Friday, February 5, 2016

Chernobyl - Symbol of Unconcerned Totalitarianism

One can hardly compare the Chernobyl fire in the Ukraine to the alleged "Three Mile Island disaster" in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Thirty-one firement and plant workers were killed in the former, while the only victims at TMI were from media-caused anxiety. Volumes have been written by analysts on the mistakes made a both power plants. But Chernobyl, with its graphite reactor designed to produce weapons-grade plutonium as well as electricity - and with no containment building - cannot even be compared with the pressurized water reactor (PWR) at TMI in which the nuclear reaction is stopped by the laws of physics when there is a loss of coolant water. Of course that hasn't stopped the anti-nuclear, anti-technologists from trying. But perhaps the strangest story out of Chernobyl was that the Soviet hierarchy, who had strongly supported the anti-nuclear activists in the United States, were apparently led to believe their own propaganda about radiation dangers.

The accident at Chernobyl provided both good and bad news for anti-nuclear activists. For decades, they had been attempting to come up with some reasonable way that radioactive products from nuclear power plants could be spread over the countryside. The best they'd been able to come up with for U.S. power plants went like this:

(a) A loss-of-coolant accident occurs, and the emergency core cooling systems fail to operate, leading to a meltdown of the fuel assemblies inside the reactor.

(b) Although the nuclear reaction stops when the coolant is lost (the water acts as a moderator to slow down the neutrons so they can be captured and allow the reaction to continue), there is still heat generated from the decay of the "daughters" of the reaction. This is supposedly so intense that it melts through six inches of steel in the reactor vessel, and continues through many feet of high-strength, reinforced concrete.

(c) But it can't stop there. The molten mass must then continue to melt through perhaps a few hundred feet of earth until reaching an aquifer. There the steam generated causes "blow holes" to develop, and the steam carries the radioactive products back to the surface. (Hold on, we're almost there.)

(d) The weather must cooperate with a gentle breeze blowing toward a populated area. (Too much wind and our "cloud" dissipates; under calm conditions, the product settles to the earth at the facility and is taken care of there.)

But the graphite fire at Chernobyl provided an actual way that about 90 million curies of radioactive material could be efficiently spread around the countryside. Yes, the anti-nukes got their dream of a large scale nuclear disaster - which had been becoming more and more difficult to conjure up, given the fact that Three Mile Island showed that the uncovered fuel elements couldn't even melt through the reactor vessel.

But there was bad news for them also. There weren't any bodies on the streets. Aside from those who died on-site, mostly firemen who expired from burns with possibly complications from radiation, there is no sign of a cancer epidemic or any other chronic problems.

Oh, sorry, there's one. The governments involved are going broke (broker?) from the payments they are making to victims. Victims? Didn't I just say there weren't any victims? Yes, but I meant from the radiation. The victims as defined by the governments involved are those who were traumatized by fear of radiation or from the trauma of being evicted from their homes and forced into refugee camps.

Of the radionuclides escaping from the burning graphite reactor at Chernobyl, the one of most concern was cesium 137. A gamma emitter with a half-life of thirty years, this reactor product settled to Earth over much of Europe. Yes sir, it did. But nobody seemed to notice it settled right on top of soil that already contained naturally occurring radioisotopes such as U238, Th232, and K40. In a mistaken spirit of humanitarianism, the Soviet Army evacuated its citizens when the dose from the Earth exceeded 0.5 cGy (500 mrad) per year. [One of the purposes of this book is to show how some authorities - even nuclear officials - have no connection with reality and, indeed, make recommendations and rules that cause great harm. This example shows nationality is no barrier.]

They apparently didn't notice they were already sitting on "highly radioactive" dirt. Figure 5 shows the Chernobyl contamination relative to naturally occurring radiation. Is it any wonder that the "Project Team's Main Recommendations" included the following?

"Measures with less impact on traditional agriculture should be investigated; better public information is needed, particularly on doses and risks, and studies of the acceptability to people of living in contaminated areas." [Emphasis added.]

Table 11 – Chernobyl Cs 137 Burden in Various Areas vs. Natural Background

Range (Bq/m^2)
European Cs 137 contamination outside former USSR
20,000 to 23,000
Cs 137 contamination inside former USSR
40,000 to 5,000,000
Natural radionuclides in soil of above areas
177,000 to 6,500,000

Source: Table 2 in 1997 statement by U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) member Zbigniew Jaworowski
Table 11 gives another look at the Cs 137 "fallout" and the natural radionuclides in the top 10 cm (about four inches) of soil in several locations around Chernobyl. Note the range of natural soil radiation. Wouldn't you think that someone would have noticed a variation in the detrimental effects of natural radiation when some areas had thirty-six times the soil radioisotopes of others - if indeed there were any detrimental effects? Would you think one area would be known as Cancervania - because of regular affliction of the populace from radiation, while another area would go by Vitalia, because of superior health derived from a dearth of radiation exposure? But we don't see Europe having such disparities in cancer or other immune disorders on the basis of location, do we?

Well, actually we do: the health resorts are almost always located on springs with a high radon content.