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Nuclear Reactor Leakage

  1. Feb 17, 2017 #1
    how do we cope with leakage of nuclear reactors as happened at Chernobyl and Fukushima plan
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 17, 2017 #2


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    I am not an expert, but here is my three cents (corrections or clarifications are welcome):
    The initial air contamination could not be contained. Contaminated soil from fallout can be removed in a very small area around the reactors, but Chernobyl will have a large area that will be uninhabitable for hundreds of years. How long depends on the half-life of the material that escaped. A very large region of Eastern Europe suffered significant, but less, contamination. I think that most of it has returned to normal. Apparently, Fukushima air fallout was not as bad.

    In both cases, they are still discovering what to do about the reactor ground contamination. Chernobyl was just buried and they recently moved a giant dome over it because the original cover was deteriorating. I guess they will just have to let things leak out below and suffer the consequences. They may not be very publicly open about the true situation.
    Fukushima is so radioactive that it recently damaged a robot that was sent in to investigate. So the cleanup will be a process of many decades. They keep putting water in it to keep it cool, and try to capture the water that drains away.
  4. Feb 17, 2017 #3
    so if all can be contaminated,, why they still built a giant dome to cover it. And also how to process the water which was used to keep the nuclear reactor cool so that it will become neutral.
  5. Feb 17, 2017 #4


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    Why are people so much more concerned with the release of radiation from nuclear plants than they are with the release of radiation and chemical pollutants from coal burning plants or other chemical releases? This release of decades of coal ash released 1.1 billion gallons of ash, which had high levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, and many other pollutants. The environmental impact of this release of this material dwarfs what was released from Fukushima. It's hard to identify if anyone died due to the radiation release from Fukushima. By contrast, the Bhopal chemical release, killed thousands of people. Quoting Wikipedia,

    "Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. Others estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases."
  6. Feb 18, 2017 #5


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    Coal has a death toll 1000 times larger than nuclear power - per kWh, in absolute numbers it is even worse.
    At 10 trillion kWh per year, and with the death rate from above, we get one million coal-induced deaths per year, or 3000 per day.
    As comparison: The death toll due to Chernobyl is estimated to be a few thousands (different sources get different numbers), all other nuclear reactors accidents are negligible compared to Chernobyl. Coal has the death toll of all nuclear accidents combined every two days.

    Back to topic: Prevent further leakage, and then wait. The activity goes down over time, making handling the remainders easier. Nuclear accidents mainly release isotopes with half-lifes of a few days, and with half-life of 30 years. The former goes away quickly, the latter leads to long-term contamination. The Chernobyl accident happened 30 years ago, so we still have 1/2 of the material around. For important places like access roads it can be interesting to remove the top layer and store it somewhere safely.
    Radiation levels around Chernobyl are not particularly high today. You can visit it. There are (inhabited) places that naturally have higher radiation levels than large parts of the exclusion zones. And there are people (and various animals and plants) living in those exclusion zones.
  7. Feb 18, 2017 #6


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  8. Feb 18, 2017 #7


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    What does that mean? Every place on Earth has been slightly radioactive as long as Earth existed. You cannot "completely eliminate the radiation in the area", not even without a nuclear reactor. You can just make sure the level is not significantly higher than natural.
  9. Feb 18, 2017 #8


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    It's a quote. I can't change it.
    My guess is that he means it will take hundreds or thousands of years before we are unable to determine that the radioactive levels of the area are statistically significantly greater than the natural source radioactivity of that area.
  10. Feb 18, 2017 #9


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    We can measure background levels of radiation anywhere in the world. There are natural levels that vary according to location and altitude. As one ascends through the atmosphere, one experiences more cosmic radiation, which is quite natural.

    People living in certain areas where uranium and thorium are found are exposed to higher levels of natural background radiation than those who live away from such areas.

    Some reasonable good information on background radiation.

    When I was in graduate school, I spent some time in various laboratories, which had radiation monitors operating continuously. We could hear the occasional click from background radiation. It was probably on the order of one or two counts every 10 seconds. We have various sensitive detectors that can measure low levels of and low energy radiation. At some point, one will receive more radiation from solar UV than from other natural radiation sources. Sunburn is a form of radiation exposure, and acute exposure to the sun can make one sick, and greatly increase one's chance of cancer.

    As for manmade radiation sources, we strive to minimize unnecessary exposure. However, in certain cases, including Chernobyl and Fukushima, negligence undermines safety protocols.

    The new structure over the Chernobyl 4 unit is mostly to keep the weather out, and to mitigate uncontrolled release of whatever radionuclides are present. Most of the mitigation activities take place within the older structure and closer to the source.
  11. Feb 19, 2017 #10
    In order to cope with the leakage, we of course try to stop it. This effort may cost lives, as it did at Chernobyl.

    Assuming you mean how do we cope with the radioactivity that has already been released, basically you want to get away from the dangerous hot zones as quickly as possible. The entire town of Pripyat was evacuated, and is still off-limits for permanent residence. People can visit for short time periods, but they must be monitored for exposure.

    A lethal dose may kill a person very quickly. In case you have been subjected to a lethal dose, but not enough to kill you quickly, then you will experience painful lingering death. This may take days or weeks.

    In cases where there is somewhat less exposure, but still enough to cause significant damage, you may develop cancer. There are some emergency steps which may help. For example, in some cases it helps to take KI (potassium iodide) because this blocks radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland. Here is some information on this topic from the CDC.


