Chernobyl: a nuclear threat for 3000 years

Ruined Chernobyl nuclear plant will remain a threat for 3,000 years  @mattschodcnews  BY MATTHEW SCHOFIELD , Miami Herald, 24 Apr 16, 
30 years since Chernobyl may seem like a long time, but it’s really just the start  

Below reactor’s ruins is a 2,000-ton radioactive mass that can’t be removed 
How do you protect a site for as long a time as Western civilization has existed?

“…………When the steam burst through the roof of Reactor Number 4 in 1986, it took with it 5 percent of the enriched uranium. That means 10 tons vanished. It also means 95 percent, or 190 tons, remained. They’re still there.

After the blasted reactor partially collapsed into the nuclear material, it created a radioactive blob of uranium, concrete, steel and assorted junk weighing about 2,000 tons. Ideally, Ukraine would remove the material. Sergiy Parashyn grabs a pen and paper as he talks about the problems with that.

“We do not know how to do this,” he explains. “We do not have the technology to do this. It must be something new.”……

“One problem is that the material is decaying and is brittle, and when we cut it up to transport it to disposal bins, it will very likely fill the air with radioactive dust,” he explains. So the tractor has to be able to operate in a radioactive environment, it has to be able to control and eliminate any dust and it has to operate in an area that will not be at all safe for humans. “Maybe something like this would work, maybe it wouldn’t. We don’t know. That’s a problem.”

It’s a problem because while 5 percent of the radioactive material caused problems that continue 30 years later and will continue to cause problems for eons to come, the other 95 percent of the material could represent about 20 times the problems.

For instance, if mistakes are made and the brittle material is released into the atmosphere, they’re back to square one. If the material gets into the Pripyat River, it will flow into the Dnieper River. The Dnieper River is the water source for Kiev. The Dnieper is the primary water source for much of Ukraine.

This is why Ukrainian officials are counting on what they call a sarcophagus to contain the site, a massive structure that looks like a Quonset hut being assembled behind a wall that is intended to deflect radiation from the decaying plant from workers.


When finished, it will be rolled across the crumbling concrete of the surrounding ground to cover and further seal the dangerous reactor. The work is expected to be completed in 2018, though that is just a guess. It’s expected to last 100 years. It’s not nearly long enough.

Reactor Number 4 today is essentially an unplanned nuclear-waste dump. To serve in that role requires it to last for 3,000 years. That means the area surrounding Chernobyl will be safe to inhabit by people again in the year 4986.

How likely is that? To get an idea of what it means to contain and control a deadly and potentially devastating radioactive pile in Ukraine for 3,000 years, consider what the world looked like 3,000 years ago:……

Detlef Appel, a geologist who runs PanGeo, a Hamburg, Germany, company that consults on such nuclear storage issues, notes that 3,000 years probably isn’t long enough. He suggests that truly safe radioactive waste storage needs to extend a million years into the future. Think back to when man’s earliest relative began to walk the Earth.

“We can trust human endeavor, perhaps, for a few hundred years, though that is doubtful,” he said. “Storage implies a way to retrieve the materials. It requires trained personnel, maintenance, updating and security. Clearly, nothing man made is more than temporary, and therefore it isn’t adequate.”

Even the continents will have moved in a million years.

Tetiana Verbytska, an energy policy expert at the National Ecological Center of Ukraine, worries that people are far too easygoing about Chernobyl. Among government officials right now, mindful of the 30-year anniversary, there is a movement to shrink the radius of the highly contaminated no man’s land from 18 miles to 6.

“The move to reduce the highly contaminated zone has nothing to do with science and everything to do with public relations,” she says. “In Ukraine, each April we make wonderful speeches about our commitment to dealing with this problem, and the rest of each year we hope the problem will just go away.”

There are other reasons to worry. Ukraine is creaking under a civil war against insurgents backed by Russia and scraping by with an economy that in the decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union has been looted by a series of oligarchs. It doesn’t have the money to fund an educational system that can be expected to create legions of top scientists and engineers.

Officials speak very proudly of the new sarcophagus roof that is being put into place. But the finish date on that has been repeatedly backed up, and there’s no guarantee that its 2018 date won’t be moved again.

A variety of disasters could still strike. The site’s existing covering, built in haste after the accident, could collapse, shattering the brittle mix of radioactive materials below and sending nuclear dust into the atmosphere to mix with rain. There could be an earthquake. The entire site is fragile.

Olga Kosharna, the lead scientist at the Ukrainian Department of Energy and Nuclear Safety in Kiev who oversaw safety at Chernobyl in the 1990s, recalls walking the roof above the shattered reactor and being horrified to find holes that had been burned through the concrete.

The shoes she wore that day were highly contaminated and had to be destroyed.

Alexandre Polack, a spokesman for the European Union, notes in an email that the date to begin removing radioactive material from the site is still 20 to 30 years away. “The current shelter covering destroyed Reactor 4 was reinforced in recent years and seems stable,” he writes. “However it was built in haste after the accident and never intended as a long-term solution.”

Verbytska emphasizes that the mass of uranium debris inside Reactor Number 4 is now a mess that goes beyond human ability to clean up. Others dismiss the situation as a problem, but one that technology can fix.

“We don’t have the technology to fix the problem,” she says. “We don’t have the process to develop the technology to fix the problem, and we don’t have the money to support the process to develop the technology to fix the problem. The solutions for our Chernobyl problems are very much ‘seal it for now.’ We will have smart children and smart grandchildren who in 100 years or so will figure out what to do.”

After the disaster, radiation burned off the tops of the trees. Soviet officials ordered the trees cut down and buried deep. But they failed to properly encase the buried wood. As a new forest grew unchecked above the radioactive remains of the old forest, the new wood was also highly radioactive. The whole thing will have to be dug up and encased and buried again, properly.


One Response to “Chernobyl: a nuclear threat for 3000 years”

  1. A Green Road Project Says:

    Reblogged this on A Green Road Daily News.

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