Sunday, May 9, 2021
Aluminum Company of America installation, Port Lavaca, Texas
England is experiencing its coldest May since record keeping began in 1659, during the Maunder Minimum.
Snow started falling on Tuesday, May 4, and was deep enough by Wednesday to allow the Lake District Ski Club to open its slopes. Members were “giddy” at the unusual sight of snow-covered mountains in May, according to club president Mike Sweeney. “I haven’t seen snow at this time of year before,” he said.
Saturday, May 8, 2021
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, Anatolii Doroshenko of the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Kyiv, Ukraine, reported last week during discussions about dismantling the reactor. “There are many uncertainties,” says ISPNPP’s Maxim Saveliev. “But we can’t rule out the possibility of [an] accident.” The neutron counts are rising slowly, Saveliev says, suggesting managers still have a few years to figure out how to stifle the threat.
When part of the Unit Four reactor’s core melted down on 26 April 1986, uranium fuel rods, their zirconium cladding, graphite control rods, and sand dumped on the core to try to extinguish the fire melted together into a lava. It flowed into the reactor hall’s basement rooms and hardened into formations called fuel-containing materials (FCMs), which are laden with about 170 tons of irradiated uranium—95% of the original fuel.
The threat can’t be ignored. As water continues to recede, the fear is that “the fission reaction accelerates exponentially,” Hyatt says, leading to “an uncontrolled release of nuclear energy.” There’s no chance of a repeat of 1986, when the explosion and fire sent a radioactive cloud over Europe. A runaway fission reaction in an FCM could sputter out after heat from fission boils off the remaining water. Still, Saveliev notes, although any explosive reaction would be contained, it could threaten to bring down unstable parts of the rickety Shelter, filling the NSC with radioactive dust.