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1986 was a year of several meaningful worldwide events, some of which included the Voyager 2 got details and pictures of Uranus, the space shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff, and Haley’s comet soared past Earth (infoplease.com). Perhaps the event that alarmed the world the most, however, was the major nuclear accident that occurred at the nuclear power plant Chernobyl. The nuclear disaster that occurred at Chernobyl in 1986 (Lecture 4/1/02), has forever changed the way that nuclear power plants are viewed by the world.
Chernobyl is now an abandoned city in north Ukraine because at 1:23 am on April 26th (Chernobyl.com), during an “unauthorized test of one of the plant's four reactors, engineers initiated an uncontrolled chain reaction in the core of the reactor after disabling emergency backup systems” (infoplease.com). The type of reactor used at Chernobyl was a graphite-water reactor (Lecture 3/25/02). This means that the moderator of the reactor is graphite, and the coolant is water (Lecture 3/25/02). According to Chernobyl.com, technicians allowed the power level in the fourth reactor to fall to an extremely low level, causing a core meltdown. An explosion ripped the top off the containment building, expelling radioactive material into the atmosphere for over ten days (Chernobyl.com). More was then released in a fire that followed, due to a second explosion that allowed air to rush into the reactor (world-nuclear.org).
It was only after Swedish instruments detected a problem from the explosion that Soviet authorities admitted that an accident had occurred (infoplease.com). The reactor core was sealed off by air-dropping a cement mixture which included 5,000 tons of boron, dolomite, sand, clay and lead, but not before eight tons of radioactive material had escaped into the atmosphere (infoplease.com).
It is estimated that all of the xenon gas, about half of the iodine and caesium, and at least 5% of the remaining radioactive material in the Chernobyl reactor core was released in the accident (world-nuclear.org).
Over twenty firefighters died instantly from overexposure to radioactivity, while hundreds suffered from severe radiation sickness (infoplease.
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The fourth reactor of Chernobyl is now enclosed in a large concrete shelter which was erected quickly to allow operation of the other three reactors at the plant (world-nuclear.org). However, the structure is neither strong enough nor durable enough, and now there are plans for its reconstruction. In the early 1990’s some $400 million from the United States was spent on improvements to the remaining reactors at Chernobyl, in hopes of enhancing their safety (world-nuclear.org). In March, 2001, the United States signed a $36 million contract for the assembly of a radioactive waste management facility to deal with used up fuel and other operational wastes, as well as material from the other reactors (world-nuclear.org).
As one can see, the effects of the horrific accident that occurred at Chernobyl in April of 1986 still has lingering negative and positive effects today. It is has caused birth defects in thousands of children, yet due to the accident several safety issues have now been put into effect. One can only hope that an accident of Chernobyl’s size does not happen again.
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