Good Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Research Paper Example
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was considered the worst nuclear accident, with radioactive fallout affecting hundreds of thousands of human lives and the contamination believed to have spread all throughout Europe (Smith & Beresford 1). Since the disaster, there have been numerous scientific papers and documented studies focusing on the Chernobyl nuclear accident in addition to the number of historical accounts of the accident itself (Smith & Beresford 1). These literatures suggest how massive the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, and the extent of these effects (“Long-Term Mental Health Effects” 1605-1607; “Health Effects” 1533-7; Faybishenko et al. 3-11; Hohenemser 5-43; Imanaka & Kawano, 65-86; Medvedev 23-25; Moller & Mousseau 200-207; de Ruig & van der Struijs 545-548; Vakulovsky et al. 103-122).
It seems necessary to discuss the historical events of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Disasters such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster must be fully understood to prevent future accidents and develop an efficient management during such; hence the need for historical accounts (Smith & Beresford 1).But before proceeding with the history of the event, it is important to note that the exact causes which led to the disaster are stillfilled with uncertainties; however, key factors are defined (Smith & Beresford 2).
The accident occurred on April 26, 1986 when one of the units of the Chernobyl nuclear power plants exploded (Howard 1). There were four RBMK-1000 reactors before the incident happened while two more were being built. Unit 1 was the first to operate, and began operating in 1977. The reactor that exploded was Unit 4, which began operating in 1983 (Smith & Beresford, 1-2). All of the reactors were graphite moderated light water type of reactor with 1000 MWe output, which means that they were reactors that boil water by pressure tubes mechanism with steam feed to the turbines (“The Accident: what happened?”).
The explosion of one of the reactors is believed to be caused by the flaws in the design of the reactor together with human errors during a test of the reactor’s ability to support the core cooling system with electrical supply between two events when there were fluctuations in the power supply, especially during losses of main station power and starting up of emergency power (Howard 1). To be specific, the accident happened when the personnel were trying to perform a “run-down” test. A routine maintenance was expected to occur on April 25, and so, the engineers planned to perform the test during the reactor shutting down. Supposedly, the steam would stopped flowing such that the turbines would eventually stop spinning, however, the turbines would still be spinning until it stops. Thus, electrical energy can still be gathered which could power the core cooling system. The electrical current could power the emergency pumps to cool the core of the reactor with water. Note that all the reactors in Chernobyl nuclear plant were designed for this feature (Corradini 30-31).
However, as the test proceeded, the engineers were faced with a problem. The reactor’s operators were still inexperienced with the design, and the engineers were experiencing stress due to the desire to finish the “run-down” test before the reactor shuts down. Hence, the operators deviated from the written procedures as they decided to block out the emergency water-cooling for the core of the reactor, and the control rods for the automatic reactor shutdown. These deviations resulted to the inability of the reactor to obtain additional cooling and terminate fission process because of external unexpected events (Corradini 31).
In addition, the design of the reactor made the reactor unstable. Rather than showing a decrease in the reactor power, the loss of water or increased amount of water boiling caused an increase in the reactor power due to the fact that the reactor fuel was cooled by boiling water while being moderated by graphite. This “positive void coefficient” made the reactor potentially unstable to be controlled especially for the test the engineers were about to conduct. Unit 4 was stabilized at about 6% of full power on April 6 at 1 o’clock AM. Again, the operators deviated from the written procedures by allowing the flow of the coolant at maximum level, while removing control rods from the core of the reactor. This time, the deviations from the written procedures exacerbated the instability of the “positive void coefficient (Corradini 32).
Around 1:23 AM of April 26, the valve was closed, and the test proceeded. The valve closure allowed the flow of steam into the turbine. However, for the cooling process to proceed properly, the reactor power must be held constant, however, the reactor shutdown was blocked. Therefore, more water boiled and the positive void coefficient made the reactor power to increase rapidly. Usually, the operators stabilize the reactor power, but because the control rods were removed and all of the cooling pumps were operating, to stabilize the reactor power is impossible. Thus, the operators tried to manually activate the control rods to be inserted into the core. However, the insertion time was twenty seconds, which is longer than the time it took for the reactor to reach its “supercritical” level where the power is about 100 times the normal full power. The fuel rods overheated, which even reached a Doppler feedback. The reactor power reversed and decreased but only for a brief moment. After this event, the reactor power rate increased 500 times than the normal full power in about 3 seconds, resulting to the fuel rods to melt and become partially vaporized. The power rise was intense that the fuel rods and pressure tubes collapsed resulting to the reactor top to be blown off by the super high pressured gases. The 1700 coolant piping connections were also severed because of the explosion of the top of the reactor. Because of the air leakage, the graphite moderator ignited due to the temperatures added by the reactor transient. The fire ended five days after the efforts of the firemen and authorities (Corradini 32-33).
These human errors would not have been for cultural and political factors. For example, the Soviet Union at the time was known for having their nuclear “installations” shrouded in secrecy. One of the purposes of this secrecy is to control the workers including the engineers for the sake of completing and operating the projects. This resulted to workers with insufficient knowledge to nuclear physics fundamental to operating in a nuclear facility such as in Chernobyl. Another cultural disadvantage of the Soviet Union regarding nuclear facilities is that the Soviet Union is the isolation from the rest of the world, especially to those with advanced knowledge with nuclear physics and engineering. This lack of knowledge and isolation contributed to the disaster (Kapitza).
