April 26, 2006

Archives: [20th] Anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster

view of the near-vertical reactor head of the Chernobyl 4 RBMK-1000, courtesy INSP.com[Originally posted 4/26/2004]

So, my research into Chernobyl (which includes scouring the Web and government sites, and the University of Chicago and Harold Washington Libraries) has been slightly delayed. However, for the curious, I have a selection of choice hand-picked links that will provide multi-national insights into the incident, and its continuing aftermath.
UPDATED 4/26/2006:

Controversy over the "Kidd of Speed" website [NeilGaiman.com]
Ukraine Remembers Chernobyl Nuclear Accident [AP, CBS2 Chicago]
An extensive gallery of Chernobyl Images from the INSP (http://insp.pnl.gov/-library-uk_ch_1-1.htm)
BBC: Chernobyl 20 Years On

The German nuclear-safety agency GRS [Gesellschaft für Anlagen und Reaktorsicherheit, mbH] has a well-illustrated, informative 179-page free online technical report called "The Accident and the Safety of RBMK Reactors" [large PDF file, 5Mb].

If you enjoy government reports and "blue books," visit the World Nuclear Association's Chernobyl page, which includes links to UNSCEAR [United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which published several comprehensive reports on the Chernobyl disaster - many which are available here as free PDF downloads.

Watch This: Chernobyl.co.uk, a UK site which features a link to the BBC's recent 30-minute program [streaming RealPlayer video] on Chernobyl, featuring a look at the history of nuclear power in the former Soviet Union as well as a look inside Ukraine's Exclusion Zone towns. Highly recommended: this program illustrates that the deteriorating reactor site is still an issue of pressing concern through Europe, while it has been all but overshadowed here in the U.S.

Watch This: though the bulk of Chernobyl news coverage occurred before the age of streaming video, the post-date digitized BBC retrospective of the Chernobyl disaster [RealPlayer required] is a wistfully immediate - if lo-res - look back at those fateful days in April 1986.

Ukrainian biker gal (and young scientist) Elena is the Kidd [sic] of Speed: her wildly popular site, Ghost Town, features dozens of startling photos and rueful, blustering commentary from her motorcycle tour through the post-apocalyptic Exclusion Zone in Pripyat': part National Geographic expedition, part Jackass-meets-Evel Knievel. Strange thing is, I'd probably do it too, given the opportunity and a lead X-ray apron - but I'd prefer an enclosed vehicle, like a Bradley.

Got Euskadi? The Basque Website of Pripyat.

Have Paris, Rome, and the Caribbean lost their appeal? Been there, done that? How about a guided group tour through Chernobyl? I don't know if it's a legitimate enterprise, but you can apparently book a tour through the Exclusion Zone via Ukrainian Web Chyornobyl' Tour. You get complimentary disposable outerwear and shoes, and a souvenir computerized dosimeter printout that certifies how much radiation you absorbed during your visit.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Pioneer Robot pages, with photos and diagrams of the Red Zone Robotics radiation-hardened explorer robot that will be used to excavate and explore the hot ruin inside the Sarcophagus.

A recent Kazakhstan Kazinform press release from March, 2004, warning that trouble at the Chernobyl Sarcophagus could be imminent.

From a nation that is also highly dependent on nuclear energy, but has thankfully suffered neither a Chernobyl nor a Three Mile Island type incident - the Canadian Nuclear Association's report on Chernobyl.

USGS satellite photos showing changes in the Chernobyl region from 1986 to 1992.

An August, 1986 EPA Bulletin on short-term American response to the Chernobyl disaster.

Gla55pak.com has compiled some unusual Chernobyl images here, and proclaims "I have a sick curiosity - more of an impulse - to be there that night and watch the thing light up. I would gladly take a good dose just to have seen it. It is, after all, like an immense train wreck that I just can't help but see." Also: link to Disenchanted.com's take on the Chernobyl and TMI incidents, called "Fear's just bad for business".

A high-resolution satellite image of the Chernobyl region from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, suitable for desktop backgrounds.

Some of the best photos of the site I have seen are on the INSP's [International Nuclear Safety Program] Digital Library Website, where you can view over 800 color and black-and-white images, including the one at the top of this post.

April 18, 2006

2005 Report: Safety State of the (Chernobyl) Sarcophagus

There is a new 2005 "Safety State of the Sarcophagus" report available online (9.7Mb PDF) from [Gesellschaft für Anlagen und Reaktorsicherheit] GRS/IRSN [Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucleaire], the French-German Initiative for Chernobyl.

The free 70-page color booklet contains narrative in French, German, English and Russian; along with photos of the damaged reactor and the surrounding area, detailed accounts of the damage and radiation released in the 1986 accident, and current plans for abating and controlling the deterioration of the current "shell" surrounding Reactor 4.

What's new and quite interesting here are recent ArcView GIS [Geographic Information System] and computer-generated 3D maps of the site, many which include environmental radiation level isosurfaces (example from the GRS/IRSN 2005 report shown).

A computer rendering of Chernobyl Shelter 2, shown here, depicts the proposed new external containment structure for the hastily-constructed 1986 sarcophagus, now severely deteriorated by harsh weather and intense radiation.

