A Project Researching Nuclear Science, Radioactivity and the Effects of Contamination.
Most of us are aware of some of the devastation caused as a result of Nuclear Science. The bombings of Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945 and Nagasaki on the 9th August in the same year.
The Three Mile Island accident in April 1979 in Pennsylvania.
And the explosion of reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl power plant just 3 kilo metres away from the small town of Pripyat in Ukraine on the 26th April 1986.
There are wide concerns that the latest Nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi site in Japan (March 2011), brought on by the Earthquake and tsunami, could now be on a par with Three mile Island, just 2 levels below the Chernobyl disaster.
It should be noted perhaps that certain amounts of radiation isn't as deadly as we are led to believe. A good example is Radiotherapy, which is used to treat and occasionally cure some Cancer sufferers.
Microwave ovens do in fact produce a small amount of radioactivity, however it's non ionizing, therefore there is no risk of it causing cancer.
The idea behind this research is to eventually focus on Chernobyl, the effects of the event and it's refugees.
First though a brief history of Nuclear science; the splitting of the atom, the discovery of which I feel is a good place to start.
Contrary to common belief, the Atom was not split on 1942 by Albert Einstein. It was in fact split in the Berlin Laboratory of Otto Hahn in 1938, with his student Fritz Strassman and friend Lise Meitner, Otto Hahn experimented with Uranium by adding Neutrons and detected Barium. Eventually convinced by Lise Meitner's suggestion that Uranium nucleus had been broken by the neutrons, this was in effect emitting radioactive energy.
When the neutron and the atom collide the atom splits, releasing more neutrons from the centre of the atom. If there are enough atoms splitting at one time, it is possible to produce an almost instantaneous chain reaction via explosion.
They were to publish papers of their results in 1939 naming the process "fission", resulting in Hahn being awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1944.
However, although discovering a new source to generate clean energy, without the use of fossil fuels was a great breakthrough in science, there was the obvious threat that this could also be used to build bombs that would have devastating consequences.
They didn't have the necessary reputation at the time to warn of the potential danger to the world. It wasn't until the news reached the ears of other Scientists and eventually the more famous German born Albert Einstein agreed that the discovery would be lethal in Nazi hands, and so wrote a letter to Theodore Roosevelt, the then US President, warning of the potentially catastrophic possibilities.
Although the idea was to keep the discovery away from Nazi hands, much to the regret of Einstein, the Americans, deemed it acceptable to use the findings to build their own Uranium and Plutonium bombs. The result was the 1945 bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan, effectively ending World War II. This of course is debatable, as some believe the true closure to World war two wasn't until the end of the Cold war which saw the disestabliement of the Soviet Union, in 1989/90.
Ironic really that the Nazis war was to be lost as a result of German science.
In 1966 Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassman received the Enrico Fermi Prize from the Atomic Energy Commission, the first time ever this was awarded to a non American.
In October, 1966 Lise Meitner received the Nobel Prize for her contribution to nuclear and molecular physics, she died in July 1968 and lays to rest in Bramley, Hampshire.
Otto Hahn also died the same year in Göttingen, Germany aged 89.
Both of them can be considered the founders of the Atomic age.
In order to explain how a Nuclear power station works, here is a brief description of how a chain reaction is achieved in order to produce an energy supply.
I will only touch on the basics, as to go in to detail would result in a project in its self.
A chain reaction is a sequence of events where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. In a chain reaction, positive feedback leads to a self-amplifying chain of events.
A single fission event can yield over 200 million times the energy of the neutron which triggered it.
The usable energy from this reaction is extracted and used to heat water which in turn produces steam. Very much like a conventional fossil fuelled power station, the steam controls a turbine, thus making it possible to create electricity.
A cooling system removes heat from the reactor core and transports it to another area of the power plant, where the thermal energy can be harnessed to produce electricity. The hot coolant is then used as a heat source for a boiler, and the pressurized steam from that boiler will power one or more steam turbines.
