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CHERNOBYL

DISASTER
THEBE T MAITSHOKO

14001868

BEng MECHANICAL AND ENERGY


ABSTRACT
Nuclear power plant is a type of power station that uses a nuclear fuel like uranium to generate
electricity through fission processes. The use of nuclear power poses its own risks.
In 1979, Unit Two at Three Mile Island (USA) suffered a partial meltdown, releasing inert gases
(xenon and kripton) into the environment. The anti-nuclear movement gained strength from the
fears the incident caused.
Fears were fuelled even more in 1986, when Unit 4 at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine suffered a
runaway nuclear reaction during experiments to test the design operation of the independent
power supply in the event of the loss of external power sources, the facility exploded, spreading
radioactive material throughout the area and a large part of Europe.

INTRODUCTION
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster began early in the early hours of Saturday 26 April 1986 within the
Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive
contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Western USSR and Europe. It is
considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.

To run the RBMK type plant requires the generation of electrical power, mainly for cooling. In the
event of a power failure, emergency generators start up a few seconds later. Due to problems with
the new emergency generators, it was decided to carry out a test on the cooling pumps, which
required the bypassing of safety systems. The aim of the test was to check if the inertia of the
turbines provided enough power to keep the cooling pumps operational during the time required to
start the emergency generators.

DISCUSSION
To run the RBMK type plant requires the generation of electrical power, mainly for cooling. In the
event of a power failure, emergency generators start up a few seconds later. Due to problems with
the new emergency generators, it was decided to carry out a test on the cooling pumps, which
required the bypassing of safety systems. The aim of the test was to check if the inertia of the
turbines provided enough power to keep the cooling pumps operational during the time required to
start the emergency generators.

WHAT HAPPENED

The four Chernobyl reactors were pressurized water reactors of the Soviet RBMK design “high-power
channel reactor.” Designed to produce both plutonium and electric power, they were very different
from standard commercial designs, employing a unique combination of a graphite moderator and
water coolant.
The reactors also were highly unstable at low power, primarily owing to control rod design and
“positive void coefficient,” factors that accelerated nuclear chain reaction and power output if the
reactors lost cooling water.
These factors all contributed to an uncontrollable power surge that led to Chernobyl 4’s destruction.
The power surge caused a sudden increase in heat, which ruptured some of the pressure tubes
containing fuel.
The hot fuel particles reacted with water and caused a steam explosion, which lifted the 1,000-
metric-ton cover off the top of the reactor, rupturing the rest of the 1,660 pressure tubes, causing a
second explosion and exposing the reactor core to the environment. The fire burned for 10 days,
releasing a large amount of radiation into the atmosphere.
The Chernobyl plant did not have the massive containment structure common to most nuclear
power plants elsewhere in the world. Without this protection, radioactive material escaped into the
environment.
The following is chronological run-down of the chain of events that took place in the days and hours
that led up to the accident:

Friday April 25 1986:

 . 01.00 a.m.: the operators decrease the power of the reactor


 02.00 p.m.: the reactor runs at half power
 11.00 p.m.: decision to start the test. Due to an error in the regulation, the power is much
lower than normal. Rather than stopping the reactor (and the test), the operators try to
increase the power again by lifting many more control bars than allowed (6-8 rather than
30). The problem is that at low power, the reactor has a positive void coefficient

Saturday April 26 1986:

 01.22 a.m.: the test begins while the reactor continues operating under non-authorised
conditions. The operators switch off the safety mechanism that should stop the reactor in
case of loss of steam supply to the turbine.
 01.23.04 a.m.: the turbines shut down and the cooling pumps stop. This increases the steam
content in the tubes and the reactor power increases rather than decreases due to the
positive void coefficient.
 01.23.40 a.m.: an attempt is made to manually stop the reactor by releasing the control bars
(211). The control bars take about 20 seconds to reach the core, and their design is such that
reactivity increases during the initial seconds. Fuel elements start breaking up. A few
seconds later, shocks are felt and explosions are heard. Steam explosions destroy the
reactor core and blow the roof off the reactor building and exposing the reactor core to the
environment. Fires start all over the place. The worst civil nuclear accident in history has just
occurred.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN

