Increased Neutron Levels At Chernobyl-4: How Dangerous Is Corium?

When the Chernobyl nuclear plant suffered the power output surge that would destroy its #4 reactor, a substance called ‘corium‘ was formed. This originally lava-like substance formed out of the destroyed fuel rods along with surrounding materials, like concrete, that made up the reactor. The corium ultimately cooled down and left large amounts of solid corium in the rooms where it had pooled.

Over the past few days there have been numerous reports in the media regarding a ‘sudden surge’ in neutron flux levels from this corium, with some predicting a ‘second Chernobyl disaster’. Obviously, this has quite a few people alarmed, but how dire are these neutron output changes exactly, and what do they tell us about the condition of the corium inside the ruins of the #4 reactor building? Continue reading “Increased Neutron Levels At Chernobyl-4: How Dangerous Is Corium?”

The Russian Woodpecker: Official Bird Of The Cold War Nests In Giant Antenna

On July 4th, 1976, as Americans celebrated the country’s bicentennial with beer and bottle rockets, a strong signal began disrupting shortwave, maritime, aeronautical, and telecommunications signals all over the world. The signal was a rapid 10 Hz tapping that sounded like a woodpecker or a helicopter thup-thupping on the roof. It had a wide bandwidth of 40 kHz and sometimes exceeded 10 MW.

This was during the Cold War, and plenty of people rushed to the conclusion that it was some sort of Soviet mind control scheme or weather control experiment. But amateur radio operators traced the mysterious signal to an over-the-horizon radar antenna near Chernobyl, Ukraine (then part of the USSR) and they named it the Russian Woodpecker. Here’s a clip of the sound.

The frequency-hopping Woodpecker signal was so strong that it made communication impossible on certain channels and could even be heard across telephone lines when conditions were right. Several countries filed official complaints with the USSR through the UN, but there was no stopping the Russian Woodpecker. Russia wouldn’t even own up to the signal’s existence, which has since been traced to an immense antenna structure that is nearly half a mile long and at 490 feet, stands slightly taller than the Great Pyramid at Giza.

This imposing steel structure stands within the irradiated forest near Pripyat, an idyllic town founded in 1970 to house the Chernobyl nuclear plant workers. Pictured above is the transmitter, also known as Duga-1, Chernobyl-2, or Duga-3 depending on who you ask. Located 30 miles northeast of Chernobyl, on old Soviet maps the area is simply labeled Boy Scout Camp. Today, it’s all within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

It was such a secret that the government denied it’s existence, yet was being heard all over the world. What was this mammoth installation used for?

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The Soviet RBMK Reactor: 35 Years After The Chernobyl Disaster

Thirty-five years ago, radiation alarms went off at the Forsmark nuclear power plant in Sweden. After an investigation, it was determined that the radiation did not come from inside the plant, but from somewhere else. Based on the prevailing winds at that time, it was ultimately determined that the radiation came from inside Soviet territory. After some political wrangling, the Soviet government ultimately admitted that the Chernobyl nuclear plant was the source, due to an accident that had taken place there.

Following the disaster, the causes have been investigated in depth so that we now have a fairly good idea of what went wrong. Perhaps the most important lesson taught by the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster is that it wasn’t about one nuclear reactor design, one control room crew, or one totalitarian regime, but rather the chain of events which enabled the disaster of this scale.

To illustrate this, the remaining RBMK-style reactors — including three at the Chernobyl plant — have operated without noticeable issues since 1986, with nine of these reactors still active today. During the international investigation of the Chernobyl plant disaster, the INSAG reports repeatedly referred to the lack of a ‘safety culture’.

Looking at the circumstances which led to the development and subsequent unsafe usage of the Chernobyl #4 reactor can teach us a lot about disaster prevention. It’s a story of the essential role that a safety culture plays in industries where the cost of accidents is measured in human life.

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Global Radiation Montoring And Tracking Nuclear Disasters At Home

Many of us don’t think too much about radiation levels in our area, until a nuclear disaster hits and questions are raised. Radiation monitoring is an important undertaking, both from a public health perspective and as a way to monitor things like weapon development. So why is it done, how is it done, and what role can concerned citizens play in keeping an eye on things?

