How did this worker approach this fuel mass at Chernobyl?

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Main Question or Discussion Point

I accidentally happened upon this photo while researching some things about the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and I freaked out! How did this worker get so close to this mass of melted nuclear fuel in the basement of Chernobyl without receiving several lethal doses of radiation?

This mass of corium located in the basement directly beneath the Chernobyl reactor is known as "the elephants foot" and it emits radiation at levels in excess of 10,000 roentgens per hour.

Approaching it would mean certain death. The individual shown in the below image is either completely insane or outright suicidal.

I am quite certain that this worker, as well as the person who took the photograph, are now both deceased. Probably from either cancer or acute radiation sickness.

tumblr_m6hyd58vSW1r81zgjo1_1280.jpg
 
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I don't think that the Soviet government really told those people about the dangers.
 
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I don't think that the Soviet government really told those people about the dangers.
I think that photo was taken in the 1990's, after the collapse of the USSR.
 
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Here is another photo of the "elephant's foot." You can see distortions and abnormalities in the photograph caused by EXTREME levels of radiation. This radiation (thousands of rads per hour) actually caused the lower half of the worker to appear transparent.

Crazy... absolutely crazy....

chernobyl-elephants-foot.jpg
 
I like Serena
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Just making a couple of calculations...

This elephant's foot gives off 10000 R per hour at its surface.
According to wiki 500 R during 5 hours is considered lethal.
That is equivalent at sitting at a distance of 1.5 m for 5 hours.
... which appears to be what this guy is doing!
Presumably doable with protective clothing but it does not look smart.
 
QuantumPion
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10,000 R/hr is 2.8 R/second. Assuming the guy just ran up, took the picture, and then ran back, his dose would not be too extreme. More than I would volunteer to receive though.
 
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10,000 R/hr is 2.8 R/second. Assuming the guy just ran up, took the picture, and then ran back, his dose would not be too extreme. More than I would volunteer to receive though.
Yes, but enough to make you very ill and dramatically increase your risk of cancer and many other health ailments.

Approaching a mass of corium is crazy regardless of the circumstances. This should have been done with robots and not people.

Off-topic, but how do roentgens convert to rads? Which unit is greater? Why isn't this unit of measurement used in the United States?
 
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QuantumPion
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Yes, but enough to make you very ill and dramatically increase your risk of cancer and many other health ailments.
Not for 10-20 R. You don't start to see acute symptoms until around 100 R. As for increase risk of cancer, there is no way to know if there are long term risks associated with low exposure doses.

Approaching a mass of corium is crazy regardless of the circumstances. This should have been done with robots and not people.
Not as crazy as smoking, being overweight, or texting while driving.

Off-topic, but how do roentgens convert to rads? Which unit is greater? Why isn't this unit of measurement used in the United States?
From: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/radiationionizing/introtoionizing/ionizinghandout.html

Quantifying Exposure and Dose

Exposure: Roentgen

1 Roentgen (R) = amount of X or gamma radiation that produces ionization resulting in 1 electrostatic unit (esu) of charge in 1 cm3 of dry air at STP. Instruments often measure exposure rate in mR/hr.

Absorbed Dose: rad

1 rad (Roentgen absorbed dose) = absorption of 100 ergs of energy from any radiation in 1 gram of any material; 1 Gray (Gy) = 100 rads = 1 Joule/kg; Exposure to 1 Roentgen approximates 0.9 rad in air.

Dose (in rads) = 0.869(f)(Roentgens) where the f-factor is the ratio of mass energy-absorption coefficient of medium, such as bone, compared to air.

Biologically Equivalent Dose: rem

Rem (Roentgen equivalent man) = dose in rads x QF, where QF = quality factor. 1 Sievert (Sv) = 100 rems.
 
jim hardy
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The elephant's foot is largely silica glass from the sand that surrounded the vessel.
While it contains fuel fragments, it's not like it was pure corium. It's a few percent uranium.