According to the SIP [Shelter Implementation Plan], the goal of building the aluminum semicircular housing is "to safely confine the radioactive materials for at least 100 years and...to allow their retrieval from inside if need be as well as the dismantling of the old structure."

Archives: Chernobyl Reactor 4 "Radioactive Volcano"

[Originally Posted May 15, 2004] My search for information on Chernobyl has taken me to some very strange places.

This morning, I found this image on a fascinating Italian Chernobyl website, The Humus Project, or Progetto Humus, at http://www.progettohumus.it [the page this image appears on is here]. Look closely.

I can't verify its authenticity (unfortunately, many of the images lack captions or explanations) but it appears to be a shot of the glowing core of Chernobyl Reactor 4 shortly after the explosion. The timestamp on the image reads 01:23:59. But is it 1:23:59 AM on April 26th, 1986?

Thinkquest Library states that the containment lid of Reactor 4 blew off at 01:23:44 am, while the German 'Society for Plants and Reactor Safety', GRS (Gesellschaft für Anlagen und Reaktorsicherheit, in their technical report "The Accident and Safety of RBMK Reactors" [5Mb PDF file]) places the time of the explosion at:

Recording of the shift supervisor: "Strong impacts, the shutdown systems stop before reaching the lower end position ..." Reactor excursion with more than 100 times of the nominal power. Explosion and destruction of the reactor core. The upper plate of the reactor is hurled up, all pressure tubes break off. Core material and burninggraphite parts are ejected. The reactor is burning, further fires start in the surrounding. Massive release of radioactive fission products.
If this photo is genuine, then it would be the first time I've been able to track down an image of the reactor in the earliest stages of the accident. I have not yet found an image of this type anywhere in Chernobyl literature, either on video, in books or and other source. Where did this come from, considering that the former Soviet Union did not inform the outside world of the explosion until days later? Was there a camera trained on the reactor? Did the image come from a flight over the reactor later than the timestamp indicates?

Humus Project Chernobyl Video streams
Google Directory page for Science > Technology > Energy > Nuclear > Safety and Accidents > Chernobyl.
Belarus Guide on Chernobyl Information
Humus Project English version (Progetto Humus, Italy)

April 06, 2006

Cerenkov Radiation

A RadioActive! reader sent us this fascinating image of blue Cerenkov radiation from Ohio State University's research reactor:
"...attached is a photo...of our research reactor at OSU, which I took from the pool-top during operation at about 50 kW (thermal). The blue Cerenkov glow caused by photoelectrons, Compton electrons, and beta particles is evident here, but [in my opinion] is much prettier at our licensed power of 500 kW!
Carl Willis"
Click on the image at left to expand to a full-size [890 x 1024] detailed image.

April 05, 2006

Name That Ohio (Nuclear) Plant!

I'd like to call on the expertise of RadioActive! readers to help me identify this power plant. This photo was taken Tuesday 4/4/06 from interstate highway 80-90 in northern Ohio roughly near Toledo, where the highway parallels state route 2. I think it is a nuclear reactor (judging from the containment structure), but it does not resemble either of Ohio's two reactors on the NRC list, the Davis-Besse or Perry power plants. Any suggestions and clues would be appreciated.

By the way, check out the Google Maps satellite image of Perry, Ohio. On my computer, the grid area directly corresponding to the Perry nuclear facility is blurred/smeared. Is this an intentional censoring of the image for security reasons, I wonder?

UPDATE: The Google Maps image of The Davis-Besse facility, however, is not blurred.

March 17, 2006

Dounreay Fuel Pellets a Health Risk on Scots Beaches?

According to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), nuclear fuel particles found on beaches near the defunct [Caithness] Dounreay nuclear facility in Scotland only "pose low-level risk to human health." However, the agency conceded that some pieces of higher-activity fuel rods are still washing up on public beaches. From the Edie News Center:
Fragments of nuclear fuel, which continue to turn up on beaches near the former experimental reactor, prompted SEPA to commission an enquiry into their effects on human health in 1998.

Particles found at the site so far are "relatively low in activity." Visible skin burns could only occur if a person encountered a particle of higher activity, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA), which carried out the research. It estimated the chances of that happening at one in 80 million.

But the report also warned of particles with a higher radioactivity being brought onto the beach from the seabed. Such particles have not been detected since monitoring began in 1999, however, the researchers said.

The HPA looked more closely at vulnerable groups, such as people walking dogs or digging for bait on the affected beaches, and the time they spent there. It considered the possibility of people accidentally swallowing or inhaling the particles, or sand from the beach being used for children's sandpits.
More: Risk of Dounreay particles 'low' [March 14th, 2006 on BBC web]
"Dounreay nuclear debris could kill," [BBC, 1999]
"Decommissioning Caithness Dounreay" [Power-Technology.com]
"The threats at Dounreay," [N-Base]

(Image CC from Wikimedia Commons)

March 10, 2006

Upcoming World Conference in Belarus on "Chernobyl After 20 Years"

From the Bahrain News Agency:
Minsk, March. 10, (BNA)

A world conference will be held on April 19, in the capital city of Belarus, under the theme of "Chernobyl after 20 years: Urbanization strategy and Sustainable development of the Unfortunate Area." The conference which will mark the 20th anniversary of the disaster will be attended by representatives of 50 countries and 16 international organizations.