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster released radionuclides to the atmosphere for 10 days after the reactor explosion. 6.7 tonnes out of 190.3 tonnes of radioactive material from the core of the reactor were released in the surroundings (Smith & Beresford 11; International Atomic Energy Agency 2). In addition, 130,000 people were forced to evacuate the place while workers and soldiers were forced to entomb the leaking reactor. These workers and soldiers were forced to work on soils that are highly contaminated with radioactive materials. Furthermore, the weather propagated some of the radioactive fallout to other locations (Makhijani & Saleska 45-46; Faybishenko et al. 5-9).
One of the most devastating consequences of the Chernobyl disaster refers to the effects to human health. High exposure to radioactive materials resulted to major health problems. These health problems include psychological disorders (“Long-Term Mental Health Effects” 1605-1607), radiation sickness, genetic consequences, and antioxidant/immunity/hormone effects (Moller & Mousseau 200-207). The exposure to radioactive materials may have been from contaminated waters (Vakulovsky et al. 103-122) especially groundwater (Faybishenko et al. 5-9; IAEA 145-150), contaminated food (de Ruig & van der Struijs 545-548), and direct exposure.
Because of the extent of the damages of the disaster, there had been many decisions made to prevent another similar disaster, and to reduce the damages when one occurs in the future. There were modifications in the reactors of power plant facilities so that the instability of the reactors in the Chernobyl disaster would not happen again. Counseling and education was granted to those who engage in nuclear facilities so that the inexperience of the operators would not occur again (Markhijani & Saleska 45-46).
In summary, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is one of the most devastating nuclear disasters ever. The number of affected people was hundreds of thousands, while there were also damages to the environment (Medvedev 23-25). Needless to say, future nuclear power programs should focus on safety to prevent the errors from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Corradini, Michael. “The Chernobyl Reactor Accident: What Happened and Why?” Chernobyl: The Event and its Aftermath. Eds. L. Berkowitz, N. Berkowitz & M. Patrick. Madison, Wisconsin: FOCCUS, 2006. Print.
de Ruig, W.G. & van der Struijs, T. “Radioactive Contamination of Food Sampled in the Areas of the USSR Affected by the Chernobyl Disaster.” Analyst 117 (1992): 545-548. Print.
ENS news. “Word from the President.” Ens news 12 (April 2006). Online.
Fabishenko, B. et al. GROUNDWATER VULNERABILITY: Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster. N.W., Washington, DC: American Geophysical Union, 2015. Print.
Havenaar, J. et al. “Health Effects of the Chernobyl Disaster: Illness or Illness Behavior? A Comparative General Health Survey in Two Former Soviet Regions.” Environmental Health Perspectives 105.6 (December 1997): 1533-1537. Print.
Havenaar, J.M. et al. “Long-Term Mental Health Effects of the Chernobyl Disaster: An Epidemiologic Survey in Two Former Soviet Regions.” American Journal of Psychiatry 154.11 (November 1997): 1605-1607. Print.
Hohenemser, C. et al. “Chernobyl: An Early Report.” Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 28.5 (1986): 6-43. Print.
Howard, J. “Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster.” Encyclopedia of Quantitative Risk Analysis and Assessment. Eds. Edward Melnick & Brian Everitt. USA: Wiley, 2008. Print.
Imanaka, T., & Kawano, N. “Radioactive Contamination and Social Consequences Caused by the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident.” Hiroshima Peace Science 31 (2009): 65-86. Print.
International Atomic Energy Agency. Environmental Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident and their Remediation: Twenty Years of Experience. Austria: IAEA, 2006. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <www-pub.iaea.org/mtcd/publications/pdf/pub1239_web.pdf>
Kapitza, Sergei P. “Lessons of Chernobyl: The Cultural Causes of the Meltdown.” Foreign Affairs 72.3 (1993). Online.
Markhijani, A. & Saleska, S. “ The Semantics of “Inherent Safety”.” Chernobyl: The Event and its Aftermath. Eds. L. Berkowitz, N. Berkowitz & M. Patrick. Madison, Wisconsin: FOCCUS, 2006. Print.
Medvedev, Z.A. “Ecological Aspects of the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Disaster.” TREE 1.1 (1996): 23-25. Print.
Moller, A.P. & Mousseau, T.A. “Biological consequences of Chernobyl: 20 years on.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 21.4 (April 2006): 200-207. Print
Oberg, J.E. “New Fallout From Chernobyl : THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF THE CHERNOBYL DISASTER by David R. Marples (St. Martin's Press: $35, cloth; $14.95, paper; 316 pp., illustrated; 0312024320).” Los Angeles Times (1 January 1989). Online.
Smith, J.T. & Beresford, N.A. Chernobyl - Catastrophe and Consequences. Chichester, UK: Springer & Praxis Publishing Ltd, 2005. Print.
Vakulovsky, S.M. et al. “Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 Contamination of Water Bodies in the Areas Affected by Releases from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident: An Overview.” Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 23 (1994): 103-122. Print.