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Fail Of The Week: Spinning The Pripyat Ferris Wheel

This multifaceted fail comes to us straight from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where a group of friends apparently decided that a fun weekend project would be trying to turn over the iconic ferris wheel in the Pripyat Amusement Park. The [Kreosan] crew documented their admittedly very creative attempt at suicide in the video after the break, but we can save you some time by telling you right up front that the decades-old ferris wheel never actually rotates more than a few degrees. Though that’s hardly the key failure of this endeavour.

Even if you don’t understand anything they’re saying (we certainly don’t), it’s not too hard to follow along with this harebrained scheme.

Under cover of darkness, the troupe gains access to the mechanisms below the towering Soviet-era ride, and removes the brake unit mounted next to the motor. With the wheel now free spinning, the team is elated to see the mechanical advantage is such that spinning the shaft by hand is enough to cause a very slight rotation of the pulley and cables attached to the wheel.

Realizing they need more speed, the group then spends the rest of the night and apparently a good deal of the following day attempting to spin the mechanism using the rear wheel of one of their electric bicycles. But a rubber wheel held by hand against a rusty shaft, rather unsurprisingly, turns out to be a fairly poor mechanical linkage. They get a couple partial rotations on the pulleys, but still no serious movement.

One of the guys was working on the next phase of the inexplicably misguided plan, removing some heavy counterweights hanging under the ferris wheel, when a young woman shows up with a dosimeter and starts taking some measurements. Eventually, one of these moonlighting ferris wheel engineers uses the meter to observe the elevated radiation levels of the dirt and rust accumulated on his bare hands. This swiftly brings the operation to a close, and they all ride off on their bikes.

This was, without question, a monumentally stupid thing to do. Even if this was just a run-of-the-mill ferris wheel that had been abandoned and exposed to the elements for over thirty years, climbing on the thing and trying to get it to spin would be dangerous. But when you combine that with the fact it’s common knowledge to those who explore the Exclusion Zone that there are parts of the ferris wheel still emitting radiation at hundreds of times the normal background dose, this misadventure is a strong contender for the 2019 Darwin Award.

We’re lucky the remnants of Chernobyl’s number four reactor are locked away inside the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, or else some up-and-coming Internet celebrity might try to get in there and spin up the turbines for a laugh. We’ve seen some pretty crazy stunts from [Kreosan], and we’d like to see more. So please, stay safe(r) guys!

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Nuclear Reactor Simulator Is The Project Of A Lifetime

Have you been watching Chernobyl? Well, so has everyone else. Right now it seems the whole Internet is comprised of armchair dosimetrists counting roentgens in their sleep, but [Mark Wright] doesn’t need a high-budget TV show to tell him about the challenges of wrangling the atom with 1980s technology. He’s done it for real. His memories of working at a Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactor over 30 years ago are so sharp that he’s been building a nuclear reactor “simulator” running on the Raspberry Pi that looks nearly as stressful as sitting in control room of the real thing.

The simulator software is written in Python, and is responsible for displaying a simplified overview of the reactor and ancillary systems on the screen. Here all the information required to operate the “nuclear plant” can be seen at a glance, from the utilization of individual pumps to the position of the control rods.

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Solar Power For Chernobyl’s Second Generation Of Electricity

When featuring cool hacks repurposing one thing for something else, we prefer to focus on what we could get our hands on and replicate for ourselves. Not this one, though, as nobody else has the misfortune of being responsible for 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of radioactive contaminated land like the government of Ukraine. Trying to make the best of what they have, they’ve just¬†launched a pilot program¬†working to put up solar power farms inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

This is sure to invite some jokes in the comments section, but the idea has merit. Thirty years of weather has eroded the worst aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion. That area is no longer immediately lethal and people have been making short visits. Spanning from safety inspectors, to scientists, to curious adventurers with questionable judgement making television shows. Supposedly, by following rules on what not to do, it’s possible to keep radiation exposure of a short visit down to the level experienced by frequent fliers. But that’s still too much radiation for long-term stay. That means no homes, office parks, or factories. No agriculture either, as plants and animals grown in the area should not be eaten.

So what’s left? That’s what Ukraine has been struggling with, as it tried to figure out something positive to offset the headaches of monitoring the area.

Well, next to the defunct power plant is the electric distribution infrastructure it used to feed into, and photovoltaic power generation requires little human oversight. Some maintenance will be required, but hopefully someone has worked out how to keep maintenance workers’ cumulative exposure to a minimum. And if this idea pans out, clean renewable energy would start flowing from the site of one of the worst ecological disasters of our era. That makes it a worthwhile hack on a grand scale.

[via Gizmodo]