The accident, resulted when operators took actions in violation of the plant’s technical
specifications. Operators ran the plant at very low power, without adequate safety precautions and
without properly coordinating or communicating the procedure with safety personnel. The main
causes of the accident, as identified by Western experts are:
 Unsafe and unstable reactor design: In addition to generating electricity, the RBMK reactors
at Chernobyl were also designed and adapted for the production of plutonium for military
purposes, as fuel can be loaded and unloaded during operation. This double function
restricted the reactor’s built-in safety mechanisms. Consequently, the accident cannot be
disassociated from the politico-military context of the former Soviet Union at that time, even
if there are no indications that at any time plutonium was produced there for military
purposes
 The operators’ lack of theoretical training and knowledge: During the cold war, safety was
clearly not a priority. There was a critical lack of safety culture at Chernobyl, which was
amplified by an global lack of understanding and training
 The culture of strict confidentiality that reigned in the former Soviet Union due to the
strong interdependency of civil and military nuclear applications: Within the context of the
1980’s, operators were not supposed to think critically or take initiatives in case of
emergency situations, which were never even officially considered.

The immediate consequences

 Two Chernobyl plant workers died on the night of the accident, and a further 28 people died
within a few weeks as a result of acute radiation poisoning.
 Soviet authorities started evacuating people from the area around Chernobyl on the second day
after the disaster (after about 36 hours).

The long term consequences


 Increase of thyroid cancer among children, this was due to release of high levels of
radioactive iodine which was deposited in pastures eaten by cows who then concentrated it
in their milk which was subsequently drunk by children.
 The main source of income before the accident was agriculture; hence the agriculture sector
was the area of economy worst hit by the effects of the accident.
 Huge burden on national budgets, in Ukraine 5-7% of government spending each year is still
devoted to Chernobyl-related benefits and programmes.

PROS AND CONS OF A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

ADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR POWER


 Cheap to run once built
 Conserves fossil fuels
 No (or less) greenhouse gas emissions
 Safe under normal conditions

DISADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR POWER

 High initial capital (expensive to build)


 Non-renewable
 Produces radioactive waste
 Expensive to decommission
 Risks of disaster
 Links with cancer
 Risk of being attacked by terrorists
CONCLUSION

The Chernobyl accident dominates the energy accidents sub-category of most disastrous nuclear
power plant accident in history, both in terms of cost and casualties. It is one of only two nuclear
energy accidents classified as a level 7 event (the maximum classification) on the International
Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.

Thirty one deaths are directly attributed to the accident, all among the reactor staff and emergency
workers. Estimates of the number of deaths potentially resulting from the accident vary enormously.
A UNSCEAR report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008. The World
Health Organization (WHO) suggests it could reach 4,000 civilian deaths, a figure which does not
include military clean-up worker casualties. A 2006 report predicted 30,000 to 60,000 cancer deaths
as a result of Chernobyl fallout. A Greenpeace report puts this figure at 200,000 or more. The
Russian publication, Chernobyl, concludes that 985,000 premature cancer deaths occurred
worldwide between 1986 and 2004 as a result of radioactive contamination from Chernobyl.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM THIS ACCIDENT

The lessons learned at Chernobyl include that understanding process dynamics and providing
redundant automatic controls to match them can minimize the probability of accidents. To maintain
such safe operation, the use of manual must be minimized, and the redundant automatic safety
interlocks must not be bypassed. An even more important lesson is that designing a safe control
system requires the in-depth understanding of the process by experienced process control
engineers, and that safety will not be improved by relying only on the advice of manufacturer’s
representatives alone. The designers of Chernobyl did not realize that in designing the plant
controls, process control professionals (not salesman) must play a primary role, if nuclear safety is to
be improved.

RECCOMENDATIONS
COULD IT HAVE BEEN PREVENTED

Yes, only if operators haven’t took actions in violation of the plant’s technical specifications.
Operators ran the plant at very low power and it was against the requirements, also safety systems
were deliberately turned off, without adequate safety precautions and without properly
coordinating or communicating the procedure with safety personnel. Hence if all the standard
procedures to run the test were followed, or the test was terminated the moment the power was
declining, the Chernobyl accident would not have occurred.

SUGGESTIONS TO MITIGATE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF NUCLEAR POWER


REFERENCES
 Lecture notes 2_introduction to nuclear power
 http://chernobyl.tv/what-happened-to-cause-the-accident-at-chernobyl
 https://www.nei.org/Master-Document.../Chernobyl-Accident-And-Its-Consequences
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster
 www.google.co.bw/search?q=advantages+and+disadvantages+of+nuclear+energy&source
 Alexey V. Yablokov (Center for Russian Environmental ... Consulting Editor Janette
D. Sherman-Nevinger (Environmental Institute, Western Michigan University,
Kalamazoo, Michigan). olume 1181, December 2009.
 https://www.controlglobal.com/articles/2009/chernobyl0907/?show=all