Lava-Like Fuel-Containing Materials. The high temperatures associated with the accident melted the zirconium fuel cladding and led to an interaction between the molten zirconium and the uranium dioxide, resulting in a uranium-zirconium-oxygen phase. When this phase interacted with structural materials (serpentine, concrete and sand) as well as air, lava-like fuel-containing materials were formed.

Researchers working at Chernobyl NPP Unit 4 encountered this lava-like fuel-containing material for the first time in the fall of 1986. Subreactor location 217/2 was found to contain a large solidified mass, approximately 1 m wide that came to be called the Elephant’s Foot (Figure 2.2-1). Analysis of the Elephant’s Foot revealed that it consists primarily of silicon dioxide with other compounds as impurities, including uranium compounds. The mixture of radionuclides found in samples of the Elephant’s Foot match those found in the irradiated nuclear fuel with an average burnup for Unit 4.
http://www.tesec-int.org/chernobyl/Radioactive waste in the Sarcophagus.htm

Not to minimize the danger at all.
As somebody else pointed out - in a 10,000 R field one could have a few second stay time.
I'd wager the field there was on order of a few hundred R. But that's just a guess. Lack of fogging on the film supports it...
 
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At the time when they made this picture there were already 100 - 700 Roentgen
 
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So the "elephants foot" was only a few % uranium and was made largely of sand/concrete/zirconium and other materials which the molten corium mixed in with after melting?
 
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What we don't know, was the mass 10000R/hr on contact or at some distance away?

Typically dose rates are reported as on contact and at 3 feet. 10000R/hr on contact means less a few feet away, which gives him just enough time to safely get in and take a picture. Or he could have just not cared.

Because there was other materials in the mass, it's likely the dose rates were only internal or on contact to the mass. The other materials mixed in the glass type mass would also provide some level of shielding.
 
So the "elephants foot" was only a few % uranium and was made largely of sand/concrete/zirconium and other materials which the molten corium mixed in with after melting?
BTW, uranium per se is _not_ a significant source of radiation here. Fission products are.

The worker in this photo is reckless, but not too much.

You know, some people in fact had to *collect* material with comparable levels of radiation in the first weeks and months after accident, when chunks of fuel and graphite from reactor were lying bare of the ground around the destroyed Unit 4 and were making any sort of accident response very dangerous. THAT was crazy.
 
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You know, some people in fact had to *collect* material with comparable levels of radiation in the first weeks and months after accident, when chunks of fuel and graphite from reactor were lying bare of the ground around the destroyed Unit 4 and were making any sort of accident response very dangerous. THAT was crazy.
If I were say 70 years old and had kids and grand kids living nearby, I'd be motivated not to wait for the proper equipment.
 
If I were say 70 years old and had kids and grand kids living nearby, I'd be motivated not to wait for the proper equipment.
In this particular situation "kids and grand kids" already got their dose of Iodine-131 etc from the aerosols in the air.

The cold debris around reactor was not producing much of a contamination any more - at least compared to still burning open-air graphite fire in the ruined reactor core it is miniscule.

Yes, debris was very radioactive per se, but IIRC gammas are attenuated in half by ~150 meters of air. Nearest housing is no closer than 3 kilometers - attenuation of gammas by 2^20 = ~million times, even discounting attenuation due to inverse square law.

Clean-up was necessary because otherwise it was impossible to approach the Unit 4 building and do anything. Thousands of R/h.
 
jim hardy
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There are motion pictures from days after the accident of people atop the building tossing pieces of reactor back down into the pit. They'd get a very high dose in just one few second run.

That was self sacrifice.
 
Is that the actual elephants foot? I don't think so that kind of looks like it might be a turbine or something, and I thought no one EVER got that close to the "elephants foot" in person... I thought the only photo(s) they got of it was with a robot.
 
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ONLY robots should be used to approach areas of the Chernobyl reactor that are too radioactive for people.

The workers who entered areas of the reactor where there was literally melted nuclear fuel laying about on the ground are likely at extremely high risk of cancer.
 