The first power station to produce electricity for experimental purposes opened in 1954 in Obninsk, about 100 Kms from Moscow. For 10 years it was the only Nuclear power station in the Soviet Union. This plant ceased operating in 2002.
The worlds first Nuclear power station to produce electricity in commercial quantities was opened in Sellafield in the north of England in 1956. The power station continued to provide electricity for 47 years until its closure in 2003. The four towers were famously demolished by controlled explosion in September 2007.
Radiation in physics describes any process in which energy emitted by one body travels through a medium or through space, ultimately to be absorbed by another body. Non-physicists often associate the word with ionizing radiation (e.g., as occurring in nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, and radioactive substances), but it can also refer to electromagnetic radiation such as Radio waves, infrared light, visible light and ultraviolet light, which can also be ionizing radiation. What makes it radiation is that the energy radiates (i.e., it travels outward in straight lines in all directions) from the source. This geometry naturally leads to a system of measurements and physical units that are equally applicable to all types of radiation.
Non-ionizing radiation, by contrast, refers to any type of radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum to ionize atoms or molecules. Most especially, it refers to the lower energy forms of electromagnetic radiation, radio waves, microwaves infrared and visual light. The effects of these forms of radiation on living tissue have only recently been studied. Instead of producing charged ions when passing through matter, the electromagnetic radiation has sufficient energy only for excitation, the movement of an electron to a higher energy state. Nevertheless, different biological effects are observed for different types of non-ionizing radiation.
Radiation and Cancer
It is commonly stated that “any radiation dose, no matter how small, can cause cancer.” The basis for that statement is the linear- no threshold theory (LNT)–which might more appropriately be called “linear-no threshold hypothesis”—of radiation carcino- genesis. According to LNT, if a 1 Gy (100 rad) dose gives a cancer risk R, the risk from a dose of 0.01 Gy (1 rad) is R/100, the risk from 0.00001 Gy (1 millirad) is R/100,000, and so on. Thus the cancer risk is not zero regardless of how small the dose.
However, over the past several years, many radiation health scientists have come to regard risk estimates in the low-dose region based on LNT as exaggerated or completely negligible. For example, the 6,000-member Health Physics Society, the principal organization for radiation protection scientists, issued a position paper1 stating: “Below 10 rad...risks of health effects are either too small to be observed or are nonexistent.” A similar position statement was issued by the American Nuclear Society. When the Health Physics Society Newsletter asked for submission of comments on validity of LNT, there were about 20 negative comments submitted and only a single comment supportive of LNT. In a worldwide poll conducted by the principal on-line discussion group of radiation protection professionals (RADSAFE), the vote was 118 to 12 against LNT. A 2001 Report by the French Academy of Medicine concluded that LNT is “without any scientific validity,” and an elaborate joint study by the French Academy of Medicine and the French Academy of Sciences2 strongly condemned the use of LNT.
The rest of this report can be viewed as a pdf download here ... Linear No-Threshold Thoery
Chernobyls Nuclear Power plant
In the 1970s construction of the Chernobyl's nuclear power station commenced, along with the city of Pripyat which was to house the workers of the plant and their families.
It was known as the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station in soviet times, until the Cold War Disestablished the Union in 1991.
It was the first Nuclear plant on Ukrainian soil, and the third in the Soviet Union. 110 Kms from Kiev, 18 Kms from the city of Chernobyl and just 16 Kms from the border of Belarus.
The first reactor (number 1) was commissioned in 1977 followed by 3 more in 1978, 1981 and finally reactor number 4 in 1983. Each of the reactors were capable of producing 1000 megawatts of electrical power.
The almost completed reactor number 5 (scheduled start in the Autumn of 1986) and planned reactor 6 were pulled from construction after the 1986 accident in number 4.
