Radioactive waste in the basement of the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant is making its presence known. The increasing number of neutrons in that area indicates that nuclear reactions are occurring again, which in an extreme scenario could lead to an explosion.
Recently, there have been signs of nuclear reactions between particles of uranium fuel in the inaccessible basement of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The increasing number of neutrons observed may indicate that fission reactions are occurring in that area. Scientists inspecting the reactor have recently observed a steady increase in the number of these particles in a room called 305/2.
The radioactive waste is smoldering “like embers on a barbecue”. — Neil Hyatt, professor of nuclear materials science at the University of Sheffield, explains in an interview with Science magazine.
According to experts, it is likely that the waste will be fully ignited, which could then lead to another explosion.
There is a lot of uncertainty here,” points out Maxim Saveliev, a scientist from the Ukrainian Institute of Nuclear Power Plant Safety Problems. — The risk of repetition of events cannot be ruled out,” he adds.
A possible explosion, however, would not be as dangerous as it was in 1986 when the accident took the lives of 50 people and many thousands died of radiation-related illnesses. Two years ago, the plant’s reactor was covered by a concrete sarcophagus, called the New Safe Shell, which cost $1.8 billion to build.
It was also supposed to limit the number of neutrons appearing in that area, as “Science” points out. Although most of the areas covered by the sarcophagus succeeded in doing so, Room 305/2 has seen an increase in neutron levels over the past few years. According to Savaliev, such a phenomenon may continue for several more years and then disappear on its own.
“Utrzymanie się tendencji wzrostowej w kwestii neutronów będzie oznaczało konieczność interwencji naukowców” — podkreśla Savaliev.
The Ukrainian authorities want to soon present a plan to deal with the situation and develop methods to clean the power plant of radioactive waste.