World History/ Chernobyl term paper 13550

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Chernobyl

Chernobyl is a popular nuclear disaster it was a terrible technological disaster. Chernobyl is a small town in the Ukraine. The closest major city is Kiev. Kiev is the capital of the Ukraine. It is made up of 2.4 million people. In 1986 April 26 Chernobyl experienced an unforgettable nuclear disaster. At the time, the USSR was responsible for roughly 10% of the world's nuclear power. The year of the accident Chernobyl nuclear power plant was using four of the most modern soviet reactors, the RBMK-type.

The cause of this tragedy was due to operator error. The nuclear operators were running a test to observe how the RBMK reactor worked with a limited power flow. The test was said to be an electrical test only and it is thought that the test was under the supervision of the turbine manufacturer and not the regular operators. If the test was not completed at this time (April 26, 1986), then the people would have to be delayed another year for the next shutdown. Just ahead of a planned reactor shutdown for regular maintenance, the test was scheduled. A writer in the Los Angeles Times John-Thor Dahlburg said that the RBMK reactor was so poorly designed that the "scram button" that was supposed to smother the reaction by dropping control rods into the atomic pile actually accelerated the storm inside. Dahlburg talked with Friedrich Niehaus, a specialist with the International atomic Energy Agency said, "It's like hitting the brake pedal on the truck and feeding gas to the engine instead." In 1979 there was an accident at the USA Three Mile Island plants, which resulted in a general survey of safety of reactors worldwide. It was found that the RBMK reactors had no containment. The RBMK is a huge reactor, which was about 71 meters high so the Soviets felt to put this reactor in containment would be difficult. The Soviets put only the bottom pipes in containment because this was easier. The main weakness was in shutting the reactor down. As a result of inadequacy the shutdown rods are part of the normal plant control system rather than being a separate emergency system. Again a fault in the control system also makes the emergency shutdown unable to function. Another weakness was that Chernobyl had only partial containment. Because of the partial containment the radiation went out the top of the reactor where there were no leak tight boxes. The hot fuel and graphite were exposed to air when they went out the top of the reactor. If there had been a completed containment, then the water and steam from the broken pipes would have dissolved almost all of the cesium and radioactive iodine that escaped. Even if the containment leaked the cesium and the iodine would not get out. Because the hot fuel and graphite were exposed to air this chemical reaction did occur. The operators had removed all of the control rods except for six. This action is against procedures. It is not safe for any reactor to operate with so many control rods removed. Besides the RBMK reactor was not designed to operate at such low power. The power generators of this reactor were run by steam forced through turbines. By the time the reactor exploded none of the turbines were turning and all of the steam was building. This steam broke every one of the pressure tubes and blew the entire top shield of the reactor.

The damage was severe at Chernobyl. There were two explosions at the power station. The first one destroyed reactor number 4. The second explosion through burning lumps of graphite and reactor fuel into the air. These lumps caused several fires around the plant. The Chernobyl fire crew responded first, when they arrived they noticed that their help was not enough. The commander of the Chernobyl fire crew sent a signal to Pripyat the next closest town and the entire Kiev region asking for any fire brigade they could send. During this fire reactor 3 was still operating. This made the entire situation even more dangerous. About four and half-hours after the explosion, all of the fires were extinguished, except the graphite fire inside the reactor crater. By using 37 fire crews consisting of 186 firemen and 81 fire engines, nine days later the fire had been extinguished.

The next morning there was no hint of the explosion. Everyone went about like a normal day. Children were outside playing, mailmen delivered the mail, and even weddings took place. When locals asked what was going on over at the plant Soviet officials said “aren’t you used to that? It was a steam discharge from the power plant.” The night after the explosion a 30-kilometer safety zone was established around the nuclear power station. It was declared that everyone within this zone was to be evacuated. After the residents were exposed to radiation for 36 hours this decision had been made.

Chernobyl affected the health of many in the surrounding areas. The numbers are almost irrelevant in the fact that this disastrous event should have never happened. The people who lived around the nuclear power station had mutations in their germ cells due to the radiation. Because of this the people can turn out to be deformed or disfigured. It has been reported that 760 children in the contaminated “Safety Zone” have thyroid cancer. Also birth defects have more than doubled inside the “Safety Zone”. A major result of the Chernobyl accident was the spread of radiation. The European Community put a 90-day ban on agricultural goods from Eastern Europe. One of the main concerns of the eastern countries was the cloud of smoke and debris traveling through Europe. Scientists identified 16 different radionucleotides in the air as well as in the grass. Some of this contamination revealed pure ruthenium, which was proof of a major meltdown.

The only thing done was the placement of a Sarcophagus over reactor 4. This structure would help prevent radioactive particles from escaping as they were from the reactor. The Sarcophagus was constructed of concrete and steel. Currently, it has been noted that the Sarcophagus is not in good shape. It has been said that the Sarcophagus covering reactor 4 is now full of holes. An engineering report stated that the structure would collapse in an earthquake measuring 6 or more.

I personally think that nuclear technology is not a safe technological advancement for mankind. Yes, the power generated from such devices is economical. But the consequences we can pay from mechanical or human error is to great of a price to pay. Especially when we can see that the Soviets are not well educated or experienced with nuclear activity. If such a technology is to be continued it should be noted that operators of such devices should be more prepared of disastrous outcomes.

Word Count: 1146

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