Archive for the ‘English’ Category

فوربز: معترضان ایرانی خواستار کمک فوری به دریاچه در حال نابودی

2011/08/31

نشریه معتبر فوربز با انعکاس خبر اعتراضات در آذربایجان می نویسد: معترضانی که خواهان محافظت بیشتر از یکی از بزرگترین دریاچه های شور جهان بودند با نیروهای امنیتی در ایران درگیر شدند. عکس ها و ویدیوهای منتشر شده نشان می دهد که نیروهای پلیس سوار بر موتور به سوی معترضان در ارومیه هجوم آورده اند. معترضین به سوی پلیس سنگ پرتاب می کردند و پلیس به سوی آنا…

Iranian protest urges help for shrinking lake

Associated Press, 08.30.11, 12:30 PM EDT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Protesters demanding greater environmental protections for one of the world’s biggest saltwater lakes have clashed with security forces in western Iran.

Photographs and video obtained by The Associated Press show police on motorcycles bearing down on dozens of demonstrators in Oroumieh on Aug. 27. The demonstrators threw rocks at police, who fired back. It was unclear whether police used live bullets.

It took several days to confirm the event because residents were fearful of discussing it.

Oroumieh is on the shores of a lake of the same name about 370 miles (600 kilometers) northwest of the capital Tehran. Environmentalists and activists have been raising alarms for years that the lake is threatened by drought and aggressive agriculture policies.

http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/08/30/general-ml-iran-lake-protest_8650346.html

Osama Bin Laden, Prince of Terror- Spiegel

2011/05/03

All Osama bin Laden needed for breakfast was olive oil, dried thyme, a few olives and a bit of bread. Even years before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as he still lived in relative security in Afghanistan, the founder and head of the al-Qaida terrorist network was fabled for his modesty — and even more for his sense of humility.

Journalist Ahmed Zaidan, who interviewed bin Laden several times, most recently in 2000, captured those traits in an anecdote about a prayer gathering of almost the entire al-Qaida leadership. When his supporters wanted to clear a spot in the first row of prayers for the Saudi Arabian, bin Laden resisted them, saying he had come too late, the first row was already full and, besides, he didn’t deserve any kind of special treatment. Zaidan wrote that many similar stories about the tall, skinny man made the rounds among the Arab mujahedeen in the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hydra’s Head Has Been Cut Off

This kind of outward display of modesty helped Osama bin Laden to gain as many followers as he did. Few people who had anything to do with bin Laden personally would dispute his patience and friendliness.

But bin Laden, the son of billionaires in Jeddah, who went by the nom de guerre «Abu Abdullah,» will go down in history as being one of the most dangerous terrorists of all time. Be it the dual attacks on the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi in 1998 that killed more than 200 people, the Sept. 11, 2001 terror strikes that killed almost 3,000 people, or the bombings in Bali, Madrid and London, not to mention terror in Baghdad, Kandahar and many other places, none of these actions would have been possible without his network, his money, his perseverance and his ideas.

Now bin Laden is dead. US special forces have killed him in Pakistan. The hydra that is al-Qaida has lost its most important head.

Already an Islamist in His Youth

The biography of Osama, who was likely born in 1957, begins as one of an eccentric. The scion of an extremely wealthy business family that maintains good ties with the Saudi royal family, Osama would have stood out less if he had done the same as his countless siblings and half-siblings and simply enjoyed life as a member of the globalized, jet-set elite. But Osama, an earnest youth, found religion at a very young age. It seemed a little strange to his relatives, but it was also a reason to be proud, given how deeply religion permeates Saudi society.

As far back as his youth, Osama already showed a tendency towards radicalism. He was attracted to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been conveyed to him by the brother of its leading thinker, Sayyid Qutb. Not even an adult yet, Osama bin Laden was already refusing to shake hands with women and had no interest whatsoever in music or photos. When he turned on the television set, he only watched the news — and when the news show’s theme music played, he made the younger brother of a friend turn off the volume.

Outside his family, Osama was thoroughly part of a mass movement: As bin Laden came of age, a wave of re-Islamization began gripping the Islamic world. And when Afghanistan fell to the Soviets in 1979, he swiftly traveled to neighboring Pakistan, where the resistance movement began to take root. He wanted to help the mujahedeen, but not as a fighter — at least not in the beginning. Instead, he worked to promote the cause, raise money and recruit people. Together with the formidable jihad theorist Abdullah Azzam, he established Maktab al-Khadamat (the Mujahedeen Services Office) in 1984. Two years later, he moved his family there. In 1974, he had married a Syrian woman, a distant relative. From then on, he lived in Jaji in Afghanistan.

Over time, Osama and his mentor began to disagree on many issues. Azzam, a Palestinian, really only wanted to support the battle against the Soviets — he didn’t want to fight himself. And if they did fight, Arab volunteers should be distributed among Afghan combat units, he had argued. Bin Laden had another view: He established his own camps for Arab units, who closed in on the front. The camp from which he sent his fighters into battle was called al-Masada, or the Lion’s Den. But his fighters weren’t successful very often.

Building a Reputation on the Afghan Battlefield

Nevertheless, Osama still managed to build a reputation — partly because he himself fought on occasion. In their news bulletins, the mujahedeen reported about him. By the time the Soviets announced their withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s, Osama had become one of the country’s most important jihad leaders.

It was at this time that he founded al-Qaida, a network whose goal remained to train fighters because, in bin Laden’s opinion, the jihad had to continue, even if the Soviets had pulled out. If not in Afghanistan, then somewhere else. The idea met with massive resistance within the scene: Many fighters had only come to battle the Soviets, and they viewed other attacks as illegitimate. Azzam warned him against carrying the battle over to the other parts of the Islamic world — he didn’t want to see Muslims killing other Muslims.

Azzam was murdered in 1989 and speculation continues today that the al-Qaida founder may have caused his death. In any case, his death marked the departure of an intellectual counterweight to bin Laden from the scene. And bin Laden, who was supported by extremely radical Egyptian mujahedeen, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, carried on with his plans. It was his conviction that the «enemy,» America, must be attacked. After all, he argued, the US supported every corrupt, un-Islamic regime in the region. This ideological device enabled jihadists from different countries to fight together under one flag for the first time.

At first, however, bin Laden returned to the country of his birth. He hadn’t yet cut ties with his family or the Saudi royals. Indeed, he was praised as a war hero and was popular as a speaker.

Soon, though, the insult came that finally and irrevocably transformed bin Laden into a global jihadist. In 1990, the royal family rejected his 60-page plan calling for a Saudi Arabia-led invasion of Iraq with his jihadists at the helm. Instead, the king let American troops into the country to deter Saddam Hussein.

In 1992, bin Laden moved to Sudan. There, he founded firms in order to raise money. At the same time, his jihad operations were organized in side buildings in those companies. Be it the dispute in Southern Yemen, the war in Somalia or the war brewing in Bosnia, al-Qaida was involved in all of these crises. The group’s internationalization was already well underway.

Part 2: The Road to 9/11

Responding to pressure from the Saudis, Egyptians and Americans, the Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi ejected bin Laden from the country in 1996. The Saudi Arabian traveled back to Afghanistan where the Taliban were consolidating their power. Their leader Mullah Omar assured bin Laden that he was «welcome» and that they would never hand him over to the Americans. Mullah Omar would keep his promise, even though it would mean the end of his regime five years later.

Now that he was back in Afghanistan, bin Laden tried to generate more publicity. He planned new attacks, which were intended to be large and spectacular.

A turning point occurred in 1998: In February of that year, bin Laden announced, together with al-Zawahiri and other jihadi leaders, that it was the duty of every Muslim to «kill Americans wherever they are found,» irrespective of whether they were civilians or soldiers. The statement was made in the name of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, but it was al-Qaida that was behind it.

Al-Qaida’s First Major Attack

Less than six months later, bin Laden proved that he was serious: More than 200 people died when two terrorists targeted the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in almost simultaneous attacks. Two years later, al-Qaida attacked the USS Cole off the Yemeni coast. Bin Laden’s network was now a serious threat to American security.

The Taliban continued to protect the al-Qaida leader. And bin Laden was brimming with self-confidence. He told his followers several times that the US was much easier to fight than the Soviets. Their materialism meant that they were not willing to sacrifice themselves, he said. By this point, al-Qaida was recruiting members all over the world, and volunteers were heading to Afghanistan again. Among them were Mohamed Atta and other members of the cell which would carry out the worst terrorist attack in history one year later.

Back then, the United States failed in its attempts to take bin Laden out. At the headquarters of the National Security Agency near Washington, intelligence operatives occasionally let high-ranking guests eavesdrop on phone calls between Osama bin Laden and his mother. But they missed the fact that bin Laden was organizing 9/11 at this time.

Pieces of the Puzzle

There were plenty of signs that something was brewing, but no one put the pieces of the puzzle together correctly. The attacks took place on Sept. 11, 2001. Bin Laden watched them live on TV. In one of his first speeches after 9/11, he said that he had «warned» the US several times. Speaking to al-Jazeera, he justified the choice of targets, saying that they had not intended «to kill children,» which was why they had attacked the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

In the wake of the attacks, the war in Afghanistan began. If bin Laden’s words can be trusted, the al-Qaida leader already had such a war as his aim at the time of the attack on the USS Cole. «We will then proclaim jihad against them here and fight them like we once fought the Soviets,» he said.

In November 2001, however, things were getting tight for bin Laden. He had been holed up in the caves of Tora Bora for days, under bombardment by US forces. He wrote his will, and for the first time his optimism gave way to a strangely depressive mood. «The main reason for the suffering of our nation is the fear of dying in the name of Allah … Today this nation has let us down.» To his children, he wrote the following words: «Forgive me that I have given you so little time.»

Messages from the Underground

But Osama bin Laden survived and managed to escape. Since then, he had lived, in hiding and well guarded, somewhere in Afghanistan, Pakistan or in the border region between the two countries. He made public statements on around two dozen occasions, but nobody knew his exact location.

From his hiding place, he provided self-proclaimed al-Qaida members and sympathizers around the world with strategic objectives. When he mentioned certain countries, attacks often followed there. But terror experts deemed it unlikely that bin Laden was himself involved in the planning.

Osama bin Laden was a phenomenon. He was fundamentally different from the autocratic leaders of the Arab world, but in his modesty he was vain himself. He presented himself as a pious and wise man, yet he had virtually no religious education. In his speeches he always told the West that he wanted peace, and yet he incited terror.

‹The War Will Continue›

In order to understand bin Laden, says Steve Coll, the American author of the best-selling book «Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and bin Laden,» one needs to take his family background into account. Ultimately he was just like a businessman in his enthusiasm for technology and the way he dealt with money and resources.

Bin Laden’s death represents a very serious blow to al-Qaida. The only thing more demoralizing would probably have been his arrest, which bin Laden’s former bodyguard Abu Jandal said would amount to «a psychological defeat,» in an interview with bin Laden biographer Peter Bergen.

But as a martyr, bin Laden will continue to inspire his sympathizers. That is something that was seen in the reaction of jihadists to the deaths of al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam. Global Islamic terrorism may have suffered a defeat, but bin Laden’s death does not mean that it is finished.

Bin Laden himself once said: «I am just a poor slave of God. If I live or die, the war will continue.»

Fukushima Marks the End of the Nuclear Era- Spiegel

2011/03/15

Japan was still reeling from its largest recorded earthquake when an explosion struck the Fukushima nuclear plant on Saturday, followed by a second blast on Monday. Despite government assurances, there are fears of another Chernobyl. The incident has sparked a heated political debate in Germany and looks likely to end the dream of cheap and safe nuclear power. By SPIEGEL Staff.

 

 

Japanese television brought the catastrophe into millions of living rooms throughout the country, where viewers watched in

horror as an explosion struck a nuclear reactor in Fukushima.

The explosion on Saturday blew off the roof of the reactor building, sending a cloud of thick white smoke into the air. When the smoke had dissipated, only three of what had been four white reactor buildings were still visible.

