The Chernoblyl Nuclear Plant Disaster Essay

1585 words - 6 pages

In the early morning of April 26th, 1986, two explosions tore through the Chernobyl nuclear power plant leaving behind nothing but rubble, nuclear fallout, and the infamy of what will probably long be called the worst nuclear disaster in history (World Nuclear Association, 2013). The cities of Chernobyl and Pripyat remain ghost towns due to extremely high levels of radiation still present 28 years after the explosion. The undeniable environmental effects of the blast couple with the severe health effects to earn the Chernobyl explosion its infamy.
The Chernobyl power plant was built to satisfy a constant need for energy. The power plant was created to supply nearby cities—namely Pripyat and Chernobyl—with energy. Nuclear energy was a new alternative energy source that lightened the dependency on coal power plants.
Nuclear reactors have many components. The reactor itself uses uranium-235 as fuel. Raw uranium ore contains only about 0.7% uranium-235 and must be enriched until it consists of about 5% uranium-235. The majority of uranium ore is uranium-238 which has a much longer half-life than uranium-235. The enriched uranium is then formed into pellets and placed into zirconium rods which are then assembled into bundles. These are called fuel rods and they are barraged with neutrons and then the uranium-235 turns into uranium-236—an extremely unstable atom—and shortly thereafter it splits into isotopes of krypton and barium. When the uranium splits it expels three neutrons which collide with other uranium atoms and in this fashion a chain reaction occurs once the reaction reaches critical mass. Critical mass is the point at which a chain reaction can be sustained without external interference. To control the nuclear reaction, control rods can be lowered into the reactor to absorb neutrons. These rods are often made of boron, hafnium, or silver-cadmium alloys. These were chosen to act as control rods because they can absorb neutrons and remain stable. As the reaction is exposed to control rods, neutrons are absorbed which slows and eventually stops the chain reaction. To keep the reactors from overheating, coolant—normally water—is poured onto the reactor. This heated water then turns to steam which is used to spin a turbine and generate electricity which can be used by the public (World Nuclear Association, n.d., “How a nuclear reactor makes electricity?”).
On the fateful April morning of the explosion, a test was taking place in reactor number four. The men in the control room were testing how the reactors would react when the power grid went down. The plant had three backup generators which took about 75 seconds to reach full output. The test was conducted to find out if the energy produced from the plant could be used to power itself for the short time to bridge the gap between energy sources. In the test that was to be conducted the power of the reactor was to be lowered to 700 Megawatts (MW); less than one fourth of the normal 3200 MW....

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