Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Chernobyl Accident
the biggest nuclear plant disaster
Reactor 4 after the nuclear disaster (6)
Nuclear Reactors
Electricity is produced when a nuclear reactor creates a nuclear reaction by splitting atoms of an element such as uranium. The heat generated form the nuclear reaction produces steam that powers the generator of the reactor, creating electricity. (8)
nuclear reactor diagram (11)
click here for a nuclear reactor animation

Chernobyl Plant
RBMK-1000 model (1)
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located in Ukraine had four nuclear reactors. The first unit was created in 1970, the second in 1977, and the last two in 1938. The last two units were second generation units with updated safety precautions. All four of the reactors were the RBMK-1000 design, created by the Soviet Union. Several other reactors of the same design were under construction at the time.(1) Each unit was able to produced 1,000 megawatts. Together, the reactors created 10% of Ukraine's electricity.(2)

The Disaster
unit 4 reactor (1)

On April 26, 1986, the reactor crew operating on Chernobyl 4 (unit 4 reactor) ran tests on the electrical control system to see how long the turbines could fuel power to the circulating pumps without the source form the main power supply.(1) The crew continued to operate on the reactor even after the automatic safety mechanisms had been turned off, causing the reactor to be maneuvered while it was under unstable conditions. The design of the reactor itself also contributed to the accident. When the control rods were inserted into the reactor, it caused a power surge to occur. The combination of these two factors caused the reactor to overheat and create several explosions, destroying the unit. Radioactive material from the fumes of the burning reactor were continuously for 10 days. 
click here to see clips from the disaster

Solving the Problem
radioactive fallout (7)
In an attempt to extinguish the fire, 200-300 tones of water per hour were pumped into the reactor. However, after the first day, they began to fear that this would flow into the other units and flood them. Instead, they dropped boron, sand, and clay from helicopters in order to prevent the release of radioactive particles in the atmosphere.(4)

Immediate Effects
control zones (7)
The disaster released more than 5% of the reactor core into the atmosphere, and the explosions from the reactor killed 2 workers that night.(1) On the first day of the accident, an estimated 1000 reactor workers were exposed to a high amount of radiation. More than 200,000 emergency workers were also exposed throughout the next year. About 5 million people living in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus were also contaminated. There were also 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer following the accident.(10) 

Long Term Effects
cycle of human radiation exposure (1)
Other than an increase in of thyroid cancer among the people living in the contaminated areas, the 
United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation(UNSCEAR) claims that "there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to the radiation exposure 20 years after the accident." However the land near the disaster still suffers from the effects from radiation. In 1986, 116,00 people were evacuated the contaminated area surrounding Chernobyl which is still restricted at this time.(1) 

Fukushima vs. Chernobyl
Fukushima power plant (12) 
Although Fukushima and Chernobyl are being compared as nuclear plant disasters, the situation in Japan is not as dangerous as it was in Chernobyl. The two incidents are actually quite different. Unlike Chernobyl, the nuclear reactor accident in Fukushima was caused by the natural disaster of the earthquake and tsunami. Chernobyl's disaster was a result of the workers' carelessness along with a design flaw. The design for the reactors in Fukushima are more stable, and the situation is being handled with more knowledge and experience with nuclear radiation.

Pros vs. Cons of Nuclear Power
  • little pollution- "clean energy"
  • energy dependancy
  • meltdowns- wide spread destruction
  • radiation- negative affects on environment/health
  • expensive
click here for a list of myths about nuclear radiation

images/works cited