In DepthNuclear Legacy

Fission reactions are smoldering again at Chernobyl

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Science  14 May 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6543, pp. 670
DOI: 10.1126/science.372.6543.670

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Summary

Thirty-five years after the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded in the world's worst nuclear accident, fission reactions are smoldering again in uranium fuel masses buried deep inside a mangled reactor hall. Sensors are tracking a rising number of neutrons, a signal of fission, streaming from one inaccessible room. The neutron counts are rising slowly, suggesting managers still have a few years to figure out how to stifle the reactions. There's no chance of a repeat of 1986, when an explosion and fire sent a radioactive cloud over Europe. A runaway fission reaction in a fuel mass could sputter out after heat from fission boils off any water it contains. But even a contained flare-up could bring down parts of the rickety concrete and steel "sarcophagus" that entombs the ruined reactor.

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