Study of the Nuclear Disaster of Chernobyl

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Study of the Nuclear Disaster of Chernobyl

The worst accident in the history of this nuclear power generation occurred on the morning of April 26, 1986. It was at the Chernobyl (Ukraine) nuclear power station in the Soviet Union. At 1:32AM Lieutenant Colonel Leonid Telyatnikov received a telephone call and was told that there was a fire at the nuclear power plant. There were many reasons their plant had backfired. These reasons included human error and poor plant design due to the cold war. Chernobyl was located in the former Soviet Union in what is now Ukraine. The area in and around Chernobyl is now a nuclear wasteland. People are not supposed to live in these areas, yet they still do, even with the danger of mutations and radiation sickness. For the people and countries affected by the radiation, this was a horrible, terrifying and angering experience. Villages were evacuated late and not many things were done in time to save lives and prevent more damages.

Countless errors were made at Chernobyl. The man in charge, an electrical engineer, was not a specialist in reactor plants. There were also the problems with the plant's organization and design. Due to the cold war, the Soviet Union had poor designs for nuclear plants. The sequence of events before the explosion is still unclear. Technicians attempted a poorly designed experiment, causing the chain reaction in the core to go out of control. The reactor's lid was blown off, and large amounts of radioactive material were released into the atmosphere. A partial meltdown of the core also occurred.

It is believed that for some strange reason, there was a loss of water that was used to cool 1,661 uranium fuel assemblies that were set in pressure pipes surrounded by 1,700 tons of graphite blocks, causing the fuel rods to overheat. The zirconium alloy around the fuel assemblies, along with the pressure tubing, melted at about 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, overheating the graphite. The temperature rose still more. At 5,100 degrees Fahrenheit, the uranium-oxide fuel began to melt. The operators flooded the reactor with water. It was too late and the water was instantly turned into a superheated steam, which reacted with the graphite, fuel and zirconium to produce hydrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. Over many hours, the gases built up and combined with oxygen released by the cracked pressure tubes, triggering a massive explosion. A cover-up was attempted, but after Swedish monitoring stations reported abnormally high levels of wind-transported radioactivity, the Soviet government admitted the truth.

The steam explosion and fire that resulted released about five percent of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere. Beyond 32 immediate deaths, several thousand radiation-induced illnesses and cancer deaths were expected in the long term. Many chemicals were released into the atmosphere after the fire. Studies have shown how radioactivity affects the body. Sharon Begley and Susan Katz lay out the effects of radiation on the body in an article called “The Lessons of Chernobyl.” The article tells how each radioactive element affects the body. The study shows the following:

• Krypton 85 affects the entire body and can increase a person's chances of getting cancers like leukemia within two years after exposure. It has a half-life of 10.7 years.
• Cesium 137 can attack the entire body, centering on the liver, spleen and the muscles. It has a half-life of 30.2 years.
• Barium 140, according to the article, gathers in the bones and can cause tumors as late as thirty years after exposure. It has a half-life of 12.8 days.
• Iodine 131 gathers in the thyroid. It can trigger cancer there decades following exposure. It has a half-life of eight days.

Seventy percent of the radiation is estimated to have fallen on Belarus and ten years later babies are sill being born with no arms, no eyes, or only stumps for limbs. It is estimated that over 15 million people have been victimized by the disaster in some way and that it will cost over 60 Billion dollars to make these people healthy. More than 600,000 people were involved with the cleanup. Many of these people are now dead or sick. The people of Chernobyl were exposed to radioactivity 100 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb.
After a study on the Chernobyl disaster, it was found that genetic mutations appear to occur twice as often in children of families exposed to radioactive fallout and these mutations are in the germ line. They represent permanent damage to the DNA that is passed down to those children's children. This effect was not observed in the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The study was conducted by an Anglo-Russian team, including Dr Yuri Dubrova of the N I Vavilov Institute of General Genetics in Moscow, colleagues at the Research Institute for Radiation Medicine, Belarus, and Sir Alec Jeffreys of Leicester University, pioneer of genetic fingerprinting. The team screened mutations in children from the Mogilev region of Belarus, 184 miles from Chernobyl, analyzing their genetic fingerprints for alterations caused by radiation. Ukraine's ambassador, Mykola Makarevych, said of 4229 dead, 2,929 had taken part in the clean up.

Exposure to radiation weakens your immune system and makes you susceptible to many diseases. Radiation sickness induces vomiting and the exposure to radiation leaves burns and scars on your skin. Symptoms also include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of teeth and hair, damage to blood-forming tissue with decrease in red and white blood cells and with bleeding. This increases the tendency to bleed and reduces the body's defense against infection. After a massive dose of radiation the reaction may be so severe that death quickly ensues. This is usually due to severe anemia or hemorrhage, to infection, or to dehydration. Extremely high doses damage the tissues of the brain. Death usually follows within 48 hours, as was demonstrated at Chernobyl.
Chernobyl was the worst accident in the history of power plants. There were still reactors running until recently. Greenpeace spoke out against it with a powerful quote, “Chernobyl is a time bomb: every day that this reactor operates it becomes more dangerous", said Tobias Muenchmeyer, Greenpeace nuclear expert. To avoid further accidents, people that work at nuclear plants should be careful with what they do. The government should also have the ability to step in and shut down a plant that is unstable and poses a problem to the community. For the good of out world, workers should be supervised more carefully and all leaks and problems should be reported to a higher authority. The public should also be warned because if they know that they live around an unstable power plant, they will take precautions and perhaps move to a safer area.

Chernobyl Bibliography

Barnathan, Joyce and Steven Strasser. “The Chernobyl Syndrome.” Newsweek. 12 May 1986: 22-30.

Begley, Sharon and Susan Katz. "The 20th Century Plague." Newsweek. 12 May 1986: 36-37.

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