The Chernobyl nuclear disaster: does the fear continue?

Causes and consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster: after 35 years, reactor 4 is still scary

On the night of April 26, 1986, reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explodes: it is the most serious accident in the history of civil nuclear power. Beyond the 65 victims immediately registered, there were many “long-term” deaths from diseases caused by the massive exposure to radiation. According to the data provided by theHIM-HER-IT this estimate reaches 4000, for Greenpeace even six million.

This event also had a strong impact on public opinion: the climate of skepticism on nuclear power led to the devaluation of this resource. To date, in 14 European countries (including theItaly) there are no active plants and – according to the data collected in 2011 – only in Belgium, France e Slovakia the electricity produced through nuclear power represents over 50% of the total energy.

35 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, an increase in fission reactions measured by’ISPNPP (Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants) shocked the world: is the nuclear nightmare really over? To understand the meaning of this data, let’s proceed step by step.

How a nuclear power plant is made and what is its role

If you are a millennial you cannot fail to remember, in the skyline of Springfield, the two gray behemoths of Mr. Burns soar smoking a few steps from Homer Simpson’s office. Well yes: that was a nuclear power plant!

The main purpose of this type of plant is to produce electricity. This happens thanks to a machine (in technical terms “alternator”) that manages to convert themechanical energy – produced by the movement of some turbines – in electric energy. The role of reactors is precisely to provide, through uranium fission reactions, heat. The latter is then used, by means of “exchangers”, to produce the steam necessary to move the turbines, heating up to the point of evaporation of the simple water.

What Happened to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant?

The fission reactions they are very dangerous because, if out of control, they can emit enormous amounts of energy. For this reason, every element of a nuclear power plant must be constantly subjected to maintenance and safety tests. It is precisely during a check carried out to analyze the behavior of the turbines in the event of a blackout, that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. According to official sources, the tragedy was caused by an unfortunate series of adverse conditions:

  • To carry out the test, the emergency cooler. This made it impossible to lower the core temperature (i.e. the part of the reactor where the reaction takes place), when the fission has become uncontrollable. The achievement of extreme temperatures caused the rupture of the uranium containers inside the reactor. The contact between uranium, boiling water and air caused a sudden generation of steam with an increase in pressure and consequent explosion.
  • The test was carried out by incompetent personnel. The already critical picture was further aggravated by wrong maneuvers.
  • The reactors had structural defects, such as iron roofing rather than reinforced concrete.
  • The Chernobyl nuclear disaster mainly released vapors of Iodine and of Cesium, which have damaged both human beings and the crops close to the plant, irreparably weakening the local economy as well.

    The Chernobyl nuclear disaster: does the fear continue?

    35 years after the Chernobyl disaster: is the reactor “waking up”?

    Last May 10th Neil Hyatt, chemical of nuclear materials toSheffield University, gave an interview to the magazine Science: reactor 4 is physically active again. The phenomenon, according to the scholar, is comparable to what happens to “embers in a barbecue.”

    Due to the construction of a waterproof cover on the remains of the exploded reactor – dating back to 2016 – rainwater did not penetrate inside the structure: this entrance would have lowered the probability of new fission reactions. Due to dehydration, in areas where small amounts of molten fuel are still present, activity may be increased. The presence of this phenomenon, however, must not create alarmism: the activity grows very slowly and the time to intervene is still a long time.

    In conclusion, the scholar therefore seems to avoid the possibility of a new explosion in the scope of the Chernobyl disaster: you can, therefore, breathe a sigh of relief.