    For a good overview of the problem, here is the main link from the CDC on radiation emergencies.


    The World Health Organization also provides information.


    Three more case studies are the short and long-term radiation effects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the exposure of people in Utah due to atmospheric tests done in Nevada.

    There is lots of information available about the short and long term effects of the atomic bombings. Sorry, I don't have any specific links at this time.

    Apparently the Utah exposure is less well known. Here is more information on this topic.


    It's advisable to study the CDC and WHO articles and understand the different types of radiation, their biological effects, and how they are measured.

    In case someone is curious about the level of radioactivity in a certain area, It's not hard to monitor the environment using a radiation detector. These are available for a few hundred dollars.

    I suppose the anxiety level on this topic and one's personal response may depend on where one lives. I don't live near a nuclear reactor, but I am near a high-value military target. So I think my chances of instant vaporization are better than my chances of a lingering death. There's really nothing I can do at this time about the instant vaporization threat, but I plan to move eventually to somewhere that is relatively safe, and build a shelter.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2017
  12. Feb 19, 2017 #11


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    For gamma and beta, sure. For alpha: not really. Most detectors will absorb them before they reach the sensitive parts, and even if they are designed to detect it, you have to be directly at the source (easy for air, not easy for everything else), and you have to estimate how much of those particles a human will absorb.

    A high short-term dose is much more dangerous than a lower long-term dose rate. 0.5 Sv received in a day can lead to notable radiation poisoning. There are places lake Ramsar where you naturally get more than 1 Sv as life-time dose, which doesn't lead to radiation poisoning. It is not even clear if it leads to higher cancer doses.
  13. Feb 19, 2017 #12
    Thanks for the information. I provided links for those who want to learn more from authoritative sources.

    Concerning alpha particles, here is a very brief summary.


    Speaking of a lingering death, specifically by alpha particles, this reminds me of radiation poisoning by ingesting Polonium-210 . See the Litvinenko case for details.
  14. Feb 22, 2017 #13
    That depends on the priorities. Most cases the 'leakage' is some minor stuff, which can (and: will) be cleaned up fast, without any real impact.

    Large scale 'leakage' is rare. Based on the three major cases (Mayak, Chernobyl, Fukushima: only two are NPP related) to 'cope' starts with the localization of the leakage. After that it burns down to priorities. In case of Mayak, even the localization is a partial faliure, the result is an area where not many thing can live. This is the worst possible result I think.
    In case of Chernobyl, the localization is ~ successful, but there were no further steps: the result is a wide area, where the not-so-severe radiation works as a human-repellent, but has minuscule effect on life. The result is an environment where wildlife can flourish freely without human impact. Regarding the environment, maybe this is the best result available.
    In case of Fukushima, the affected area will be slowly decontaminated, so the human-repellent effect will slowly vanish. The wildlife which already started to regenerate will be cut down back, but still there will be areas where human life will be restricted. Neither wildlife, nor human society really wins - the second worst or second best result. Pick one.

    That source is so thoroughly crap, that.... OMG. Is there even just one sentence there which is right?
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2017
  15. Feb 22, 2017 #14
    Here is some more information on Chernobyl. In general, please be sure to look at actual data and historical records, and learn something about the science, as opposed to listening to mere opinions or propaganda.


    Regarding coping with the Chernobyl situation, there is a good documentary called The Battle of Chernobyl. It includes many interviews with people who were involved at the time, including Gorbachev.

    This documentary is quite low-key, which was very wise. If they had called it "We Almost Lost Europe" they would have been accused of sensationalism.

    People debate about how long the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone will be operational. Pripyat is still a ghost town, and there have been numerous mutations reported among the wildlife. But workers can apparently stay in the area for up to three weeks before rotating out.
  16. Feb 22, 2017 #15


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    More than elsewhere? Reference?
    Mutations happen all the time. It is called evolution.

    I don't think I have ever seen an unbiased documentary using "uncensored" in its title.
  17. Feb 22, 2017 #16
    Here is another video, from the Youtube channel of one of the film makers.

    I just saw it for the first time. Very interesting information I have not seen elsewhere on video.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2017
  18. Mar 5, 2017 #17
    Europeans are scared about a possibility of current "Sarcofagus" collapsing. This was a perfect opportunity for European businesses and Ukrainian bureau-klepto-crats to make them shell out lots of money for any project which promised to prevent it. Of course, the bigger the project, the more it costs, the better. Thus, the option of reinforcing current "Sarcofagus" had no hope of being chosen instead.
  19. Mar 5, 2017 #18
    could it be a some kind sabotage to Chernobyl so that the "huge" business can come into? Just guess.......
  20. Mar 5, 2017 #19


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    Think the initial accident was just that, a failed test run at 3 am, when demand and also operator effectiveness are at their nadir.
    Since then, a free for all.
    Oddly enough, the communists who installed the sarcophagus were less corrupt than their successors, who even sold the contaminated vehicles from the cleanup graveyard. The expensive new cover is a visible symbol for the governments of Europe to demonstrate to their people that the problem is contained for 100 years by their combined efforts. Plus a fat source of fees and kickbacks all up and down the line.
    Still, it is a nice piece of engineering and took a lot of dedicated work to come into being.
  21. Mar 5, 2017 #20
    The price they should pay was very high.....
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