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he nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986 will forever be remembered, but the world will soon have a reminder of the event as the zone for some reason (yet unexplained by scientists) is becoming more radioactive. The war taking place within Ukraine and in very close perimeters of the power plant is not helping either, but this is a factor that may not be under control.

“Chornobyl will never be a problem”

Under reactor 4 there is still nuclear fuel that is active and it will take around 20,000 years for it to deplete. The uranium is too radioactive for anyone to live in the city and since the incident, the European Union had created a shield around the reactor which should not allow for the radioactive particles to come out.

“Chernobyl officials presumed any criticality risk would fade when the massive New Safe Confinement (NSC) was slid over the Shelter in November 2016.”

“The €1.5 billion structure was meant to seal off the Shelter so it could be stabilized and eventually dismantled.”

However, many other parts around Chornobyl have also been affected due to prolonged exposure, some more than others, and many of them have not been contained as they were not presenting any major radioactive activity until now. Neil Hyatt, a nuclear chemist from the University of Sheffield mentioned that there is a possibility for the uranium fuel to reignite on its own.

Hyatt also offered a simple explanation of how this is possible, just like charcoal can reignite in a barbeque, so can nuclear materials that have once been ignited. He as well as a handful of nuclear chemists have mentioned previously the possibility of the uranium from Chornobyl reigniting, but the scientists from Ukraine that are responsible for managing the nuclear activity within the vicinity never really listened, until now.

Workers inside the New Safe Confinement area at Chornobyl, behind them, is the sealed reactor 4 in 2019 (Source: Handout)

Scientists from Ukraine have placed many sensors around reactor 4 that constantly monitor the level of radioactivity. Recently those sensors have detected a constant increase in the level of radioactivity. It seems that this radioactivity is coming from an unreachable chamber from underneath reactor 4 that has been blocked since the night of the explosion on the 26th of April, 1986.

What could be causing this?

The experts from Ukraine don’t really understand why this is happening although they do have a hypothesis. Water is used to start the fission process within nuclear materials, this makes the nuclear material release energy that within a nuclear reactor can be maintained under control, but in this instance, the experts are afraid they will not be able to control it.

Another hypothesis is that since reactor 4 has been completely shielded, no water from the rain was able to reach the nuclear fuel. “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.”

There may be another reason for this constant increase in radioactivity, what has been mentioned above are only hypotheses, maybe something totally different is occurring under reactor 4 or within the nuclear material left inside. This is something that definitely should ring some alarm bells in order to prepare for the worst sort of situation and hopefully the world’s smartest in the field of nuclear chemistry can come together to identify the problem and come up with a potential solution.

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