Nothing but a ghostly shell remained of the fourth building.

The outside walls of the reactor 1 building had burst. The steel shell that contains the red-hot fuel rods apparently withstood the explosion, but it was unclear if a major disaster could still be averted. In addition, four other reactors in Fukushima’s two power plant complexes were not fully under control.

Second Explosion

Then, on Monday, a second explosion hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant, this time involving the facility’s reactor 3. The blast injured 11 workers and sent a huge column of smoke into the air. It was unclear if radiation leaked during that explosion, which was apparently caused by a build up of hydrogen, with the plant’s operator saying that radiation levels at the reactor were still below legal limits. The US reacted to Monday’s explosion by moving one of its aircraft carriers, which was 100 miles (160 kilometers) offshore, away from the area, following the detection of low-level radiation in its vicinity.

Shortly afterwards, the government announced that the cooling system for the plant’s reactor 2 had also failed. The explosions at reactors 1 and 3 had been preceded by similar breakdowns. The Jiji news agency reported on Monday that water levels at reactor 2 had fallen far enough to partially expose fuel rods.

The television images on the weekend left no doubt: The highly advanced island nation had apparently experienced the worst nuclear catastrophe to date in the 21st century, triggered by the worst earthquake in Japanese history.

A short time after Saturday’s blast, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano appeared on the main TV channel and spoke about the accident — in the manner of a teacher telling students during a class trip what they are going to do next. Then a grey-haired expert on nuclear power plants joined Edano and appealed to the population to remain «reisei,» to stay calm and cool.

Reisei, reisei: It was as if the government was more concerned about cooling down the heads of Japanese citizens than the partially melted nuclear fuel rods.

Advised to Stay Indoors

When the reactor exploded in Chernobyl a quarter century ago, the Soviet Union immediately brought in thousands of workers to cover the overheated reactor core with sand and lead. Eventually almost a million people would be involved in securing the reactor. But the Soviet Union was not simultaneously faced with the consequences of an earthquake and a tsunami.

The efforts of the Japanese police to evacuate a large area surrounding the reactor seemed more frantic than levelheaded. Thousands of people fled to the south in their cars.

At first, it was difficult to assess how dangerous the radiation in the immediate vicinity of the reactor was. Experts at the site reported that radiation levels of one sievert per hour had been measured near the reactor. This is a high level, but nothing compared with the 200 sievert per hour to which some emergency workers in Chernobyl were exposed.

Various radioactive materials are released in a meltdown, including plutonium and uranium, and the highly dangerous substances iodine 131 and cesium 137, which also contaminated the environment surrounding Chernobyl. It was confirmed that at least small amounts of cesium were also released at Fukushima. On Saturday German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), advised Germans to leave the areas affected by the tsunami and the nuclear accident.

A Japanese government spokesman advised citizens to stay indoors, switch off their air-conditioning systems and, if necessary, hold a moist towel in front of their mouths. These are all indications of how helpless the stricken industrialized nation’s reaction was in the hours following the accident.

Arrogant Attitude

The fact that Japan, which was once considered a miracle economy, was on the verge of a nuclear disaster could be far more devastating to the nuclear industry than the Soviet reactor catastrophe in Chernobyl could ever have been a quarter century ago.

Admittedly, Japan is in an earthquake zone, which puts it at greater risk than countries like Germany and France. But Japan also happens to be a leading industrialized nation, a country where well-trained, pedantically precise engineers build the world’s most advanced and reliable cars.

When the Chernobyl accident occurred, Germany’s nuclear industry managed to convince itself, and German citizens, that aging reactors and incapable, sloppy engineers in Eastern Europe were to blame. Western reactors, or so the industry claimed, were more modern, better maintained and simply safer.

It is now clear how arrogant this self-assured attitude is. If an accident of this magnitude could happen in Japan, it can happen just as easily in Germany. All that’s needed is the right chain of fatal circumstances. Fukushima is everywhere.

 

Part 2: The 9/11 of the Nuclear Industry

It seems likely that politicians and scientists will take a much more skeptical view of nuclear energy from now on. This was evident in the agitated way German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), reacted when he heard about the explosion at a reactor at the other end of the world. On Saturday morning, Röttgen told his wife that this was «an event that changes everything.» They felt reminded of Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

A direct danger to Germany can be «practically ruled out,» says Röttgen, adding that the most important thing now is to «express sympathy for Japan, establish clarity about the situation and offer help.» Chancellor Merkel convened a crisis meeting on Saturday evening.

Röttgen reacted with irritation to the new nuclear debate that was already taking shape in Germany over the weekend. «I feel that this is uncalled for in this situation, and that it’s really the wrong time,» he said. Röttgen himself was unwilling to comment on the consequences for the planned extension of the life spans of nuclear power plants in Germany, calling it «a political discussion for another time.»

The question of how long Germany’s nuclear power plants should remain online has been the subject of a heated political debate in recent years. Last October, Germany’s parliament approved an extension of the lifespans of the country’s 17 nuclear power plants, effectively overturning a planned phase-out of nuclear power agreed on under the government of Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. Under the new law, the plants will remain online for an average of an additional 12 years each, meaning Germany’s last nuclear power plant is now slated to be shut down in 2035, rather than the 2021 deadline foreseen by the Schröder administration.

The law could still be overturned, however: The five German states controlled by the opposition center-left Social Democrats recently filed a complaint with the German Constitutional Court against the extension of the plants› operating lives.

Campaigning on an Anti-Nuclear Platform

The Greens, of course, disagree with Röttgen’s assertion that this is not the time to talk about nuclear energy in Germany. They see the Japanese nuclear disaster as an opportunity to discuss one of their traditional core issues with new vehemence. Key elections are about to take place in the southwestern states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Recently, the Green Party has not been doing so well in the polls. Now it will campaign on an anti-nuclear platform, particularly as Baden-Württemberg Governor Stefan Mappus (CDU) is a strong supporter of nuclear power. Thomas Strobl, the CDU’s general secretary in the state, is already planning ahead, saying: «We should not conduct an election campaign at the expense of people in Japan.»

The Greens are unimpressed by such rhetoric. Jürgen Trittin, the former German environment minister and current Green Party co-floor leader in the Bundestag, feels validated in his skepticism about nuclear power. «Even a modern, technologically advanced country like Japan is not immune to the risks of a meltdown. The same applies to Germany, where we are even extending the life spans of especially unsafe nuclear reactors like Neckarwestheim,» says Trittin. He points out that the accident in Japan also shows that extending life spans is irresponsible.

Renate Künast, who shares the chairmanship of the Green Party parliamentary group with Trittin, adds: «Nuclear power plants should not be located in metropolitan areas, and certainly not in earthquake zones. This also applies to Germany. Neckarwestheim, for example, is not quakeproof.»

Volker Kauder, parliamentary floor leader in the Bundestag for the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has already made it clear that the two parties will continue to support extending plant life spans, despite the Fukushima accident. Deputy floor leader Michael Fuchs agrees: «Japan has completely different tectonic conditions from Germany. The accident there does not cast doubt on the extension of life spans for nuclear power plants here.»

Key Issue in Germany

This is an old line of reasoning, but whether it can be sustained is questionable. Until now, the industry, the CDU/CSU and the FDP have insisted that German nuclear power plants were safe and that Germany could rely on its engineers. But the same thing was always equally true of Japan. Its engineers have the reputation of being as good as Germany’s when it comes to building everything from automobiles to power plants. So if the Japanese cannot be relied upon to build reactors that can operate safely in their environment, what does this say about the Germans?

Hardly any other issue has had as strong an impact on the history of postwar Germany as nuclear power. And hardly any other country reacts with as much sensitivity to the risks of nuclear contamination. This is one of the reasons Germans founded an anti-nuclear party, the Green Party, which has since become firmly rooted in the political system.

Germany also has its own geography of opposition to nuclear power, including places such as Brokdorf, Kalkar, Wackersdorf and Gorleben, whose names have become symbols of the debate. German civil society has waged major battles against nuclear power, usually with words but sometimes with clubs, stones, water cannon and Molotov cocktails.

Resistance has even become a way of life for some people, like the activists who established the short-lived «Free Republic of Wendland» in 1980 near a planned nuclear waste repository in Gorleben in northern Germany. The movement has even coined a verb, «schottern,» which refers to acts of sabotage against nuclear waste transports.

New Lease on Life for Anti-Nuclear Movement

When the Green Party formed a coalition government with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1998, it made a nuclear phase-out one of its top priorities, with the goal of shutting down all reactors by 2021. But when the CDU/CSU/FDP coalition came into power in 2009, it began discussing the extension of plants› life spans. The government feared an electricity shortfall if reactors were shut down and the burden shifted to renewable energy sources. Besides, politicians in the new government were thrilled to be able to reverse the hated legislation the SPD/Green Party had enacted before leaving office.

But it was precisely this about-face that generated new support for the anti-nuclear movement. Some 120,000 people took part in a human chain between the Brunsbüttel and Krümmel nuclear power plants near Hamburg. Old concerns about the supposed uncontrollability of this energy source had resurfaced.

The CDU/CSU was divided over the issue. A large segment of the parliamentary group headed by Volker Kauder favored extending life spans by 15 or more years, while Environment Minister Röttgen wanted to stop at 10. The two camps agreed on 12 years. The government decided to push through the law without involving the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, because the coalition parties lack a majority there. (Normally the Bundesrat would have to approve any law that affects the competencies of Germany’s 16 states.) Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court is now expected to examine whether the government’s approach is compatible with the German constitution. This process, too, could be reinvigorated in response to pressure generated by the disaster in Japan.

In the past, a majority of Germans could be quickly mobilized against nuclear power whenever there was a reason to do so. Fukushima is a very significant reason, and it will make a deep impression on the German debate. The pro-nuclear parties, the CDU, CSU and FDP, will have to come up with new arguments to justify extending reactor life spans. The Greens could get a new boost, and the SPD, which once supported nuclear power but then reversed its policy, could very well find itself marginalized in a debate in which it lacks strong credentials.

Chancellor Merkel has also shown herself to be somewhat indecisive on this issue, as she has been with many other debates. As a physicist, she has a natural confidence in nuclear science and, therefore, in the nuclear industry. But as a politician she knows that supporting nuclear power is an unpopular position in Germany. As a result, she has kept a low profile and, with an eye to the strong opposition within the population, cautiously described nuclear power as a «bridge technology» to a future based on renewable energy, a technology that is acceptable for now but which makes little sense in the long term.

 

Part 3: Countdown to a Nuclear Disaster

When the earth quaked, machines reacted more quickly than any people could have. Seismic sensors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant detected the devastating shock waves on Friday within seconds. Two minutes later, at 2:48 p.m. local time, the reactor control system triggered a rapid automatic shutdown of the three reactors that were then in operation.

Everything went smoothly at first. Within seconds, the control rods were inserted between the fuel rods, thereby interrupting the nuclear chain reaction. This is precisely the way the system should operate. But then a serious problem occurred, initiating the countdown to a nuclear disaster.

Even after an emergency shutdown, a nuclear reactor still produces massive amounts of heat as the radioactive materials created during nuclear fission continue to decay. Unless engineers cool down a reactor for several days after it has been shut down, a core meltdown can occur, as was the case at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and at Chernobyl.

To prevent this from happening, pumps continued to put water through the cooling system at Fukushima. But then the power grid collapsed, as a result of the earthquake. The backup generators then went into operation.

‹Like Trying to Drive a Car with No Engine›

Each reactor has three or four of these diesel generators. But when the tsunami arrived, the generators failed in two of the reactor units at Fukushima. The entire power plant site was flooded.

The engineers eventually managed to connect emergency batteries to the system. But these batteries are only designed to bridge a period of a few minutes so that, for example, the power supply can be switched from the grid to an internal source. These weak power sources managed to avert an immediate nuclear disaster on Friday evening.