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There are motion pictures from days after the accident of people atop the building tossing pieces of reactor back down into the pit. They'd get a very high dose in just one few second run.

That was self sacrifice.
That's the movie
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfDa8tR25dk&feature=youtu.be


It was the most contaminated, and therefore the most dangerous, place in the zone. The remains of the roof coating of the 4th reactor. The operation on decontaminating the roof lasted more than five months. We will tell about only two days. About the most important two days in the life of an explorer - dosimetrist Valeriy Starodumov. He participated in this operation until it was over. He himself came out to the roof and led people there. He himself planted the "victory banner" at the level of 75 meters, as the signal for the zone: the roof coating has been decontaminated! Now, 25 years later, Valeriy Starodumov comes back to the zone. Now Chernobyl is a tourist object. But not for him...
 
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ONLY robots should be used to approach areas of the Chernobyl reactor that are too radioactive for people.

The workers who entered areas of the reactor where there was literally melted nuclear fuel laying about on the ground are likely at extremely high risk of cancer.
not necessarily true.

for accute exposure cases, you can linearly assume something like a .04% increase in chance of cancer over your lifetime per 10 Rem. A single chronic case shouldn't have a very large increase over the chance you already have to get cancer over all sorts of other stuff.

It's usually in long term chronic exposure that cancer rates start to rise greatly.
 
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not necessarily true.

for accute exposure cases, you can linearly assume something like a .04% increase in chance of cancer over your lifetime per 10 Rem. A single chronic case shouldn't have a very large increase over the chance you already have to get cancer over all sorts of other stuff.

It's usually in long term chronic exposure that cancer rates start to rise greatly.
Standing within a few feet of melted uranium for any period of time is enough to become dangerously contaminated with radiation. Even less than one minute of exposure will get you a dose of 20-40 rads.
 
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Standing within a few feet of melted uranium for any period of time is enough to become dangerously contaminated with radiation. Even less than one minute of exposure will get you a dose of 20-40 rads.
No offense but you need to know what you are talking about before you make statements.

First off, uranium is virtually negligible in terms of radiation. Uranium gives off very low levels of alpha particles and will do virtually nothing to you. I've physically held fuel pellets in the manufacturing facility and received 0 exposure, none, zip. It is the waste/fission products and other byproducts of utilizing uranium that give off dangerous levels of radiation, NOT the Uranium (exception U-232....but that's generally only seen in thorium type reactors).

Secondly, just standing next to radioactive material does not contaminate you. If your claim was true, that just standing next to it would contaminate you, then that means that somehow, magically, standing next to as solid chunk of core material magically causes all that radioactive material to go into your body, then you carry the radioactive material and emit radiation wherever you go. That's not the case. RADIATION != CONTAMINATION.

Contamination is the uncontrolled spread of radioactive MATERIAL. NOT RADIATION.

RADIATION and RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL are different. RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL GIVES OFF RADIATION. But RADIATION does not make an object radioactive.

That solid mass of core material (which is what it should be called, not "uranium"), is a solid form. It is not going to be somehow releasing radioactive material into the air around it. Any radioactive MATERIAL in the area is stuff that was already there. It is not going to somehow magically contaminate you. Contamination is when radioactive material gets ON or IN your body in an uncontrolled fashion. The danger with contamination is prolonged internal exposure. If the MATERIAL does not get ON or IN you, you are NOT contaminated.

Simply standing in a radiation field does NOT contaminate you.

The solid mass of core material DOES give off a very high radiation field.

This is an ACUTE exposure of radiation. Acute exposures of radiation typically have low impact on your overall cancer risk (As in less than 1%, of the 40% you normally have just for being a living breathing human). Simply getting blasted once or twice in your lifetime with a very high rad dose in a short period of time will not give you a massive cancer risk increase. It may cause radiation poisoning effects, but it will not magically make your cancer rates skyrocket.

