There Are Still 10 Chernobyl-Style Reactors Operating Across Russia. How Do We Know They’re Safe? The short answer is, we don’t. These reactors have been modified to lessen the risk of another Chernobyl-style disaster, experts say, but they still aren’t as safe as most Western-style reactors. And there are no international safeguards that would prevent the construction of new plants with similar flaws.
Live Science 3rd June 2019 read more »
Ed Conway – economics editor of Sky News: In all complex systems, from nuclear plants to financial markets, disaster is around the corner. The first clue was the silence. In the hours after Chernobyl’s reactor No 4 exploded, the accident was a closely guarded secret, but the beekeepers in a nearby village realised something was amiss. That morning the bees stopped buzzing and wouldn’t leave their hives. The fishermen noticed something too: worms were burying themselves a metre into the earth, so deep the anglers couldn’t find any bait. It took three days for the Soviet authorities to admit there had been an accident. Unaware they were being showered with radioactive particles, residents of Pripyat sent their children out to play in the streets; they sunbathed, astounded by how fast they were tanning. The bees knew and the worms knew, but the striking thing about the Chernobyl story, told so vividly in the recent television drama, is how long it took for the humans to realise what had happened, even those running the power station. Trying to explain who bears responsibility for the disaster is similarly difficult. The TV series fingers Anatoly Dyatlov, supervisor of the experiment that triggered the disaster, for much of the blame. While it makes for better TV to pick heroes and villains, Chernobyl was not the fault of a single man, or even a handful. It was the consequence of a complex system going catastrophically wrong, which brings us to a broader lesson. We live in a world of complex, interconnected systems. Every time you board a plane you are engaging with just such a system. Often these systems are not just complex but are bound together with other complex systems. Often they are so tightly interwoven that a chain of events can happen so quickly no one can stop it. A good example is algorithmic trading in financial markets, where computer models take many split-second decisions to buy and sell, occasionally triggering “flash crashes” when share prices or currencies can collapse for no apparent reason. Some years before Chernobyl the US had its own nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, when safety systems failed and operators had a bout of mass blindness. It was in the wake of that disaster that the sociologist Charles Perrow realised that for all the human errors the real root cause of the accident was that the system was so complex and tightly coupled (in other words prone to uncontrollable chain reactions) that it seemed almost destined to go wrong. Three Mile Island was only one example: there was Deepwater Horizon, Bhopal, the Challenger shuttle – all accidents that derived from unexpected interactions between complex systems where fail-safes didn’t kick in and sometimes actually exacerbated the crisis. He coined a term for such a phenomenon: “Normal accidents.” Accidents, however tragic and befuddling, were nonetheless inevitable. This is, to put it mildly, a controversial idea. The ethos of engineering and science, in everything from power plants to software, is that accidents can and must be avoided. A reactor explosion is impossible; a financial crash is inconceivable. Other animals have little trouble comprehending the principle of inevitable accidents: in nature’s complex and tightly coupled environment occasional disasters such as forest fires are a regular occurrence. We humans struggle to get our heads round them. This is unfortunate because it means our response is often cack-handed. The aftermath of Chernobyl is only one example. Consider the chaos that ensued after the mortgage meltdown and financial crisis of 2008. Today’s nuclear reactors are far safer than the cores at Chernobyl, but as the Fukushima disaster proved even the most finely honed systems can go wrong. Here in Britain nuclear power remains an essential part of the mix if we are to eliminate emissions by 2050. With good planning and good luck an accident won’t happen. But the worst thing we could do is not to imagine one.
Times 7th June 2019 read more »
When the Chernobyl power plant’s reactor went into meltdown on April 26, 1986, it wasn’t just the immediate surrounding area in the then Soviet Union that was affected by the fallout. The poisonous radiation that spewed into the atmosphere drifted over to Western Europe, causing a spike in radiation-related diseases and deaths in the years following the disaster. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, the UK government banned the sale of sheep across thousands of farms on the basis that the animals had likely ingested radioactive material from fallout absorbed by plants. In June of the same year, almost 9,000 British farms were affected by restrictions brought in on the movement and sale of sheep meat. This meant livestock had to be scanned by government officials before they were allowed to enter the food chain. Parts of Cumbria, Scotland and Northern Ireland were impacted, and North Wales was hardest hit, with sheep in Wales still failing radioactive tests 10 years after the accident in 1996. The last restrictions on the movement and sale of sheep in the UK were lifted in 2012, 26 years after the meltdown. There have also been some studies linking increased incidences of infant leukaemia in Britain to the Chernobyl disaster but results are not conclusive.
The i Newspaper 6th June 2019 read more »
In my post yesterday, I related my high opinion of the first four episodes of the HBO drama-documentary on Chernobyl. I have just viewed the 5th and final episode, and sadly, I think the last episode went off the rails…a bit … The courtroom scenes stated that the reason for explosion was a test which went disastrously wrong. But this low power test sounded strange to me. Or it wasn’t that but they wanted to see if the spinning generator would provide power in the case of an accident. Which weird tale was correct? I kept asking myself…. Clearly the operators were trying to get the huge reactor (3.2 GW) to run at very low power but I think the real explanation was more likely that they were under orders from Moscow to try to follow electricity load…..which at 1.30 am would have been low and declining. It’s a much simpler explanation but it would expose who was really in control – ie Moscow. (And coincidentally expose a major shortcoming of nuclear power….its relative inability to follow demand.)
Ian Fairlie 6th June 2019 read more »
Schellenberger: Why HBO’s “Chernobyl” Gets Nuclear So Wrong. Having now watched all five episodes of “Chernobyl,” and seen the public’s reaction to it, I think it’s obvious that the mini-series terrified millions of people about the technology.
Forbes 6th June 2019 read more »
A Russian TV network is creating its own interpretation of the Chernobyl disaster following some criticism of HBO’s series, which stars Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard. NTV, a station known for pro-Kremlin programming, has reportedly commissioned a series that is being partially financed by the culture ministry. While the HBO series Chernobyl was generally well-received in Russia, it was criticised by some local viewers and media for perceived inaccuracies.
Independent 7th June 2019 read more »