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The Chernobyl Power Complex, lying about 130 km north of Kiev, Ukraine, and about 20 km south of the border with Belarus, consisted of four nuclear reactors of the RBMK-1000 design (see information page on RBMK Reactors).
There are other components that contribute to the overall power coefficient of reactivity, but the void coefficient is the dominant one in RBMK reactors.
The void coefficient depends on the composition of the core – a new RBMK core will have a negative void coefficient.
It was a direct consequence of Cold War isolation and the resulting lack of any safety culture.
The accident destroyed the Chernobyl 4 reactor, killing 30 operators and firemen within three months and several further deaths later.
The Chernobyl disaster was a unique event and the only accident in the history of commercial nuclear power where radiation-related fatalities occurred.
The design of the reactor is unique and in that respect the accident is thus of little relevance to the rest of the nuclear industry outside the then Eastern Bloc.Nineteen more workers subsequently died between 19, but their deaths cannot necessarily be attributed to radiation exposure.Nobody offsite suffered from acute radiation effects although a significant, but uncertain, fraction of the thyroid cancers diagnosed since the accident in patients who were children at the time are likely to be due to intake of radioactive iodine fallout.Water pumped to the bottom of the fuel channels boils as it progresses up the pressure tubes, producing steam which feeds two 500 MWe turbines.The water acts as a coolant and also provides the steam used to drive the turbines.The RBMK-1000 is a Soviet-designed and built graphite moderated pressure tube type reactor, using slightly enriched (2% U-235) uranium dioxide fuel.It is a boiling light water reactor, with two loops feeding steam directly to the turbines, without an intervening heat exchanger.One of the most important characteristics of the RBMK reactor is that it can possess a 'positive void coefficient', where an increase in steam bubbles ('voids') is accompanied by an increase in core reactivity (see information page on RBMK Reactors).As steam production in the fuel channels increases, the neutrons that would have been absorbed by the denser water now produce increased fission in the fuel.Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) was originally diagnosed in 237 people onsite and involved with the clean-up and it was later confirmed in 134 cases.Of these, 28 people died as a result of ARS within a few weeks of the accident.