The Russian News Agency, Itar Tass, said today invitations for the conference was sent by Belarus President to Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Development Organization (UNDO). During the conference, Belarus, the most hit country, Russia and Ukraine will present reports on the efforts they had made to alleviate the disaster's effects.

February 28, 2006

Chernobyl Children's Project International's "20 Years, 20 Lives" Series

A little while back, I received an email from Kathy Ryan of the Chernobyl Children's Project International, with news about the organization's special web series, "20 Years, 20 Lives":
"...I've been reading your Radioactive blog with interest, and I wanted to call to your attention a series that we recently started running on our website. It is called "Chernobyl: 20 Years 20 Lives" and it is a series of eyewitness accounts in words and interviews of people whose lives continue to be affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster...."
Thank you for your message, Kathy - I'm very happy to pass on the word, and thank you for all the good work your organization provides to help those affected by the disaster.
Chernobyl – Twenty Years, Twenty Lives is EarthVision's photo journalistic journey through the countries of the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Latvia, Sweden, France, and UK. It follows twenty people in their daily lives nowadays and reflects on how they changed after the events of April 1986. The goal of the project is to learn from the history and look at the accident from the present perspective at different levels, both locally and globally. Almost 20 years after the Chernobyl disaster, controversy continues about the true effects of the disaster. Chernobyl Children's Project International believes that the story of Chernobyl can be best told through the eyes of the variety of people who have been affected by the disaster.
A photo exhibition with the twenty life stories will tour the world beginning at April 2006. EarthVision is currently seeking exhibition hosts. You can reach EarthVision and learn more about the project at 20lives.info.

February 23, 2006

U.S. Seaports Deal and the Nuclear Terror Threat

The controversial Dubai Ports deal has spurred heated debate about the widsom of having foreign-owned corporations overseeing management of our national ports of entry. One of our main unsolved port security issues is the problem of uninspected freight containers, which some experts contend may be the route through which nuclear materials or devices could most easily be smuggled into the U.S. for use in a a terrorist attack. From the New York Times's "Big Problem, Dubai Deal or Not":
Only 4 percent or 5 percent of those containers are inspected. There is virtually no standard for how containers are sealed, or for certifying the identities of thousands of drivers who enter and leave the ports to pick them up. If a nuclear weapon is put inside a container — the real fear here — "it will probably happen when some truck driver is paid off to take a long lunch, before he even gets near a terminal," said [retired Coast Guard commander Stephen E.] Flynn, the ports security expert.

That is where concerns about Dubai come in. While the company in question has not been a focus of investigations, Dubai has been a way station for contraband, some of it nuclear. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear engineer, made Dubai his transshipment point for the equipment he sent to Libya and Iran because he could operate there without worrying about investigators.

"I'm not worried about who is running the New York port," a senior inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency said, insisting he could not be named because the agency's work is considered confidential. "I'm worried about what arrives at the New York port." [read full article, reg. req.]

February 22, 2006

A New Year, A New Look for RadioActive!

Dear Readers,

It's been much too long since I've last updated this site, especially in light of the resurgence of worldwide nuclear concerns in the news. Recently, I'd discovered a post on the excellent RadWaste blog (now known as RadWaste Pictorial) mentioning RadioActive! - and I was grateful to hear there was still interest in the topic "out there"!

I've also given the template a makeover; I agree, the old one looked as if it needed The Simpsons' "Radioactive Man" as a mascot. Comment capability should be arriving here soon.



UK Hospital Waste Truck Leaks Radiation

This week, a private nuclear materials handling firm in the United Kingdom apparently neglected to install a protective "plug" on a cask of radioactive hospital waste being transported by truck across Northern England, causing the cask to emit high levels of radiation during transit. "By pure chance," the radiation beam pointed downwards, away from other vehicles, and no injuries were reported. From the Telegraph UK:
A highly radioactive beam was emitted from a protective flask as it was driven 130 miles, for three hours, across northern England on a lorry, a court heard yesterday....The flask belonging to AEA Technology was being used to transport a piece of decommissioned cancer treatment equipment from Cookridge Hospital, Leeds, to the Sellafield complex, Cumbria on March 11, 2002.

A judge was told how the container was "found to be emitting a narrow beam of radiation, of a very high dose rate, vertically down from that package base". [read full article]
The radiation dose rates reportedly "were in the order of 100 to 1,000 times above what would normally be considered a very high dose rate and measurement was beyond the capabilities of normal hand-held monitoring equipment." The company responsible for handling the cask's transport, AEA Technology, "a privatised arm of the UK Atomic Energy Authority," has allegedly admitted to a series of recent safety breaches. The company was due to be fined in a court proceeding in connection with an earlier safety violations, but the court has delayed setting the final judgment in light of this new incident.

More details at The Australian and BBC News Online.