It was an act of desperation, «like trying to drive a car with no engine solely using the battery,» says Michael Sailer, the CEO of the Freiburg-based Öko Institut, an independent research institute. Sailer was chairman of the German Reactor Safety Commission for many years. «The batteries represent absolutely a last-ditch attempt,» says Lothar Hahn, the former managing director of the Society for Reactor Safety.

While the Japanese engineers were struggling to avert looming disaster, reactor safety experts around the world were sitting in front of their computers and monitoring the progress of the chain reaction in horror. They sent each other emails, spoke on the phone and discussed the problem in special forums closed to the public. There was hardly any official information, but they all had their contacts with experts in Japan. «The situation is very serious,» Hahn concluded immediately after learning that the cooling system had failed. «If this continues,» an employee with the Japanese nuclear energy agency admitted on Friday evening, «we could, in a worst-case scenario, see a meltdown.»

Apparently this is precisely what happened. Because the cooling pumps failed as a result of the loss of power, the water level fell in the reactor vessel. The fuel rods were reportedly only half-submerged in the cooling water, protruding from the water by almost a meter. As a result, they were partially destroyed and became overheated, just as an immersion heater can become overheated when it is removed from water.

Hopeless Struggle

In their desperation, the authorities authorized a controlled release of radioactively contaminated steam into the environment. Radioactivity levels within the plant rose to 1,000 times normal values, and radioactivity also became elevated on the entire site.

Reports that the pressure in the reactor container in Unit 1 had risen to six times atmospheric pressure seemed to herald impending disaster, because the reactor’s protective shell can only withstand a pressure level amounting to eight times atmospheric pressure.

The situation at Fukushima escalated dramatically late Friday night. German nuclear expert Sailer likened the situation «to a disaster movie,» as engineers desperately fought to gain control over the reactors. In the end, it was apparently a hopeless struggle.

The fuel elements had melted, at least partially, and apparently only the steel container housing the reactor and the containment layer were left, preventing the most highly radioactive materials from escaping. On Saturday evening local time, the plant’s operators announced that they intended to flood the reactor with seawater, a last-ditch attempt to prevent the reactor vessel from melting. «They’re basically trying to sink the reactor,» says nuclear expert Mycle Schneider, who compiles the annual «World Nuclear Industry Status Report.»

Echoes of Three Mile Island

The Fukushima accident resembles what happened at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1979. On the morning of March 28, 1979, a blocked valve and various operating errors led to the loss of vast amounts of fluid from the cooling system for the plant’s second reactor unit.

An automatic emergency shutdown stopped the chain reaction in the reactor core, as was the case in Japan last week. But the loss of cooling water resulted in a buildup of residual heat coming from the core material, melting some of the fissile material. Radioactive gases escaped into the environment, and it took experts five days to regain control over the reactor.

The Harrisburg accident was the first reactor catastrophe to generate worldwide questions about the safety of nuclear energy. But it was only after the Chernobyl disaster, the 25th anniversary of which is coming up, that many nations turned away from the high-risk technology.

Deadly Legacy

The nuclear core in one of Chernobyl’s reactors also melted on that fateful day, April 26, 1986. Ironically, it was during a safety inspection that operators lost control over reactor number four of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, located near the city of Pripyat in present-day Ukraine.

As a result of various operating errors, the output of the reactor core rose to about 100 times its rated output. The resulting extreme heat destroyed the channels for the reactor’s control rods, eliminating precisely the mechanism that is vital to preventing a nuclear fire. A disastrous series of chemical reactions led to the accumulation of an explosive mixture of gases beneath the roof of the reactor pressure vessel, which eventually ignited.

When the 1,000-ton concrete roof of the vessel was blown into the air, the reactor core caught fire. Large amounts of radioactive material, like iodine 131 and cesium 137, were released into the air and dispersed across large parts of the western Soviet Union and Western Europe.

The fallout descended onto about 200,000 square kilometers (77,220 square miles) of land. Because the Soviet government was unwilling to acknowledge the disaster for several days, valuable time was lost for such tasks as evacuating the nearby city of Pripyat. Many of the cleanup workers, known as «liquidators,» were exposed to high doses of radiation in the first few days. The incidence of thyroid cancer has been elevated in the region surrounding the plant for years. The concrete containment shell that was hurriedly built around the reactor is beginning to crack and crumble.

‹Historic Relic›

Human error was to blame for the reactor accident in Ukraine. Fukushima could now serve as a warning that nuclear reactors cannot be protected with absolute certainty against the forces of nature, especially not when it comes to aging plants like Fukushima.

The Japanese reactor is «a historic relic,» says Shaun Burnie, a British nuclear expert for Greenpeace who is very familiar with the reactors on Japan’s east coast.

Burnie has visited the Fukushima reactors several times and has repeatedly worked in Japan. Reactors 1 and 2 at Fukushima Daiichi went into operation in the early 1970s, when safety standards were significantly more lax than they are today. They were built in an era when Volkswagen was building its Beetle without safety belts, airbags and headrests. The reactor that exploded on Saturday was in fact slated to be shut down soon.

Because the new construction of nuclear power plants is so expensive and difficult to defend politically, energy utilities in more and more countries are convincing governments to approve operating-life extensions that are much longer than those planned for German reactors. However, the renaissance of these aging power plants is now proving to be a dangerous game.

Limited Chance of Upgrade

Plant operators are trying to keep their reactors on line beyond their original 40-year life spans. The United States has extended licenses for many of its nuclear plants by 20 years, and European countries are following suit. But the safety technology in older plants can only be upgraded to a limited extent.

Eleven reactors in Japan had to be shut down on the day of the earthquake. Five were in a state of emergency because they could not be cooled properly. «This is a traumatic event. The international nuclear industry has tried to delay its demise with massive life span extensions,» says nuclear expert Mycle Schneider. «The ancient systems at Fukushima have now illustrated the consequences. The industry will not survive this.»

Burnie takes a similarly critical stance. «Never in a thousand years would you get a license for Fukushima today,» he says. In the second-generation boiling water reactors that are still being used in the plant, the fuel rods float directly in the reactor vessel. Germany also has nuclear plants in the same category, including Brunsbüttel in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. Most of all, says Burnie, earthquake safety can only be improved to a limited extent. «The foundation consists of thousands of tons of concrete. That can’t be upgraded.»

 

Part 4: Global Renaissance of Nuclear Power under Threat

The reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are sited directly on the shore, about 50 kilometers from the city of Sendai, which was devastated in the earthquake. Almost all of Japan’s 55 nuclear power plants are built near the ocean, because they need a reliable source of large amounts of cooling water to operate. But this is precisely what makes them so vulnerable to tsunamis.

After the massive Indian Ocean tsunami hit Southeast Asia in 2004, nuclear regulators and plant operators recognized the risks for nuclear power plants. That tsunami flooded the cooling pumps for a reactor at India’s Madras Atomic Power Station, but operators managed to shut down the reactor just in time to avert an accident. The wave also flooded a nearby construction site for a breeder reactor, where the Indians also intend to produce the explosive material plutonium. But apparently the Indian operators didn’t learn much from the 2004 tsunami. After the site had been drained, they continued to build the reactor in the same spot.

On a more positive note, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) established the International Seismic Safety Centre two years ago. The center will serve as a forum for experts to exchange information and develop the highest possible standards. Japan is seen as one of the most active member nations, and for good reason. This isn’t the first time an earthquake has threatened the safety of Japanese nuclear power plants. In 2007, for example, a magnitude 6.8 quake shook Japan’s west coast. The epicenter was only 16 kilometers from Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, a seven-reactor complex and the world’s largest nuclear power plant. Later it was revealed that one of the control rods had become jammed.

Bigger than Expected

The 2007 earthquake was also much more powerful than the engineers had expected. In fact, it was two-and-a-half times as powerful a quake as the reactor was designed to withstand. Today it is back in operation after having been upgraded. The same operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), owns both Fukushima and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.

Many nuclear experts are leery of TEPCO, partly because of its history. A scandal shook public confidence in the company 10 years ago, when it was discovered that TEPCO managers had doctored reports on leak tests performed during safety inspections in their nuclear power plants.

As a result of the TEPCO scandal, Japanese citizens have become increasingly mistrustful of their government and the nuclear industry. Japan generates about a third of its electricity with nuclear power and is about as dependent on reactors as France.

After the 2007 quake, the operators of a fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho-Mura were required to upgrade the complex, which was undergoing test operations at the time. The upgrade requirements virtually doubled the cost of the project, bringing it to a total of more than $20 billion — an indication of how expensive earthquake safety can be.

After last week’s tsunami, there was also a power failure at the Rokkasho nuclear facilities, and in the hours following the quake the plant’s safety apparently depended entirely on the operation of diesel generators.

Gaining Ground

Whether the incidents in Fukushima will affect the boom in the construction of nuclear power plants in Asia remains to be seen. Nuclear power is currently undergoing a worldwide resurgence that would have been unthinkable in the years immediately after Chernobyl.

Asia’s rapidly growing economies, China, South Korea and India, as well as Russia and the United States, are banking on electricity from nuclear power once again. The renaissance is a result of both the enormous thirst for energy in the emerging economies and the debate over the carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.

According to the IAEA, 29 countries currently operate 442 reactors, producing a total of 375 gigawatts of electricity. Another 65 plants are now under construction worldwide. Now that many believe that climate change has replaced nuclear disaster as the most significant threat to mankind, nuclear technology, with its low CO2 emissions, is gaining ground once again.

Sweden, for example, was long seen as setting an example of how to phase out nuclear energy. In the middle of last year, however, the Swedish parliament reversed a 30-year-old decision to move away from nuclear power. The new legislation could allow up to 10 new plants to be built, replacing the aging Forsmark, Ringhals and Oskarshamn plants.

In the United States, no applications to build new reactors were filed for three decades. Last year, President Barack Obama made billions in federal loan guarantees available for two planned complexes in Georgia. A project in South Carolina is already under construction.

China has 27 nuclear construction sites, while Russia is currently building 11 new reactors. Moscow even has plans to build small, floating reactors to supply electricity in the Russian Arctic.

End of the Dream of Cheap Energy

Most of all, however, more and more emerging economies, and even developing nations, are interested in nuclear technology. «We expect between 10 to 25 new countries to bring their first nuclear power plant online by 2030,» IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has said. According to Amano, a total of 65 countries, including 21 in Africa alone, have shown interest in the technology.

«Current forecasts suggest the world will see an increase in global energy consumption of over 50 percent by 2030,» states an IAEA brochure with the telling title: «Considerations to Launch a Nuclear Power Program.» According to the brochure, nuclear power plants can help ensure «access to affordable energy in many parts of the world.»

The current situation suggests that the hopes of the nuclear lobby will be dashed. The fact that a nuclear disaster could occur in the land of robots and electric cars marks a turning point in the history of the technology.

There are metonyms for all of the accidents of the nuclear age, place names that have become symbols. Three Mile Island is one of them and so, of course, is Chernobyl.

There is no question that the name Fukushima will take on a similar significance. Fukushima will likely symbolize the end of the dream of manageable nuclear energy — and the realization that we do not have this form of energy under control.

RALF BESTE, PHILIP BETHGE, KLAUS BRINKBÄUMER, DIRK KURBJUWEIT, CORDULA MEYER, RENÉ PFISTER, OLAF STAMPF, THILO THIELKE, WIELAND WAGNER

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

Chernobyl disaster- Wikipedia

2011/03/13

The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian SSR (now Ukraine). It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and is the only level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

The disaster began on 26 April 1986, at reactor number four at the Chernobyl plant, near the town of Pripyat, during a systems test. A sudden power output surge took place, and when an attempt was made for emergency shutdown, a more extreme spike in power output occurred which led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of explosions. This event exposed the graphite moderator components of the reactor to air and they ignited; the resulting fire sent a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area, including Pripyat. The plume drifted over large parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Northern Europe. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia had to be evacuated, with over 336,000 people resettled. According to official post-Soviet data,[1][2] about 60% of the fallout landed in Belarus.

