The nuclear accident which occurred at Chernobyl in 1986 caused the release of an unprecedented amount of radioactive particles and directly contributed to 28 deaths within a few weeks of the accident due to acute radiation syndrome (ARS). A further 134 cases of ARS were attributed to the accident which also caused the evacuation of approximately 116000 people within a 30km radius. (World Nuclear Association, 2016)
Theses devastating consequences were the direct result of the explosion of Chernobyl reactor 4, the Soviet era RBMK-1000 reactor. This particular reactor utilises 2% enriched Uranium as fuel in conjunction with a graphite moderator and light water coolant. On the day of the explosion, the reactor was being prepared for testing to determine whether the turbines would continue to spin long enough in the event of power loss to provide power to coolant pumps before back up power generators came online. (Greenpeace, 2006) Prior to the testing, the emergency shutdown procedures were disabled and the power generation of the reactor was reduced. However, due to the slower flow of coolant by the slowing pumps, there was a build-up of steam in the reactor. (World Nuclear Association, 2009).
In most reactor designs, where water acts as both moderator and coolant, a build-up in steam causes a reduction in power as steam is moderator than liquid water meaning less nuclear reactions will occur. However, due to the combination of graphite moderator and water coolant, the increase in steam had no effect on moderation and the nuclear chain reaction continued. As steam is both a less effective neutron absorber and coolant than liquid water, the reactivity of the core increased, which in turn increase the temperature, whic...
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...the opposite effect. In releasing all of this material directly onto the reactor core, the materials actually acted as a thermal insulator, causing an increase in core temperature and consequential increase in the amount of radioactive material released to the environment. (Greenpeace, 2006) Clearly, this action was not at all effective in reducing the severity of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
In a second attempt to reduce the temperature of the reactor core, a system was installed which pumped cold nitrogen into the reactor, effectively lowering the core temperature and preventing oxygen from reacting with any molten material and starting more fires. This action was most effective, with the core temperature decreasing rapidly, which in turn decreased the rate at which dangerous radioisotopes were being emitted into the atmosphere. (World Nuclear Association, 2016)
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