Chernobyl: The Only Nuclear Accident We Care About

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This video is a summary of the way the RBMK reactor in Chernobyl worked, the fatal flaw that caused it to explode as well as short- and long-term consequences and actions taken by the local and federal soviet government in response to the accident. I then give an overview over the most commonly cited de*th toll numbers as well as where they come from before concluding with comparing the dangers of nuclear energy compared to other forms of energy creation.

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Timestamps:
0:00 Intro
1:19 How an RBMK reactor works
4:46 How an RBMK reactor fails
12:25 Immediate aftermath
20:59 Long term Problems
26:19 Death toll
31:32 Why we care
33:46 Conclusion

Transcript:
On Saturday the 26th of April in 1986 at 01:23 am, an explosion rocked the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin power plant in Pripyat, a few seconds later there was a second larger explosion which among other things destroyed the reactor building and set the roof on fire. This incident caused massive environmental damage and bled the soviet state dry because of the costly measures they had to take to prevent the accident from becoming even worse.
Of course we named this incident after the city which was nearby, Chernobyl. It was the greatest single nuclear accident in history and is the most obvious example of why nuclear power is dangerous, so it is an argument against nuclear power, made by many people. The deaths caused by the accident vary from 31 to 93 thousand.
In this video I will explain how the reactor in Pripyat worked, how it failed, the immediate aftermath, the long-term problems and eventually we will look at the death toll and determine how dangerous nuclear power really is as well as why we talk about this accident so much more than the similar events which happened in western countries.
The Vladimir Lenin power plant was made up of 4 reactors appropriately called reactors one, two, three and four. The reactors in the plant were RBMK reactors which translates to “high-power channel-type reactor”. The special thing about this reactor type was that it had no steel pressure vessels like other reactors.
An RBMK reactor makes electricity by spinning a turbine. For that you need steam. Other power plants make steam by burning coal or oil but in a nuclear power plant you use uranium. Uranium sends out neutrons which then hit another uranium atom and split it into other atoms, this releases heat and more neutrons, keeping the reaction going.
The neutrons themselves move too quickly to actually hit an atom so you slow them down using water and graphite. That water then heats up it goes to drive the turbine. Of course the water is radioactive, since it comes right from the core, so you don’t actually use this water for the turbine but instead you send it through a cooling loop.
That means it cools down and heats a completely separate water loop which then becomes steam and turns the turbine. This way the radioactive water is in a closed loop so it can’t leave the reactor and irradiate things.
The second loop gets it’s cooling water from the nearby pond which is appropriately named cooling pond and once it is steam it is just vented into the atmosphere. The water is not only convenient for moving away the heat but it is also useful because it slows down the speed at which the reaction is happening.
If for some reason the water would turn into steam the reactivity would go way up, so it’s essential that the hot water is moved to the heat exchanger before it becomes steam. In itself the reactor would quickly turn into a nuclear bomb because every split atom releases two or three neutrons which means exponential growth and a lot of energy being released.
To make sure it won’t explode you use control rods which slow down the reaction. In case of an emergency there is a button called AZ-5 which immediately pushes the rods into the core to shut it down. There is one more thing you need to know before we get into the accident. And that is that one of the atoms which is produced when a uranium atom is split is xenon.
And what usually happens is that this xenon is hit by a neutron and burns off. But if you don’t run the reactor on full power then there may not be enough neutrons to burn off the xenon so it would accumulate. The problem with that is that eventually the xenon can be so numerous that it chokes out the reaction by absorbing all neutrons and the reactor power drops to zero.
The RBMK reactor was seen as very safe because it doesn’t use high pressure vessels or enriched uranium. This means that even if there are no control rods in the reactor, and no cooling water, it can not explode.
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