Despite the accident, Ukraine continued to operate the remaining reactors at Chernobyl for many years. The last reactor at the site was closed down in 2000, 14 years after the accident.[3]

The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry as well as nuclear power in general, slowing its expansion for a number of years while forcing the Soviet government to become less secretive about its procedures.[4][notes 1]

Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have been burdened with the continuing and substantial decontamination and health care costs of the Chernobyl accident. Fifty deaths, all among the reactor staff and emergency workers, are directly attributed to the accident. It is estimated that there may ultimately be a total of 4,000 deaths attributable to the accident, due to increased cancer risk.[5]

 

Accident

On 26 April 1986, at 01:23 a.m. (UTC+3), reactor four suffered a catastrophic power increase, leading to explosions in the core. This dispersed large quantities of radioactive fuel and core materials into the atmosphere[6]:73 and ignited the combustible graphite moderator. The burning graphite moderator increased the emission of radioactive particles, carried by the smoke, as the reactor had not been contained by any kind of hard containment vessel (unlike all Western plants). The accident occurred during an experiment scheduled to test a potential safety emergency core cooling feature, which took place during the normal shutdown procedure.

Nuclear power reactors require cooling, typically provided by coolant flow, to remove decay heat, even when not actively generating power. Pressurized Water Reactors use water flow at high pressure to move waste heat. Once the reactor is scrammed, the core still generates a significant amount of residual heat, which is initially about seven percent of the total thermal output of the plant. If not removed by coolant systems, the heat could lead to core damage.[7][8]

Following an emergency shutdown (scram), reactor cooling is still required to keep the temperature in the reactor core low enough to avoid fuel damage. The reactor consisted of about 1,600 individual fuel channels, and each operational channel required a flow of 28 metric tons (28,000 liters (7,400 USgal)) of water per hour.[6]:7 There had been concerns that in the event of a power grid failure, external power would not have been immediately available to run the plant’s cooling water pumps. Chernobyl’s reactors had three backup diesel generators. Each generator required 15 seconds to start up but took 60–75 seconds[6]:15 to attain full speed and reach the capacity of 5.5 MW required to run one main cooling water pump.[6]:30

This one-minute power gap was considered unacceptable, and it had been suggested that the mechanical energy (rotational momentum) of the steam turbine could be used to generate electricity to run the main cooling water pumps while the turbine was still spinning down. In theory, analyses indicated that this residual momentum had the potential to provide power for 45 seconds[6]:16, which would bridge the power gap between the onset of the external power failure and the full availability of electric power from the emergency diesel generators. This capability still needed to be confirmed experimentally, and previous tests had ended unsuccessfully. An initial test carried out in 1982 showed that the excitation voltage of the turbine-generator was insufficient; it did not maintain the desired magnetic field during the spin-down. The system was modified, and in 1984 the test was repeated, but again proved unsuccessful. In 1985 the tests were attempted a third time, but also yielded negative results. The test procedure was to be repeated again in 1986, and scheduled to take place during the maintenance shutdown of Reactor Four.[9]

The test focused on the switching sequences of the electrical supplies for the reactor. Since the test procedure was to begin when the reactor was scrammed automatically at the very beginning of the experiment, it was not anticipated to have any detrimental effect on the safety of the reactor; so the test program was not formally coordinated with either the chief designer of the reactor (NIKIET) or the scientific manager. Instead, it was approved only by the director of the plant (and even this approval was not consistent with established procedures). According to the test parameters, at the start of the experiment the thermal output of the reactor should have been no lower than 700 MW. If test conditions had been as planned the procedure would almost certainly have been carried out safely; the eventual disaster resulted from attempts to boost the reactor output once the experiment had been started, which was inconsistent with approved procedure.[10]

The Chernobyl power plant had been in operation for two years without the capability to ride through the first 60–75 seconds of a total loss of electric power—an important safety feature. The station managers presumably wished to correct this at the first opportunity; which may explain why they continued the test even when serious problems arose, and why the requisite approval for the test was not sought from the Soviet nuclear oversight regulator (even though there was a representative at the complex of 4 reactors).[notes 2]:18-20

The experimental procedure was intended to run as follows:

  • the reactor was to be running at a low power, between >700 MW & 800 MW
  • the steam turbine was to be run up to full speed
  • when these conditions were achieved, the steam supply was to be closed off
  • the turbines would be allowed to freewheel down
  • generator performance was to be recorded to determine whether it could provide the bridging power for coolant pumps

Conditions prior to the accident

The conditions to run the test were established prior to the day shift of 25 April 1986. The day shift workers had been instructed in advance and were familiar with procedures. A special team of electrical engineers was present to test the new voltage regulating system.[11] As planned, on 25 April a gradual reduction in the output of the power unit begun at 01:06 a.m., and by the beginning of the day shift the power level had reached 50% of its nominal 3200 MW thermal. At this point, another regional power station unexpectedly went off-line, and the Kiev electrical grid controller requested that the further reduction of Chernobyl’s output be postponed, as power was needed to satisfy the peak evening demand. The Chernobyl plant director agreed and postponed the test.

At 11:04 p.m., the Kiev grid controller allowed the reactor shut-down to resume. This delay had some serious consequences: the day shift had long since departed, the evening shift was also preparing to leave, and the night shift would not take over until midnight, well into the job. According to plan, the test should have been finalized during the day shift, and the night shift would only have had to maintain decay heat cooling systems in an otherwise shut-down plant; the night shift had very limited time to prepare for and carry out the experiment. Further rapid reduction in the power level from 50% was actually executed during the shift change-over. Alexander Akimov was chief of the night shift, and Leonid Toptunov was the operator responsible for the reactor’s operational regimen, including the movement of the control rods. Toptunov was a young engineer who had worked independently as a senior engineer for approximately three months.[6]:36-38

The test plan called for the power output of reactor 4 to be gradually reduced to 700–1000 MW thermal.[12] The level established in the test program (700 MW) was achieved at 00:05 on April 26; however, because of the natural production in the core of a neutron absorber, xenon-135, reactor power continued to decrease, even without further operator action. And as the power reached approximately 500 MW, Toptunov committed an error, inserting the control rods too far, bringing the reactor to a near-shutdown state. The exact circumstances are hard to know, as both Akimov and Toptunov died from radiation sickness.

The reactor power dropped to 30 MW thermal (or less)—an almost completely shutdown power level that was approximately 5 percent of the minimum initial power level established as safe for the test.[10]:73 Control-room personnel therefore made the decision to restore the power and extracted the reactor control rods,[13] though several minutes elapsed between their extraction and the point that the power output began to increase and subsequently stabilize at 160–200 MW (thermal). In this case the majority of control rods were withdrawn to their upper limits, but the low value of the operational reactivity margin restricted any further rise of reactor power. The rapid reduction in the power during the initial shutdown, and the subsequent operation at a level of less than 200 MW led to increased poisoning of the reactor core by the accumulation of xenon-135. This made it necessary to extract additional control rods from the reactor core in order to counteract the poisoning.

The operation of the reactor at the low power level with a small reactivity margin was accompanied by unstable core temperature and coolant flow, and possibly by instability of neutron flux.[14] The control room received repeated emergency signals of the levels in the steam/water separator drums, of relief valves opened to relieve excess steam into a turbine condenser, of large excursions or variations in the flow rate of feed water, and from the neutron power controller. In the period between 00:35 and 00:45, it seems emergency alarm signals concerning thermal-hydraulic parameters were ignored, apparently to preserve the reactor power level. Emergency signals from the Reactor Emergency Protection System (EPS-5) triggered a trip which turned off both turbine-generators.[15]

After a period, a more or less stable state at a power level of 200 MW was achieved, and preparation for the experiment continued. As part of the test plan, at 1:05 a.m. on 26 April extra water pumps were activated, increasing the water flow. The increased coolant flow rate through the reactor produced an increase in the inlet coolant temperature of the reactor core, which now more closely approached the nucleate boiling temperature of water, reducing the safety margin. The flow exceeded the allowed limit at 1:19 a.m. At the same time the extra water flow lowered the overall core temperature and reduced the existing steam voids in the core.[16] Since water also absorbs neutrons (and the higher density of liquid water makes it a better absorber than steam), turning on additional pumps decreased the reactor power still further. This prompted the operators to remove the manual control rods further to maintain power.[17]

All these actions led to an extremely unstable reactor configuration. Nearly all of the control rods were removed, which would limit the value of the safety rods when initially inserted in a scram condition. Further, the reactor coolant had reduced boiling, but had limited margin to boiling, so any power excursion would produce boiling, reducing neutron absorption by the water. The reactor was in an unstable configuration that was clearly outside the safe operating envelope established by the designers.

 

Experiment and explosion

At 1:23:04 a.m. the experiment began. The steam to the turbines was shut off, and a run down of the turbine generator began, together with four (of eight total) Main Circulating Pumps (MCP). The diesel generator started and sequentially picked up loads, which was complete by 01:23:43; during this period the power for these four MCPs was supplied by the coasting down turbine generator. As the momentum of the turbine generator that powered the water pumps decreased, the water flow rate decreased, leading to increased formation of steam voids (bubbles) in the core. Because of the positive void coefficient of the RBMK reactor at low reactor power levels, it was now primed to embark on a positive feedback loop, in which the formation of steam voids reduced the ability of the liquid water coolant to absorb neutrons, which in turn increased the reactor’s power output. This caused yet more water to flash into steam, giving yet a further power increase. However, during almost the entire period of the experiment the automatic control system successfully counteracted this positive feedback, continuously inserting control rods into the reactor core to limit the power rise.

At 1:23:40, as recorded by the SKALA centralized control system, an emergency shutdown or scram of the reactor was initiated. The scram was started when the EPS-5 button (also known as the AZ-5 button) of the reactor emergency protection system was pressed thus fully inserting all control rods, including the manual control rods that had been incautiously withdrawn earlier. The reason the EPS-5 button was pressed is not known, whether it was done as an emergency measure or simply as a routine method of shutting down the reactor upon completion of the experiment. There is a view that the scram may have been ordered as a response to the unexpected rapid power increase, although there is no recorded data convincingly testifying to this. Some have suggested that the button was not pressed but rather that the signal was automatically produced by the emergency protection system; however, the SKALA clearly registered a manual scram signal. In spite of this, the question as to when or even whether the EPS-5 button was pressed was the subject of debate. There are assertions that the pressure was caused by the rapid power acceleration at the start, and allegations that the button was not pressed until the reactor began to self-destruct but others assert that it happened earlier and in calm conditions.[18]:578[19] For whatever reason the EPS-5 button was pressed, insertion of control rods into the reactor core began. The control rod insertion mechanism operated at a relatively slow speed (0.4 m/s) taking 18–20 seconds for the rods to travel the full approximately 7-meter core length (height). A bigger problem was a flawed graphite-tip control rod design, which initially displaced coolant before neutron-absorbing material was inserted and the reaction slowed. As a result, the scram actually increased the reaction rate in the lower half of the core.

A few seconds after the start of the scram, a massive power spike occurred, the core overheated, and seconds later resulted in the initial explosion. Some of the fuel rods fractured, blocking the control rod columns and causing the control rods to become stuck after being inserted only one-third of the way. Within three seconds the reactor output rose above 530 MW.[6]:31 The subsequent course of events was not registered by instruments: it is known only as a result of mathematical simulation. First a great rise in power caused an increase in fuel temperature and massive steam buildup with rapid increase in steam pressure. This destroyed fuel elements and ruptured the channels in which these elements were located.[20] Then according to some estimations, the reactor jumped to around 30 GW thermal, ten times the normal operational output. It was not possible to reconstruct the precise sequence of the processes that led to the destruction of the reactor and the power unit building. There is a general understanding that it was steam from the wrecked channels entering the reactor inner structure that caused the destruction of the reactor casing, tearing off and lifting by force the 2,000 ton upper plate (to which the entire reactor assembly is fastened). Apparently this was the first explosion that many heard.[21]:366 This was a steam explosion like the explosion of a steam boiler from the excess pressure of vapor. This ruptured further fuel channels—as a result the remaining coolant flashed to steam and escaped the reactor core. The total water loss combined with a high positive void coefficient to increase the reactor power.

