April 26th 1986 marked the date of the worst nuclear accident to ever occur. Chernobyl, a nuclear power plant in Russia was undergoing routine safety tests that envolved running the reactor on less then full power, followed by a standard shut down. At Chernobyl’s reactor number 4 a specific test was designed to show that a coasting turbine could produce enough power to pump coolant through the reactor core while waiting for electricity from diesel generators.
During the test turbine feed valves were closed to initiate turbine coasting, and automatic control rods were withdrawn from the core. When the steam valves to the turbine close, the pressure in the reactor should go up causing the boiling point of the water to increase. This creates more water in the reactor, increasing cooling. During this test there was a problem with the feed water supply, so the increase in cooling water did not happen. What did happen was an uncontrolled increase in the steam pressure. The operator saw this and started to shut down the reaction by reinserting the control rods. The initial insertion of the control rods caused the reaction to concentrate in the bottom of the reactor. The reactor power rose well above its maximum capacity. Fuel pellets shattered, reacting with the cooling water, creating high pressure in the fuel containers. This surge in pressure caused the fuel containers to rupture. This led to two severe explosions, one a steam explosion, the other a rapid expansion of fuel vapor. The force of these explosions lifted the pile cap, allowing air to enter the reactor. The graphite used in the reactor construction caught on fire, ending a horrible and tragic sequence of events, bu...
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...ed by nuclear fuel and sand.
Of course this wasn’t the end of their problems, what fun would that be? The inside of the sarcophagus was falling apart. If it collapsed, a whole lot of radioactive dust would escape into the air, and probably wouldn’t do much for the Russian’s popularity.
This was a big threat, the reactor could collapse any day so it needed immediate attention. They could burry it in concrete, but that would make it hard to monitor. They could cover it in sand, except sands a good insulator. Or they could build a 2nd sarcophagus, but that might cost more then 15 rubles. What they did know is that whatever they did had to last longer then the pyramids. They needed help from other countries.
Hopefully, with the knowledge learned from Chernobyl, and the rising need for nuclear energy, we can find a safer way run nuclear power plants.
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