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Famous Photo of Chernobyl's Most Radioactive Material Was a Selfie (atlasobscura.com)
252 points by hberg on Apr 14, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments



There's an amazing documentary about this that contains a lot of footage of the actual incident and cleanup called the "Battle of Chernobyl".

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-battle-of-chernobyl/

Things that still haunt me: the helicopter pilots who put the initial fires out flew in 120-180C temperatures and pretty much all died of radiation. And the sequence that starts about here:

https://youtu.be/ezohqY-vg4s?t=3430

Where they are picking up radioactive materials by hand and throwing it off the roof next to the reactor because the robots they were trying to use all break down. Even 1 hour of exposure was deadly so they rotated through shifts, and the guys who did it were called "Bio Robots"


One of the most impressive documentaries I've ever seen is "Chernobyl 3828"[1]. It is about the 3828 "liquidators" (cleanup crew) - euphemistically called the "bio robots" - that had to clean up the worst section of roof above the reactor. Maximum allowed dose was two minutes exposure to that section the roof.

It has some of the same footage as the sequence in your link to t=3430, but there is a key difference: Chernobyl 3828 is about the people. The psychology of the cleanup was complicated. Some people ran while others faced the danger and accepted a "red badge of courage" because if they didn't, someone else would have to go in their place.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfDa8tR25dk


My uncle was a driver in Chernobyl cleanup works. There was no question asked if he agreed or not, the soldiers simply came in the middle of a night, told him to pack things, took him having no clue what's going on or where he's going and left a wife with two young children in panic. Only the next day his wife received a message that he's ok and "somewhere in Ukraine". Thanks to his driver's profession, he avoided going inside the reactor building, what probably saved his health/life. Also, there was no official announcement of disaster until after few days later.


I'm curious, what was your father's doing before then? Surely if "they" needed drivers, they wouldn't need to go all the way to another region to get them. You say being a driver saved his life, but it could be that it actually was what put him in harm's way...?

Or did they have lists of "expendables" for such emergencies, which would have been sorted by profession directly on-situ? Surely it wasn't completely random...

EDIT: hey downvoters, these are simple questions that help paint a better picture.


It was my uncle, not father. There's no way to know for fact as everything was done in secrecy and many archives were destroyed or are still locked in Russia, but I guess that the list of "expendables" were present for such cases. Some facts that highlights suspicion: 1) he was young (19-20 yo) and recently back from mandatory service in army, so still high in reserve list 2) he was not a member of Communist party, nor had any influential relatives 3) he was working as a truck driver and did not have any other qualifications, so easily replaceable. The fact that he had young children probably didn't bother anybody or made through bureaucratic apparatus in time. According to various sources, few to several thousands of Lithuanians were taken to Chernobyl during few years time (the exact numbers probably will never be known, as most other numbers regarding this disaster) and many of them were not so lucky and had to work inside/near the reactor building itself, so it's hard to speculate what could have been. Though the fact that he was taken with such haste, only few hours after the meltdown, might suggest that they had an emergency for drivers.

"they wouldn't need to go all the way to another region to get them"

It was a common practice for Soviets to get people from far regions to do dirty jobs, because it's easier to hide nasty deeds this way and prevent rumors from spreading. As an example, most of Lithuanians served in far regions of Siberia while at the same time most of soldiers stationed here were from Mongolia and the like.


They did go to other regions, probably because there weren't enough expendable human bodies in Ukraine alone. Altogether at least 600 000 people were involved in the cleanup (I've also seen numbers as high as 1 million.)[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_liquidators#Exposure...


Not sure if it's a factor, but it's an age old technique to get people from far away regions to do the dirty work. The locals might understand or have opinions - those from far away have little prior knowledge.


> have opinions

Not much of an issue in the Soviet Union, though.


I met one on a commuter train in Belarus in early 1990s. A pale shell of a human being, crumbling from cancer. Wish I could tell you he still had spirits high despite imminent death but he didn't. Pretty sure he's not even counted on Wikipedia in the accident death toll.



Wow, the differences in the number of victims from different sources are immense:

"- According to Vyacheslav Grishin of the Chernobyl Union, the main organization of liquidators, "25,000 of the Russian liquidators are dead and 70,000 disabled, about the same in Ukraine, and 10,000 dead in Belarus and 25,000 disabled", which makes a total of 60,000 dead (10% of the 600 000, liquidators) and 165,000 disabled.[6]

- A UNSCEAR report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008.[citation needed]

- Estimates of the number of deaths potentially resulting from the accident vary enormously: the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest it could reach 4,000"

According to the WHO report from 2006 (which is stupidly in the form that can be neither searched nor copy-pasted, I guess intentionally!) 600,000 persons did receive the official certificates that they worked as the liquidators there: around 200,000 people worked during the first two years, others afterwards. See page 2.

http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/chernobyl/who_chernoby...

The same report on page 107:

"The RNMDR data indicate that 4.6% of the Russian emergency workers fatalities that occurred during the 12 years following the accident can be attributed to radiation-induced diseases."


About the un-searchable pdf: you can use OCRfeeder to fairly easily OCR pdfs that use such obfuscation techniques. It processes around ten pages per minute for me, so best get a cup of tea. Unfortunately uploading an OCRed copy would probably violate the WHO's copyright :(


This is very dense... wow.


That's a good documentary. Haven't seen it before.

I remembered distinctly when it happened, well when it was anounced on TV on evening news. It was really mentioned in passing -- oh by the way, there was incident at Chernobyl, a quick flash or some white smoke coming out in the distance and then ... sports.