A second, more powerful explosion occurred about two or three seconds after the first; evidence indicates that the second explosion resulted from a nuclear excursion.[22] The nuclear excursion dispersed the core and effectively terminated that phase of the event. However, the graphite fire continued, greatly contributing to the spread of radioactive material and the contamination of outlying areas.[23] There were initially several hypotheses about the nature of the second explosion. One view was that «the second explosion was caused by the hydrogen which had been produced either by the overheated steam-zirconium reaction or by the reaction of red-hot graphite with steam that produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide.» Another hypothesis posits that the second explosion was a thermal explosion of the reactor as a result of the uncontrollable escape of fast neutrons caused by the complete water loss in the reactor core.[24] A third hypothesis was that the explosion was caused, exceptionally, by steam. According to this version, the flow of steam and the steam pressure caused all the destruction following the ejection from the shaft of a substantial part of the graphite and fuel.

According to observers outside Unit 4, burning lumps of material and sparks shot into the air above the reactor. Some of them fell on to the roof of the machine hall and started a fire. About 25 per cent of the red-hot graphite blocks and overheated material from the fuel channels was ejected. … Parts of the graphite blocks and fuel channels were out of the reactor building. … As a result of the damage to the building an airflow through the core was established by the high temperature of the core. The air ignited the hot graphite and started a graphite fire.[6]:32

However, the ratio of xenon radioisotopes released during the event provides compelling evidence that the second explosion was a nuclear power transient. This nuclear transient released ~0.01 kiloton of TNT equivalent (40 GJ) of energy; the analysis indicates that the nuclear excursion was limited to a small portion of the core.[22]

Contrary to safety regulations, a combustible material (bitumen) had been used in the construction of the roof of the reactor building and the turbine hall. Ejected material ignited at least five fires on the roof of the (still operating) adjacent reactor 3. It was imperative to put those fires out and protect the cooling systems of reactor 3.[6]:42 Inside reactor 3, the chief of the night shift, Yuri Bagdasarov, wanted to shut down the reactor immediately, but chief engineer Nikolai Fomin would not allow this. The operators were given respirators and potassium iodide tablets and told to continue working. At 05:00, however, Bagdasarov made his own decision to shut down the reactor, leaving only those operators there who had to work the emergency cooling systems.[6]:44

Radiation levels

Approximate radiation levels at different locations shortly after the explosion:[25]

location radiation (roentgens per hour)
vicinity of the reactor core 30,000
fuel fragments 15,000–20,000
debris heap at the place of circulation pumps 10,000
debris near the electrolyzers 5,000–15,000
water in the Level +25 feedwater room 5,000
level 0 of the turbine hall 500–15,000
area of the affected unit 1,000–1,500
water in Room 712 1,000
control room, shortly after explosion 3–5
Gidroelektromontazh depot 30
nearby concrete mixing unit 10–15

Plant layout

based on the image of the plant[26]
level objects
49.6 roof of the reactor building, gallery of the refueling mechanism
39.9 roof of the deaerator gallery
35.5 floor of the main reactor hall
31.6 upper side of the upper biological shield, floor of the space for pipes to steam separators
28.3 lower side of the turbine hall roof
24.0 deaerator floor, measurement and control instruments room
16.4 floor of the pipe aisle in the deaerator gallery
12.0 main floor of the turbine hall, floor of the main circulation pump motor compartments
10.0 control room, floor under the reactor lower biological shield, main circulation pumps
6.0 steam distribution corridor
2.2 upper pressure suppression pool
0.0 ground level; house switchgear, turbine hall level
-0.5 lower pressure suppression pool
-5.2, -4.2 other turbine hall levels
-6.5 basement floor of the turbine hall

[edit] Individual involvement

Main article: Individual involvement in the Chernobyl disaster

[edit] Deaths and survivors

Main article: Deaths due to the Chernobyl disaster

Immediate crisis management

Radiation levels

The radiation levels in the worst-hit areas of the reactor building have been estimated to be 5.6 roentgens per second (R/s) (1.4 milliamperes per kilogram), equivalent to more than 20,000 roentgens per hour. A lethal dose is around 500 roentgens (0.13 coulombs per kilogram) over 5 hours, so in some areas, unprotected workers received fatal doses within minutes. However, a dosimeter capable of measuring up to 1,000 R/s (0.3 A/kg) was inaccessible because of the explosion, and another one failed when turned on. All remaining dosimeters had limits of 0.001 R/s (0.3 µA/kg) and therefore read «off scale.» Thus, the reactor crew could ascertain only that the radiation levels were somewhere above 0.001 R/s (3.6 R/h, or 0.3 µA/kg), while the true levels were much, much higher in some areas.[6]:42-50

Because of the inaccurate low readings, the reactor crew chief Alexander Akimov assumed that the reactor was intact. The evidence of pieces of graphite and reactor fuel lying around the building was ignored, and the readings of another dosimeter brought in by 4:30 a.m. were dismissed under the assumption that the new dosimeter must have been defective.[6]:42-50 Akimov stayed with his crew in the reactor building until morning, trying to pump water into the reactor. None of them wore any protective gear. Most, including Akimov, died from radiation exposure within three weeks.[27]:247-48

Fire containment

 

Firefighter Leonid Telyatnikov, being decorated for bravery.

Shortly after the accident, firefighters arrived to try to extinguish the fires. First on the scene was a Chernobyl Power Station firefighter brigade under the command of Lieutenant Volodymyr Pravik, who died on 9 May 1986 of acute radiation sickness. They were not told how dangerously radioactive the smoke and the debris were, and may not even have known that the accident was anything more than a regular electrical fire: «We didn’t know it was the reactor. No one had told us.»[28]

Grigorii Khmel, the driver of one of the fire-engines, later described what happened:

We arrived there at 10 or 15 minutes to two in the morning … We saw graphite scattered about. Misha asked: «What is graphite?» I kicked it away. But one of the fighters on the other truck picked it up. «It’s hot,» he said. The pieces of graphite were of different sizes, some big, some small enough to pick up …
We didn’t know much about radiation. Even those who worked there had no idea. There was no water left in the trucks. Misha filled the cistern and we aimed the water at the top. Then those boys who died went up to the roof—Vashchik Kolya and others, and Volodya Pravik … They went up the ladder … and I never saw them again.[29]:54

However, Anatoli Zakharov, a fireman stationed in Chernobyl since 1980, offers a different description:

I remember joking to the others, «There must be an incredible amount of radiation here. We’ll be lucky if we’re all still alive in the morning.»

Twenty years after the disaster, he claimed the firefighters from the Fire Station No. 2 were aware of the risks.

Of course we knew! If we’d followed regulations, we would never have gone near the reactor. But it was a moral obligation—our duty. We were like kamikaze.[30]

The immediate priority was to extinguish fires on the roof of the station and the area around the building containing Reactor No. 4 to protect No. 3 and keep its core cooling systems intact. The fires were extinguished by 5 a.m., but many firefighters received high doses of radiation. The fire inside Reactor No. 4 continued to burn until 10 May 1986; it is possible that well over half of the graphite burned out.[6]:73 The fire was extinguished by a combined effort of helicopters dropping over 5,000 metric tons of materials like sand, lead, clay, and boron onto the burning reactor and injection of liquid nitrogen. Ukrainian filmmaker Vladimir Shevchenko captured film footage of a Mi-8 helicopter as it collided with a nearby construction crane, causing the helicopter to fall near the damaged reactor building and kill its four-man crew.[31]

From eyewitness accounts of the firefighters involved before they died (as reported on the CBC television series Witness), one described his experience of the radiation as «tasting like metal,» and feeling a sensation similar to that of pins and needles all over his face. (This is similar to the description given by Louis Slotin, a Manhattan Project physicist who died days after a fatal radiation overdose from a criticality accident.)[32]

The explosion and fire threw hot particles of the nuclear fuel and also far more dangerous fission products, radioactive isotopes such as caesium-137, iodine-131, strontium-90 and other radionuclides, into the air: the residents of the surrounding area observed the radioactive cloud on the night of the explosion.

Timeline
  • 1:26:03 – fire alarm activated
  • 1:28 – arrival of local firefighters, Pravik’s guard
  • 1:35 – arrival of firefighters from Pripyat, Kibenok’s guard
  • 1:40 – arrival of Telyatnikov
  • 2:10 – turbine hall roof fire extinguished
  • 2:30 – main reactor hall roof fires suppressed
  • 3:30 – arrival of Kiev firefighters[33]
  • 4:50 – fires mostly localized
  • 6:35 – all fires extinguished[34]

 

 

 

The nearby city of Pripyat was not immediately evacuated after the incident, but after radiation levels set off alarms at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden,[35] over one thousand kilometers from the Chernobyl Plant, did the Soviet Union admit that an accident had occurred. Nevertheless, authorities attempted to conceal the scale of the disaster. For example, while evacuating the city of Pripyat, the following warning message was read on local radio: «An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One of the atomic reactors has been damaged. Aid will be given to those affected and a committee of government inquiry has been set up.» This message gave the false impression that any damage or radiation was localized.

The government committee was eventually formed, and tasked to investigating the accident. It was headed by Valeri Legasov, who arrived at Chernobyl in the evening of 26 April. By the time Legasov arrived, two people had died and 52 were in the hospital. By the night of 26–27 April — more than 24 hours after the explosion — Legasov’s committee had ample evidence showing extremely high levels of radiation had caused a number of cases of radiation exposure. Based on the evidence at hand, Legasov’s committee had to acknowledge the destruction of the reactor and order the evacuation of Pripyat.

The evacuation began at 2 p.m. on 27 April. In order to expedite the evacuation, the residents were told to bring only what was necessary, as the authorities had said it would only last approximately three days. As a result, most of the residents left their personal belongings, which can still be found today. An exclusion zone of 30 km (19 mi) remains in place today.

Steam explosion risk

 

Chernobyl Corium lava flows formed by fuel-containing mass in the basement of the plant. Lava flow (1). Concrete (2). Steam pipe (3). Electrical equipment (4).[36]

Two floors of bubbler pools beneath the reactor served as a large water reservoir from the emergency cooling pumps and as a pressure suppression system capable of condensing steam from a (small) broken steam pipe; the third floor above them, below the reactor, served as a steam tunnel. The steam released from a broken pipe was supposed to enter the steam tunnel and be led into the pools to bubble through a layer of water. The pools and the basement were flooded because of ruptured cooling water pipes and accumulated fire water. They now constituted a serious steam explosion risk. The smoldering graphite, fuel and other material above, at more than 1200 °C,[37] started to burn through the reactor floor and mixed with molten concrete that had lined the reactor, creating corium, a radioactive semi-liquid material comparable to lava.[36][38] If this mixture had melted through the floor into the pool of water, it would have created a massive steam explosion that would have ejected more radioactive material from the reactor. It became an immediate priority to drain the pool.[39]

The bubbler pool could be drained by opening its sluice gates. Volunteers in diving suits entered the radioactive water and managed to open the gates. These were engineers Alexei Ananenko (who knew where the valves were) and Valeri Bezpalov, accompanied by a third man, Boris Baranov, who provided them with light from a lamp, though this lamp failed, leaving them to find the valves by feeling their way along a pipe. All of them returned to the surface and according to Ananenko, their colleagues jumped for joy when they heard they had managed to open the valves. Despite their good condition after completion of the task, all of them suffered from radiation sickness, and at least two—Ananenko and Bezpalov—later died.[citation needed] Some sources claim incorrectly that they died in the plant.[40] It is likely that intense alpha radiation hydrolyzed the water, generating a low-pH hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) solution akin to an oxidizing acid.[41] Conversion of bubbler pool water to H2O2 is confirmed by the presence in the Chernobyl lavas of studtite and metastudtite,[42][43] the only minerals that contain peroxide.[44]

Fire brigade pumps were then used to drain the basement. The operation was not completed until 8 May, after 20,000 metric tons of highly radioactive water were pumped out.