Unique to the Soviet Union, the Chernobyl plant had been designed and constructed using RBMK technology (reaktor bolshoy moshchnosti kanalniy) or (High Power Channel Type Reactor). There are at least 12 such plants in operation in Russia and Lithuania today.
Criticised by most scientists outside the Soviet Union, the Chernobyl station was considered a model plant at the time, hence the plans to extend it and the proposed building of several more RBMK sites. However, Western Nuclear experts question this type of reactor mainly because it lacks adequate structural containment and it requires large amounts of combustible graphite within its core.
Within Ukraine, many villages and towns were exposed to the radiation from the Chernobyl site, some so much so that an evacuation procedure had to be put into place. Sadly though, the opinion is that much of the evacuation occurred too late for some people, resulting in poor health and deaths.
After the accident, there were as many as 130 thousand people evacuated from 76 settlements within a 30Km radius of the Chernobyl site. It is recorded that as many as 2000 villages were demolished as a result of contamination. Pripyat is perhaps the most well known of towns to have been contaminated, and subsequently evacuated. Some families have been more fortunate than the Pripyat community, and have been able to go back home.
The Republic of Belarus which lies north of Ukraine has just under 10 million inhabitants, 2 million of which reside in the Capital, Minsk. Others are scattered over five other cities, better known as Voblasts (administrative centres), within the Country.
Belarus was the most severely affected Country by the Chernobyl Nuclear accident, resulting in 23 percent of its land being contaminated, effectively depriving 22 percent of its agricultural land and 21 percent of its forests.
Gomel, one of the six administrative centres, has the highest levels of radioactivity, as well as a decidedly noticeable fall in population along with life expectancy, particularly since 1996.
The official Chernobyl committee, which is responsible for dealing with the consequences of the disaster, resides in the Capital, Minsk. Here, it has been estimated that the total cost of the accident at Chernobyl has reached 235 billion US dollars. Much of this has gone towards the clean up operation, compensation and rebuilding or relocating of hundreds of thousands of families.
It should be noted that this estimate is 60 times greater than the annual national budget.
Prypiat - The Abandoned City
Pripyat is the purpose built city for the workers of the power plant and their families, lying just 3 Kms from Chernobyl. It took as long as 36 hours after the nuclear accident for the people of Pripyat to be evacuated from their homes. Little was known at the time of how affected they would be by the invisible radioactive cloud that was to contaminate the city. Believing that they would return soon, all 45 thousand residents boarded buses to take them away to safety. Most people at the time would have been engaging in going about their daily routines, as would anyone on a cheerful spring day.
School class rooms were abandoned, meals interrupted, Hospitals vacated, shoppers distracted from the shelves, vehicles left where they were and even the firing up of a fun fair had to be "postponed". Everyone assumed they would be able to resume their lives in the not too distant future.
However, the city was later deemed too dangerously contaminated to be inhabited ever again, resulting in what is probably now the most infamous ghost town in the world. Left exactly as it was, just a little overgrown with trees and plants which can, unlike humans, thrive in radioactive conditions, Pripyat is now a nature reserve where wild life can enjoy an undisturbed existence without the fear of human contact.
The Last Day of Pripyat
Thanks to Laura on flickr
Children of Chernobyl
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Although this is a nice piece of documentary film making with some stunning, yet harrowing images and stories, I do however feel it is important to watch this documentary with a very open mind. Paul Lorenzini's article, Chernobyl Myths, originaly published in the American Spectator, does suggest that not only this short film but also widely suggested concerns are perhaps a bit presumptuous and factually wrong.
Please note though, that some of the information in Paul Lorenzinis article is also not quite correct. He refers to the Chernobyl's Children's project as a New York based charity, but it is in fact based in Cork, Ireland, directed by Adi Roche. They do have a New York office however.
Чорнобиль in Ukrainian
Чернобыль in Russian
Chomyl - Black
Byllia - Grass, blades, stalks
Literal translation - Wormwood