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April 26, 2005

April the Twenty-sixth

This day in history:

April 26, 1986

After a suspenseful build up, Geraldo Rivera opened a hidden room that once belonged to gangster Al Capone on national TV. In results reflective of his talent as a “journalist” the vault turns out to be completely empty.

April 26, 1986

Just before a regularly scheduled shut-down, the crew at Russia's Chernobyl-4 nuclear reactor began a test to see how long the turbines would spin and continue to supply power after the main electrical power supply was shut off. As the flow of water used to cool the reactor diminished, power output increased. When the operator tried to shut down the reactor it caused a power surge.

The plutonium rods used to fuel the reactor ruptured and the resulting explosion of steam lifted off the cover plate of the reactor, releasing radioactive matter into the atmosphere.

A second explosion threw out fragments of burning fuel and graphite from the core and allowed air to rush in, causing the graphite moderator to burst into flames. The graphite burned for nine days, causing the main release of radioactivity into the environment. A total of about 12 x 1018 Bq of radioactivity was released.

Some 5000 tonnes of boron, dolomite, sand, clay and lead were dropped on to the burning core by helicopter in an effort to extinguish the blaze and limit the release of radioactive particles.

It is estimated that all of the xenon gas, about half of the iodine and caesium, and at least 5% of the remaining radioactive material in the Chernobyl-4 reactor core was released in the accident. Most of the released material was deposited close by as dust and debris , but the lighter material was carried by wind over the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and to some extent over Scandinavia and Europe.

The main casualties were among the firefighters, including those who attended the initial small fires on the roof of the turbine building. All these were put out in a few hours.

The accident destroyed the Chernobyl-4 reactor and killed 30 people, mostly firefighters, including 28 from radiation exposure. Another 209 people were treated for acute radiation poisoning and among those, 134 cases were confirmed, fortunately all of them recovered. While nobody not at the reactor suffered from any acute radiation effects, large areas of Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and beyond were contaminated to one degree or another.

Posted by Danny Carlton at April 26, 2005 10:46 AM

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