With the bubbler pool gone, a meltdown was less likely to produce a powerful steam explosion. To do so, the molten core would now have to reach the water table below the reactor. To reduce the likelihood of this, it was decided to freeze the earth beneath the reactor, which would also stabilize the foundations. Using oil drilling equipment, injection of liquid nitrogen began on 4 May. It was estimated that 25 metric tons of liquid nitrogen per day would be required to keep the soil frozen at −100 °C.[6]:59 This idea was soon scrapped and the bottom room where the cooling system would have been installed was filled with concrete.

Debris removal

The worst of the radioactive debris was collected inside what was left of the reactor, much of it shoveled in by liquidators wearing heavy protective gear (dubbed «bio-robots» by the military); these workers could only spend a maximum of 40 seconds at a time working on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings because of the extremely high doses of radiation given off by the blocks of graphite and other debris. The reactor itself was covered with bags containing sand, lead, and boric acid dropped from helicopters (some 5,000 metric tons during the week following the accident). By December 1986 a large concrete sarcophagus had been erected, to seal off the reactor and its contents.[45]

Many of the vehicles used by the «liquidators» remain parked in a field in the Chernobyl area to this day, most giving off doses of 10–30 R/h (0.7–2 µA/kg) over 20 years after the disaster.[46]

Causes

Operator error initially faulted

There were two official explanations of the accident: the first, subsequently acknowledged as erroneous, was published in August 1986 and effectively placed the blame on the power plant operators. To investigate the causes of the accident the IAEA created a group known as the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group (INSAG), which in its report of 1986, INSAG-1, on the whole also supported this view, based on the data provided by the Soviets and the oral statements of specialists.[47] In this view, the catastrophic accident was caused by gross violations of operating rules and regulations. «During preparation and testing of the turbine generator under run-down conditions using the auxiliary load, personnel disconnected a series of technical protection systems and breached the most important operational safety provisions for conducting a technical exercise.»[48]:311 The operator error was probably due to their lack of knowledge of nuclear reactor physics and engineering, as well as lack of experience and training. According to these allegations, at the time of the accident the reactor was being operated with many key safety systems turned off, most notably the Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS), LAR (Local Automatic control system), and AZ (emergency power reduction system). Personnel had an insufficiently detailed understanding of technical procedures involved with the nuclear reactor, and knowingly ignored regulations to speed test completion.[48]

The developers of the reactor plant considered this combination of events to be impossible and therefore did not allow for the creation of emergency protection systems capable of preventing the combination of events that led to the crisis, namely the intentional disabling of emergency protection equipment plus the violation of operating procedures. Thus the primary cause of the accident was the extremely improbable combination of rule infringement plus the operational routine allowed by the power station staff.[48]:312

In this analysis of the causes of the accident, deficiencies in the reactor design and in the operating regulations that made the accident possible were set aside and mentioned only casually. Serious critical observations covered only general questions and did not address the specific reasons for the accident. The following general picture arose from these observations. Several procedural irregularities also helped to make the accident possible. One was insufficient communication between the safety officers and the operators in charge of the experiment being run that night. The reactor operators disabled safety systems down to the generators, which the test was really about. The main process computer, SKALA, was running in such a way that the main control computer could not shut down the reactor or even reduce power. Normally the reactor would have started to insert all of the control rods. The computer would have also started the «Emergency Core Protection System» that introduces 24 control rods into the active zone within 2.5 seconds, which is still slow by 1986 standards. All control was transferred from the process computer to the human operators.

This view is reflected in numerous publications and also artistic works on the theme of the Chernobyl accident that appeared immediately after the accident,[6] and for a long time remained dominant in the public consciousness and in popular publications.

Operating instructions and design deficiencies found

However, in 1993 the IAEA Nuclear Safety Advisory Group (INSAG) published an additional report, INSAG-7,[10] which reviewed «that part of the INSAG-1 report in which primary attention is given to the reasons for the accident.» In this later report, most of the accusations against staff for breach of regulations were acknowledged to be erroneous, based on incorrect information obtained in August 1986. This report reflected another view of the reasons for the accident, presented in Appendix I. According to this account, the operators› actions in turning off the Emergency Core Cooling System, interfering[clarification needed] with the settings on the protection equipment, and blocking[clarification needed] the level and pressure in the separator drum did not contribute to the original cause of the accident and its magnitude, though they may have been a breach of regulations. Turning off the emergency system designed to prevent the two turbine generators from stopping was not a violation of regulations.

Human factors contributed to the conditions that led to the disaster. These included operating the reactor at a low power level—less than 700 MW—a level documented in the run-down test program, and operating with a small operational reactivity margin (ORM). Operating the reactor at this low power level was not forbidden by regulations, contradicting what Soviet experts asserted in 1986.[10]:18 However, regulations did forbid operating the reactor with a small margin of reactivity. However, «… post-accident studies have shown that the way in which the real role of the ORM is reflected in the Operating Procedures and design documentation for the RBMK-1000 is extremely contradictory,» and furthermore, «ORM was not treated as an operational safety limit, violation of which could lead to an accident.»,[10]:34-25).

According to the INSAG-7 Report, the chief reasons for the accident lie in the peculiarities of physics and in the construction of the reactor. There are two such reasons:[10]:18

  • The reactor had a dangerously large positive void coefficient. The void coefficient is a measurement of how a reactor responds to increased steam formation in the water coolant. Most other reactor designs have a negative coefficient, i.e. they attempt to decrease heat output when the vapor phase in the reactor increases, because if the coolant contains steam bubbles, fewer neutrons are slowed down. Faster neutrons are less likely to split uranium atoms, so the reactor produces less power (a negative feed-back). Chernobyl’s RBMK reactor, however, used solid graphite as a neutron moderator to slow down the neutrons, and the water in it, on the contrary, acts like a harmful neutron absorber. Thus neutrons are slowed down even if steam bubbles form in the water. Furthermore, because steam absorbs neutrons much less readily than water, increasing the intensity of vaporization means that more neutrons are able to split uranium atoms, increasing the reactor’s power output. This makes the RBMK design very unstable at low power levels, and prone to suddenly increasing energy production to a dangerous level. This behavior is counter-intuitive, and this property of the reactor was unknown to the crew.
  • A more significant flaw was in the design of the control rods that are inserted into the reactor to slow down the reaction. In the RBMK reactor design, the lower part of each control rod was made of graphite and was 1.3 meters shorter than necessary, and in the space beneath the rods were hollow channels filled with water. The upper part of the rod—the truly functional part that absorbs the neutrons and thereby halts the reaction—was made of boron carbide. With this design, when the rods are inserted into the reactor from the uppermost position, the graphite parts initially displace some coolant. This greatly increases the rate of the fission reaction, since graphite (in the RBMK) is a more potent neutron moderator (absorbs far fewer neutrons than the boiling light water). Thus for the first few seconds of control rod activation, reactor power output is increased, rather than reduced as desired. This behavior is counter-intuitive and was not known to the reactor operators.
  • Other deficiencies besides these were noted in the RBMK-1000 reactor design, as were its non-compliance with accepted standards and with the requirements of nuclear reactor safety.

Both views were heavily lobbied by different groups, including the reactor’s designers, power plant personnel, and the Soviet and Ukrainian governments. According to the IAEA’s 1986 analysis, the main cause of the accident was the operators› actions. But according to the IAEA’s 1993 revised analysis the main cause was the reactor’s design.[49] One reason there were such contradictory viewpoints and so much debate about the causes of the Chernobyl accident was that the primary data covering the disaster, as registered by the instruments and sensors, were not completely published in the official sources.

Once again, the human factor had to be considered as a major element in causing the accident. INSAG notes that both the operating regulations and staff handled the disabling of the reactor protection easily enough: witness the length of time for which the ECCS was out of service while the reactor was operated at half power. INSAG’s view is that it was the operating crew’s deviation from the test program that was mostly to blame. “Most reprehensibly, unapproved changes in the test procedure were deliberately made on the spot, although the plant was known to be in a very different condition from that intended for the test.” [10]:24

As in the previously released report INSAG-1, close attention is paid in report INSAG-7 to the inadequate (at the moment of the accident) “culture of safety” at all levels. Deficiency in the safety culture was inherent not only at the operational stage but also, and to no lesser extent, during activities at other stages in the lifetime of nuclear power plants (including design, engineering, construction, manufacture and regulation). The poor quality of operating procedures and instructions, and their conflicting character, put a heavy burden on the operating crew, including the Chief Engineer. “The accident can be said to have flowed from a deficient safety culture, not only at the Chernobyl plant, but throughout the Soviet design, operating and regulatory organizations for nuclear power that existed at that time.” [10]:24

Effects

Main article: Chernobyl disaster effects

International spread of radioactivity

Four hundred times more radioactive material was released than had been by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. However, compared to the total amount released by nuclear weapons testing during the 1950s and 1960s, the Chernobyl disaster released 100 to 1000 times less radioactivity.[50] The fallout was detected over all of Europe except for the Iberian Peninsula.[51][52][53]

The initial evidence that a major release of radioactive material was affecting other countries came not from Soviet sources, but from Sweden, where on the morning of 28 April[54] workers at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant (approximately 1,100 km (680 mi) from the Chernobyl site) were found to have radioactive particles on their clothes.[55] It was Sweden’s search for the source of radioactivity, after they had determined there was no leak at the Swedish plant, that at noon on April 28 led to the first hint of a serious nuclear problem in the western Soviet Union. Hence the evacuation of Pripyat on April 27, 36 hours after the initial explosions, was silently completed before the disaster became known outside the Soviet Union. The rise in radiation levels had at that time already been measured in Finland, but a civil service strike delayed the response and publication.[56]

Contamination from the Chernobyl accident was scattered irregularly depending on weather conditions. Reports from Soviet and Western scientists indicate that Belarus received about 60% of the contamination that fell on the former Soviet Union. However, the 2006 TORCH report stated that half of the volatile particles had landed outside Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. A large area in Russia south of Bryansk was also contaminated, as were parts of northwestern Ukraine. Studies in surrounding countries indicate that over one million people could have been affected by radiation.[57]

Recently published data from a long-term monitoring program (The Korma-Report)[58] show a decrease in internal radiation exposure of the inhabitants of a region in Belarus close to Gomel. Resettlement may even be possible in prohibited areas provided that people comply with appropriate dietary rules.

In Western Europe, precautionary measures taken in response to the radiation included seemingly arbitrary regulations banning the importation of certain foods but not others. In France some officials stated that the Chernobyl accident had no adverse effects.[citation needed]. Official figures in southern Bavaria in Germany indicated that some wild plant species contained substantial levels of caesium, which were believed to have been passed onto them by wild boars, a significant number of which had already contained radioactive particles above the allowed level, consuming them.[59]

Radioactive release

 

The external gamma dose for a person in the open near the Chernobyl site.

 

Contributions of the various isotopes to the (atmospheric) dose in the contaminated area soon after the accident.

Like many other releases of radioactivity into the environment, the Chernobyl release was controlled by the physical and chemical properties of the radioactive elements in the core. While the general population often perceives plutonium as a particularly dangerous nuclear fuel, its effects are almost eclipsed by those of its fission products. Particularly dangerous are highly radioactive compounds that accumulate in the food chain, such as some isotopes of iodine and strontium.

Two reports on the release of radioisotopes from the site were made available, one by the OSTI and a more detailed report by the OECD, both in 1998.[60][61] At different times after the accident, different isotopes were responsible for the majority of the external dose. The dose that was calculated is that received from external gamma irradiation for a person standing in the open. The dose to a person in a shelter or the internal dose is harder to estimate.

The release of radioisotopes from the nuclear fuel was largely controlled by their boiling points, and the majority of the radioactivity present in the core was retained in the reactor.