It is CHRONIC exposure, that is, exposure to moderate levels of radiation for extended periods of time, especially internal exposure, that start to greatly increase your cancer risk.

There are some exceptions. Iodine-131 is an exception as it bioaccumulates and gives a very dangerous accute dose which will damage the thyroid.

Long story short, you really need to go out and get some understanding of the differences between radiation and contamination.

And last but not least, stop making statements that are not only incorrect, but not backed up by science. For example, see this link: http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q2410.html [Broken]
For exposures in the 15-20 Rem range, it is actually very difficult to show ANY change in cancer risk. Your claim that somehow 20-40 rads will give you a DRASTIC increase in cancer risk is nothing more then speculation and sensationalism. And there are MANY different studies by reputable organizations which are all consistent that low to moderate chronic doses are very difficult to even determine if it affected your cancer rate.
 
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jim hardy
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Thank you a.ua.
that is a moving documentary.
Around 19 minutes.....

the fields on the roof were quite enough to knock out semiconductor electronics in less than an hour, as apparently happened to 'joker' robot.
So they had to throw people at it.
Graphite blocks right out of the core- by hand -
there are not words.....

old jim
 
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No offense but you need to know what you are talking about before you make statements.

First off, uranium is virtually negligible in terms of radiation. Uranium gives off very low levels of alpha particles and will do virtually nothing to you. I've physically held fuel pellets in the manufacturing facility and received 0 exposure, none, zip. It is the waste/fission products and other byproducts of utilizing uranium that give off dangerous levels of radiation, NOT the Uranium (exception U-232....but that's generally only seen in thorium type reactors).

Secondly, just standing next to radioactive material does not contaminate you. If your claim was true, that just standing next to it would contaminate you, then that means that somehow, magically, standing next to as solid chunk of core material magically causes all that radioactive material to go into your body, then you carry the radioactive material and emit radiation wherever you go. That's not the case. RADIATION != CONTAMINATION.

Contamination is the uncontrolled spread of radioactive MATERIAL. NOT RADIATION.

RADIATION and RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL are different. RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL GIVES OFF RADIATION. But RADIATION does not make an object radioactive.

That solid mass of core material (which is what it should be called, not "uranium"), is a solid form. It is not going to be somehow releasing radioactive material into the air around it. Any radioactive MATERIAL in the area is stuff that was already there. It is not going to somehow magically contaminate you. Contamination is when radioactive material gets ON or IN your body in an uncontrolled fashion. The danger with contamination is prolonged internal exposure. If the MATERIAL does not get ON or IN you, you are NOT contaminated.

Simply standing in a radiation field does NOT contaminate you.

The solid mass of core material DOES give off a very high radiation field.

This is an ACUTE exposure of radiation. Acute exposures of radiation typically have low impact on your overall cancer risk (As in less than 1%, of the 40% you normally have just for being a living breathing human). Simply getting blasted once or twice in your lifetime with a very high rad dose in a short period of time will not give you a massive cancer risk increase. It may cause radiation poisoning effects, but it will not magically make your cancer rates skyrocket.

It is CHRONIC exposure, that is, exposure to moderate levels of radiation for extended periods of time, especially internal exposure, that start to greatly increase your cancer risk.

There are some exceptions. Iodine-131 is an exception as it bioaccumulates and gives a very dangerous accute dose which will damage the thyroid.

Long story short, you really need to go out and get some understanding of the differences between radiation and contamination.

And last but not least, stop making statements that are not only incorrect, but not backed up by science. For example, see this link: http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q2410.html [Broken]
For exposures in the 15-20 Rem range, it is actually very difficult to show ANY change in cancer risk. Your claim that somehow 20-40 rads will give you a DRASTIC increase in cancer risk is nothing more then speculation and sensationalism. And there are MANY different studies by reputable organizations which are all consistent that low to moderate chronic doses are very difficult to even determine if it affected your cancer rate.
I'm sorry, I shouldn't talk about things I have only minimal knowledge of.
 
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