the Soviet government sent an army of 750,000 people to clean up the accident.

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