  • All of the noble gases, including krypton and xenon, contained within the reactor were released immediately into the atmosphere by the first steam explosion.
  • About 1760 PBq of I-131, 55% of the radioactive iodine in the reactor, was released, as a mixture of vapor, solid particles, and organic iodine compounds.
  • Caesium and tellurium were released in aerosol form.
  • An early estimate for fuel material released to the environment was 3 ± 1.5%; this was later revised to 3.5 ± 0.5%. This corresponds to the atmospheric emission of 6 t of fragmented fuel.[61]

Two sizes of particles were released: small particles of 0.3 to 1.5 micrometers (aerodynamic diameter) and large particles of 10 micrometers. The large particles contained about 80% to 90% of the released nonvolatile radioisotopes zirconium-95, niobium-95, lanthanum-140, cerium-144 and the transuranic elements, including neptunium, plutonium and the minor actinides, embedded in a uranium oxide matrix.

Health of plant workers and local people

In the aftermath of the accident, 237 people suffered from acute radiation sickness, of whom 31 died within the first three months.[62][63] Most of these were fire and rescue workers trying to bring the accident under control, who were not fully aware of how dangerous exposure to the radiation in the smoke was. Whereas, the World Health Organization’s report 2006 Report of the Chernobyl Forum Expert Group from the 237 emergency workers who were diagnosed with ARS, ARS was identified as the cause of death for 28 of these people within the first few months after the disaster. There were no further deaths identified in the general population affected by the disaster as being caused by ARS. Of the 72,000 Russian Emergency Workers being studied, 216 non cancer deaths are attributed to the disaster, between 1991 and 1998. The latency period for solid cancers caused by excess radiation exposure is 10 or more years, thus at the time of the WHO report being undertaken the rates of solid cancer deaths were no greater than the general population.Some 135,000 people were evacuated from the area, including 50,000 from Pripyat.

Residual radioactivity in the environment

Rivers, lakes and reservoirs

 

Earth Observing-1 image of the reactor and surrounding area in April 2009

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is located next to the Pripyat River, which feeds into the Dnipro River reservoir system, one of the largest surface water systems in Europe. The radioactive contamination of aquatic systems therefore became a major issue in the immediate aftermath of the accident.[64] In the most affected areas of Ukraine, levels of radioactivity (particularly radioiodine: I-131, radiocaesium: Cs-137 and radiostrontium: Sr-90) in drinking water caused concern during the weeks and months after the accident. After this initial period, however, radioactivity in rivers and reservoirs was generally below guideline limits for safe drinking water.[64]

Bio-accumulation of radioactivity in fish[65] resulted in concentrations (both in western Europe and in the former Soviet Union) that in many cases were significantly above guideline maximum levels for consumption.[64] Guideline maximum levels for radiocaesium in fish vary from country to country but are approximately 1,000 Bq/kg in the European Union.[66] In the Kiev Reservoir in Ukraine, concentrations in fish were several thousand Bq/kg during the years after the accident.[65] In small «closed» lakes in Belarus and the Bryansk region of Russia, concentrations in a number of fish species varied from 0.1 to 60 kBq/kg during the period 1990–92.[67] The contamination of fish caused short-term concern in parts of the UK and Germany and in the long term (years rather than months) in the affected areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia as well as in parts of Scandinavia.[64]

Groundwater

 

Map of radiation levels in 1996 around Chernobyl.

Groundwater was not badly affected by the Chernobyl accident since radionuclides with short half-lives decayed away long before they could affect groundwater supplies, and longer-lived radionuclides such as radiocaesium and radiostrontium were adsorbed to surface soils before they could transfer to groundwater.[68] However, significant transfers of radionuclides to groundwater have occurred from waste disposal sites in the 30 km (19 mi) exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Although there is a potential for transfer of radionuclides from these disposal sites off-site (i.e. out of the 30 km (19 mi) exclusion zone), the IAEA Chernobyl Report[68] argues that this is not significant in comparison to current levels of washout of surface-deposited radioactivity.

Flora and fauna

After the disaster, four square kilometers of pine forest in the immediate vicinity of the reactor turned reddish-brown and died, earning the name of the «Red Forest«.[69] Some animals in the worst-hit areas also died or stopped reproducing. Most domestic animals were evacuated from the exclusion zone, but horses left on an island in the Pripyat River 6 km (4 mi) from the power plant died when their thyroid glands were destroyed by radiation doses of 150–200 Sv.[70] Some cattle on the same island died and those that survived were stunted because of thyroid damage. The next generation appeared to be normal.[70]

A robot sent into the reactor itself has returned with samples of black, melanin-rich radiotrophic fungi that are growing on the reactor’s walls.[71]

Chernobyl after the disaster

Main article: Chernobyl after the disaster

Recovery process

Recovery projects

The Chernobyl Shelter Fund

The Chernobyl Shelter Fund was established in 1997 at the Denver 23rd G8 summit to finance the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP). The plan calls for transforming the site into an ecologically safe condition by means of stabilization of the sarcophagus followed by construction of a New Safe Confinement (NSC). While the original cost estimate for the SIP was US$768 million, the 2006 estimate was $1.2 billion. The SIP is being managed by a consortium of Bechtel, Battelle, and Electricité de France, and conceptual design for the NSC consists of a movable arch, constructed away from the shelter to avoid high radiation, to be slid over the sarcophagus. The NSC is expected to be completed in 2013, and will be the largest movable structure ever built.

Dimensions:

  • Span: 270 m (886 ft)
  • Height: 100 m (330 ft)
  • Length: 150 m (492 ft)

The United Nations Development Programme

The United Nations Development Programme has launched in 2003 a specific project called the Chernobyl Recovery and Development Programme (CRDP) for the recovery of the affected areas.[72] The programme was initiated in February 2002 based on the recommendations in the report on Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident. The main goal of the CRDP’s activities is supporting the Government of Ukraine in mitigating long-term social, economic, and ecological consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. CRDP works in the four most Chernobyl-affected areas in Ukraine: Kyivska, Zhytomyrska, Chernihivska and Rivnenska.

The International Project on the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident

The International Project on the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident (IPEHCA) was created and received US $20 million, mainly from Japan, in hopes of discovering the main cause of health problems due to 131I radiation. These funds were divided between Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, the three main affected countries, for further investigation of health effects. As there was significant corruption in former Soviet countries, most of the foreign aid was given to Russia, and no positive outcome from this money has been demonstrated.

Assessing the disaster’s effects on human health

  • Down syndrome (trisomy 21). In West Berlin, Germany, prevalence of Down syndrome (trisomy 21) peaked 9 months following the main fallout.[ 11, 12] Between 1980 and 1986, the birth prevalence of Down syndrome was quite stable (i.e., 1.35–1.59 per 1,000 live births [27–31 cases]). In 1987, 46 cases were diagnosed (prevalence = 2.11 per 1,000 live births). Most of the excess resulted from a cluster of 12 cases among children born in January 1987. The prevalence of Down syndrome in 1988 was 1.77, and in 1989, it reached pre-Chernobyl values. The authors noted that the isolated geographical position of West Berlin prior to reunification, the free genetic counseling, and complete coverage of the population through one central cytogenetic laboratory support completeness of case ascertainment; in addition, constant culture preparation and analysis protocols ensure a high quality of data.
  • Chromosomal aberrations. Reports of structural chromosome aberrations in people exposed to fallout in Belarus and other parts of the former Soviet Union, Austria, and Germany argue against a simple dose-response relationship between degree of exposure and incidence of aberrations. These findings are relevant because a close relationship exists between chromosome changes and congenital malformations. Inasmuch as some types of aberrations are almost specific for ionizing radiation, researchers use aberrations to assess exposure dose. On the basis of current coefficients, however, one cannot assume that calculation of individual exposure doses resulting from fallout would not induce measurable rates of chromosome aberrations.
  • Neural tube defects (NTDs) in Turkey. During the embryonic phase of fetal development, the neural tube differentiates into the brain and spinal cord (i.e., collectively forming the central nervous system). Chemical or physical interactions with this process can cause NTDs. Common features of this class of malformations are more or less extended fissures, often accompanied by consecutive dislocation of central nervous system (CNS) tissue. NTDs include spina bifida occulta and aperta, encephalocele, and—in the extreme case—anencephaly. The first evidence in support of a possible association between CNS malformations and fallout from Chernobyl was published by Akar et al.. in 1988. The Mustafakemalpasa State Hospital, Bursa region, covers a population of approximately 90,000. Investigators have documented the prevalence of malformations since 1983. The prevalence of NTDs was 1.7 to 9.2 per 1,000 births, but during the first 6 months of 1987 increased to 20 per 1,000 (12 cases). The excess was most pronounced for the subgroup of anencephalics, in which prevalence increased 5-fold (i.e., 10 per 1,000 [6 cases]). In the consecutive months that followed (i.e., July–December 1987), the prevalence decreased again (1.3 per 1,000 for all NTDs, 0.6 per 1,000 for anencephaly), and it reached pre-Chernobyl levels during the first half of 1988 (all NTDs: 0.6 per 1,000; anencephaly: 0.2 per 1,000). This initial report was supported by several similar findings in observational studies from different regions of Turkey.[citation needed]
 

Demonstration on Chernobyl day near WHO in Geneva

An international assessment of the health effects of the Chernobyl accident is contained in a series of reports by the United Nations Scientific Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).[73] UNSCEAR was set up as a collaboration between various UN bodies, including the World Health Organisation, after the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to assess the long-term effects of radiation on human health.

UNSCEAR has conducted 20 years of detailed scientific and epidemiological research on the effects of the Chernobyl accident. Apart from the 57 direct deaths in the accident itself, UNSCEAR originally predicted up to 4,000 additional cancer cases due to the accident.[74] However, the latest UNSCEAR reports suggest that these estimates were overstated.[75] In addition, the IAEA states that there has been no increase in the rate of birth defects or abnormalities, or solid cancers (such as lung cancer) corroborating UNSCEAR’s assessments.[76]

Precisely, UNSCEAR states:

Among the residents of Belaruss 09, the Russian Federation and Ukraine there had been, up to 2002, about 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer reported in children and adolescents who were exposed at the time of the accident, and more cases are to be expected during the next decades. Notwithstanding problems associated with screening, many of those cancers were most likely caused by radiation exposures shortly after the accident. Apart from this increase, there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure 20 years after the accident. There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure. The risk of leukaemia in the general population, one of the main concerns owing to its short latency time, does not appear to be elevated. Although those most highly exposed individuals are at an increased risk of radiation-associated effects, the great majority of the population is not likely to experience serious health consequences as a result of radiation from the Chernobyl accident. Many other health problems have been noted in the populations that are not related to radiation exposure.[75]

Thyroid cancer is generally treatable.[77] With proper treatment, the five-year survival rate of thyroid cancer is 96%, and 92% after 30 years.[78]

The Chernobyl Forum is a regular meeting of IAEA, other United Nations organizations (FAO, UN-OCHA, UNDP, UNEP, UNSCEAR, WHO, and the World Bank), and the governments of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine that issues regular scientific assessments of the evidence for health effects of the Chernobyl accident.[79] The Chernobyl Forum concluded that twenty-eight emergency workers died from acute radiation syndrome including beta burns and 15 patients died from thyroid cancer, and it roughly estimated that cancer deaths caused by Chernobyl may reach a total of about 4,000 among the 600,000 people having received the greatest exposures. It also concluded that a greater risk than the long-term effects of radiation exposure is the risk to mental health of exaggerated fears about the effects of radiation:[76]

The designation of the affected population as “victims” rather than “survivors” has led them to perceive themselves as helpless, weak and lacking control over their future. This, in turn, has led either to over cautious behavior and exaggerated health concerns, or to reckless conduct, such as consumption of mushrooms, berries and game from areas still designated as highly contaminated, overuse of alcohol and tobacco, and unprotected promiscuous sexual activity.[80]

Fred Mettler commented that 20 years later:[81]

The population remains largely unsure of what the effects of radiation actually are and retain a sense of foreboding. A number of adolescents and young adults who have been exposed to modest or small amounts of radiation feel that they are somehow fatally flawed and there is no downside to using illicit drugs or having unprotected sex. To reverse such attitudes and behaviors will likely take years although some youth groups have begun programs that have promise.

In addition, disadvantaged children around Chernobyl suffer from health problems that are attributable not only to the Chernobyl accident, but also to the poor state of post-Soviet health systems.[82]

Another study critical of the Chernobyl Forum report was commissioned by Greenpeace, which asserts that «the most recently published figures indicate that in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine alone the accident could have resulted in an estimated 200,000 additional deaths in the period between 1990 and 2004.»[83]

The German affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) argued that more than 10,000 people are today affected by thyroid cancer and 50,000 cases are expected in the future.[84]

In popular culture

See also: Chernobyl disaster in popular culture and Nuclear power debate

The Chernobyl accident attracted a great deal of interest. Because of the distrust that many people (both within and outside the USSR) had in the Soviet authorities, a great deal of debate about the situation at the site occurred in the first world during the early days of the event. Because of defective intelligence based on photographs taken from space, it was thought that unit number three had also suffered a dire accident.

Journalists mistrusted many professionals (such as the spokesman from the UK NRPB), and in turn encouraged the public to mistrust them.[85]

In Italy, the Chernobyl accident was reflected in the outcome of the 1987 referendum. As a result of that referendum, Italy began phasing out its nuclear power plants in 1988, a decision that was effectively reversed in 2008.

In 1995 Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki wrote and directed «On Your Mark«, a music video for Japanese pop duo Chage & Aska. This was essentially an animated music video lasting almost seven minutes. The opening scene shows a clean, old-fashioned and apparently deserted small village which is dominated by a huge, asymmetrical version of the Chernobyl «sarcophagus.» In an interview in «Animage» magazine in 1995, Miyazaki compared the sarcophagus in the video to Chernobyl, noting the survival of plant life.[86]

The video game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare features a mission taking place in Pripyat. Modern Warfare 2 also features a mission set in Pripyat. The «S.T.A.L.K.E.R» series of video games is set in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Commemoration of the disaster

The Front Veranda (1986), a lithograph by Susan Dorothea White in the National Gallery of Australia, exemplifies worldwide awareness of the event. Heavy Water: A film for Chernobyl was released by Seventh Art in 2006 to commemorate the disaster through poetry and first-hand accounts.[87] The film secured the Cinequest Award as well as the Rhode Island «best score» award [88] along with a screening at Tate Modern.[89]

Chernobyl 20

This exhibit presents the stories of 20 people who have each been affected by the disaster, and each person’s account is written on a panel. The 20 individuals whose stories are related in the exhibition are from Belarus, France, Latvia, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

Developed by Danish photo-journalist Mads Eskesen, the exhibition is prepared in multiple languages including English, German, Danish, Dutch, Russian, and Ukrainian.

In Kiev, Ukraine, the exhibition was launched at the «Chernobyl 20 Remembrance for the Future» conference on 23 April 2006. It was then exhibited during 2006 in the United States, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

See also

Other

Further reading

Documents

The source documents, which relate to the emergency, published in the unofficial sources:

 

References

  1. ^ ICRIN Project (2011). International Chernobyl Portal chernobyl.info. http://chernobyl.info/Default.aspx?tabid=294. Retrieved 2011.
  2. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency (2006). Environmental consequences of the Chernobyl accident and their remediation: Twenty years of experience. Report of the Chernobyl Forum Expert Group ‘Environment’. Vienna: IAEA. pp. 180. ISBN 92–0–114705–8. http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1239_web.pdf. Retrieved 2011-3-13.
  3. ^ «Fuel Unloaded from Chernobyl Reactor». Chernobyl.info. http://www.chernobyl.info/index.php?userhash=&navID=534&lID=2. Retrieved 11 September 2010.
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Internet Activists of Anonymous-Spiegel

2011/02/18

By Hilmar Schmundt

 

Now that the WikiLeaks wave has subsided, the fight for Internet freedom is entering a new phase. Investigators are zeroing in on activists belonging to the group Anonymous, a loose organization which launched attacks on websites which crossed WikiLeaks. But who are they? And what can they be charged with?

It’s a rainy winter morning at the heavily guarded Belmarsh high-security prison in London. A hearing on the possible extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is underway in the courtroom inside. His supporters are outside, with signs, a megaphone, dreadlocks, flyers, candles — the usual.

Six demonstrators, though, stand out. They are wearing masks depicting the grinning face of Guy Fawkes, the man who plotted to blow up the House of Lords in 1605. The mask was popularized by the 2006 anarchist thriller «V for Vendetta.»

«We are Anonymous,» says one of the masked demonstrators. «We don’t forget, and we don’t forgive,» says another. «We are legion.» Their muffled words are hard to understand, and not just because the masks have only a small breathing slit.

Anonymous is the name of an international activist group that has kept the authorities on their toes for months. It plans its campaigns on the Internet — and most of its «raids» take place there too.

In December, for example, the group shut down the websites of PayPal and Visa, because these companies had blocked accounts used for donations to WikiLeaks. The so-called denial-of-service (DOS) attacks were primitive but effective. DOS attacks do not require the expertise of hackers, but merely a piece of software called «Low Orbit Ion Cannon,» which sends a huge volume of pointless inquiries to a website until its servers are shut down.

‹Fire! Fire! Fire!›

Anonymous claims that it has no leadership structure, and that it is modeled on a so-called «hive mind.» The online mob uses Twitter and chat rooms to determine its targets, and then it sounds the attack: «Fire! Fire! Fire!» WikiLeaks itself has formally distanced itself from the group’s campaigns.

The FBI has conducted more than 40 searches, and investigators say that those involved could face prison sentences of up to 10 years. But who are they? After infiltrating the Anonymous network, the security firm HBGary Federal concluded that it boils down to a hard core of about 30 key players. The online detectives had intended to triumphantly unveil their results at a security conference in San Francisco this week. Instead, the company was humiliated when hackers penetrated its server and allegedly stole more than 60,000 emails. «You have blindly charged into the Anonymous hive, a hive from which you’ve tried to steal honey,» a revenge message read. «You’ve angered the hive, and now you will be stung.»

Anonymous has divided the net community. When the hacker magazine 2600 condemned the online attacks, describing them as «boorish» and «childish» in a press release, its website also came under fire.

«This is the first real info war, and you are the soldiers,» John Perry Barlow, a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead, tweeted. Many activists and media outlets promptly parroted Barlow’s tweet.

But how should a DOS attack be treated? Is it like a sit-in? Or is it more like sabotage? Or possibly extortion? It’s a question that will soon be the subject of several court cases.

‹Simply Embarrassing›

Five arrests have already been made in England. The suspects, who are between the ages of 15 and 26, were released on bail. One of them goes by the nickname «Coldblood» and is believed to be one of the ringleaders. He identified himself as a spokesman for Anonymous, foolishly without wearing a mask.

The swarm did not react to his arrest with statements of solidarity, but with derision. «Coldblood is simply embarrassing,» one of the masked activists in London mumbles. «Anonymous is decentralized. We have no leaders.»

When the Dutch police arrested a 16-year-old boy, by contrast, Anonymous used its ion cannon to open fire on the public prosecutor’s office. In doing so, however, it provided the investigators with new incriminating material free of charge. The design of the software is so unsophisticated that it reveals the IP address of the attacker. The next arrest followed soon afterwards.

«I knew what I was doing, and I stand by it,» says Martijn G. «I support freedom of opinion on the Web.» Martijn G. is 19 and lives with his parents in a small house in the town of Sappemeer. He is angry because the police confiscated his mobile phone and his computer, merely because he had wanted to try out the program, as he claims. He is waiting for the indictment. He can’t say anything else about the case, he says, because his father doesn’t want him to.

«The punishment will probably depend very much on the judge’s opinion,» says Jana Herwig. Was it an act of sabotage or protest? Herwig is earning a Ph.D. in Media Studies in Vienna, with an emphasis on cyber cultures. She views participation in Anonymous as a ritualized test of courage on the road to adulthood.

Funny Cat Pictures and Pornography

The members of the movement worship «moot,» the founder of 4chan, a so-called imageboard with more than 10 million visitors a month, as a founding figure. On 4chan, members exchange funny cat pictures, vulgar remarks and pornography. New subcultures are constantly developing among the visitors to 4chan, and one of them is Anonymous.

Christopher Poole is moot’s real name and he was 15 when he founded 4chan. Eight years later, he still comes across like a shy teenager. Nevertheless, the elite of the digital culture were transfixed when he made an appearance in early February at the «Transmediale» art festival in Berlin’s House of World Cultures.

4chan is a carnival of the obscene. In particular, a group called «/b/» is legendary. It’s members call themselves «/b/tards» and inexperienced members are referred to as «newfags» and are greeted with the demand: «Tits or GTFO.»

The contributions rush across the screen, often gone within a minute, pushed aside by a flood of new filth. The forum has no memory. What’s gone is gone. There are few rules, except that child pornography and animal cruelty are taboo, as is anything that’s politically correct.

Anonymous packs are constantly embarking on group pranks. They take over game worlds to set up their avatars in swastika formation. Or they annoy strangers by ordering large numbers of pizzas or bibles delivered to their homes. Another prank is called «black fax,» which involves flooding fax machines with black pages until the costly toner cartridges are empty. The Church of Scientology is one of their favorite targets.

A Boyish Smile

«moot,» on the other hand, is worshipped as a «god» and «dictator.» In 2009, Time named him the «most influential person of the year» on its website. In the online voting process, fans voted for him 16 million times.

In person, the master of the /b/tards is a thoughtful man. With his legs crossed, he ponders the value of free speech as a source of creativity. Anonymity is under threat in the days of self-exposure on Facebook, he says. He feels like a dinosaur sometimes, he says with a boyish smile.

«4chan is a sort of idea factory. New jargon, new humor and new images are constantly being created there,» raves Gabriella Coleman, an anthropologist at New York University. «If you’re away from it for a week, you hardly know what’s going on anymore.»

Does the disinhibition of the nameless, their crude language and sexism, give us an unadulterated look into the chasms of the collective unconscious? No, says Coleman, because the machismo is nothing but show. She estimates that about a third of the /b/tards are women.

Digital subcultures per se are nothing new, but classic hacker groups have been seen as hermetic and elitist until now. Anonymous, on the other hand, is open to everyone, to a point beyond all recognition. All it takes to be a part of it is to buy a mask for €9 at Amazon. There is no manifesto or consensus.

Removing Their Masks at the Door

«4chan is too apolitical for me,» says «Meathead,» as he smokes his water pipe with a faraway look in his eyes. He and his friend «Snake» are sitting in a benignly squalid apartment in Berlin. It could double as a set for a film about hackers: Empty pizza boxes and disks litter the floor, and the servers that load porn films onto the Web are hot enough to provide the heat in the apartment.

Meathead, a law student, is relatively well groomed. He used to attend meetings of the Pirate Party, but the discussions bored him. He preferred action, which led him to begin launching his own DOS attacks. Who did he attack? «I have no idea. It was always these IP addresses that they were giving me,» he says. He doesn’t care who is being targeted. He simply trusts the swarm.

He Googled the punishment he would receive if caught. Section 303b of the German Criminal Code defines what he does as computer sabotage. «If you attack government agencies or critical infrastructure, you can easily be put away for a few years,» he says nonchalantly.

Where do the pranks end and where does the crime begin? DOS attacks can be seen as acts of protest, but hacking into email accounts certainly cannot. Perhaps the upcoming trials against Coldblood and his cohort will shed some light on the issue.

The hearing in London is over, the press is leaving and the protesters in their smiling masks are heading in the direction of the nearest pub, righteously exhausted after spending hours engaging in an act of provocation. They politely remove their masks at the door. They would get in the way of conversation — and of drinking a beer at the end of a good day’s work.