My dad knew it was something more than that and said something like "Oh shit, this could be really bad". People have learned when they published something as small in the news, they would multiply by some factor to get an idea how bad it really was.

Then something really bizare happened. Refuges had started to stream into different cities. And for some strange reason, they were shunned. Others somehow thought these survivors were contaminated, cursed, builty or what have you. So instead of being embraced and helped, they found themselves trying to hide who they are and where they came from.


"Then something really bizare happened. Refuges had started to stream into different cities. And for some strange reason, they were shunned. Others somehow thought these survivors were contaminated, cursed, builty or what have you. So instead of being embraced and helped, they found themselves trying to hide who they are and where they came from."

There is an excellent book that tackles this very subject named "All that is Solid Melts Into Air" by Darragh McKeon. I highly recommend the book and it's not too long - 200 pages give or take.

It chronicles a bit of the disaster as well as the lives of some people that live near it as well as rescue workers called in to respond to it.


I wonder if the "shunning" might have been caused by civil defence training which might have taught people to avoid people from fall-out contaminated areas unless they had been decontaminated?

Obviously not directly applicable but in a crisis it might be the kind of mistake people would make.


Thanks for the suggestion. I ordered the book from Amazon.


Not so bizarre unfortunately. The hibakusha, the survivors of the nuclear bombings in Japan, still suffer discrimination, as do their children. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hibakusha#Discrimination


Considering from the outside it just looks like people shovelling rocks, that's one of the more harrowing clips I've ever seen.....

Thanks for that!


There seems to be something wrong with this documentary - or else my understanding of physics is flawed. It claims that had the corium dropped into the subbasement water, it would have produced a multi-megaton nuclear explosion, and even illustrated the point with film footage of a classic mushroom cloud. That can't possibly be correct, can it? Perhaps improved neutron moderation would lead to another ugly steam explosion... but how do you get a full-scale nuclear detonation out of an unsorted pile of material?

Either I'm about to get schooled on physics or I pretty much can't trust anything said in this documentary (cool film footage notwithstanding).


There's also a good documentary about the lead up to various nuclear power issues in the Adam Curtis documentary 'A Is For Atom' :

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandora's_Box_%28TV_series%29#...


"The shutter speed was probably a little slower than for the other photos in order for him to get into position, which explains why he seems to be moving and why the glow from his flashlight looks like a lightning flash."

WHAT? the timer of the shutter has nothing to do with the the actual shutter speed. Using a timer for an old skool selfie has no relationship to blurriness in the exposure caused by too slow of a shutter speed.


If you don't have a timer, the easiest way to take a self portrait is pop the camera on a tripod and open the shutter for the longest exposure your camera can handle. Then, you move really fast as you get into position and then stand still for the remainder of the exposure.

You'll look a little bit transparent and be surrounded by fainter motion blur from when you were getting into position. I've done exactly this on moonlit nights, and the result looks completely consistent with the photo in the article. You also get ghostly duplicates if you hesitate as you get into position.

Could the shutter speed was an accident and the subject happened to pause enough to show up visibly on the image- much like the first photographed human, who was getting his shoe shined: http://mashable.com/2014/11/05/first-photograph-of-a-human/

If it's not a selfie, it's an extraordinarily lucky accident that there's a recognizable human in the photo.

ed: it's possible it was just really dark, and all the photos were exposed for that long. Someone wanted a picture of Korneyev, and he moved during the exposure. But the combination of "blurry person" and "crisp person" makes me lean towards the selfie hypothesis. Someone trying and failing to stand still won't wave a flashlight around. Someone rushing to get into a selfie shot might.


the first photographed human, who was getting his shoe shined

Of course, it actually contains two humans -- the man getting his shoes shined, and the one doing the shining. Somehow it's always bothered me that the shoe-shiner hasn't gotten equal credit. Arguably, he was actually first, since it looks like he's a bit closer to the camera.


Ok so if it's such a archaic camera that lacks a timer feature, you think it would feature configuration 2nd curtain flash setting?

A dumb camera would fire the flash immediately upon shutter click. The guy would not be able to to stand in front of the camera to allow the flash to bounce off his body


Unless he does not have a timer and instead reduced aperature dramatically (high f/stop) to reduce light, then increased exposure time dramatically.

The result would be a "properly exposed" shot for anything except what was moving during the shot, which would presumably be him running so he could stand still and be exposed during the already running exposure.


I used to get this effect in the 80's with an Olympus OM-1 by setting exposure to automatic with aperture at F16 with strobe flash. In low light, the shutter would open for (say) 1 second, in the middle of which the strobe would flash for a 1000th of a second. The result is relatively crisp subject with a darker ghost. Timer made no difference. For a while, you'd see the effect in commercial photography.

I would imagine that someone working near the elephant's foot would be moving very fast.


If the shutter was open long enough for him to walk around the camera, it would be one giant blur, not spots of blurriness, with two distinct humanoids in the frame.

This article is filled with inaccuracies and/or guesses (as other HN'ers are pointing out in other comments).

For example, it's increadibly unlikely the photographer of this image is still alive. Standing that close to that much radiation for long enough to setup a camera, walk around it and putz around for a while... I don't buy it. Majority of the workers involved in the containment died shortly afterwards, or developed terrible ailments due to extreme radiation exposure, leading to early death.


The photo was taken 10 years after the initial meltdown and photographer is alive. When the meltdown first happened, anyone that close would be dead under 2 minutes. The radiation figures are in the article.

If were to take a 10 second photo, 4 seconds in one spot, 1 second moving and another 5 seconds in another spot I wouldn't be a full blur. The part of me moving only accounts for 1/10 of the entire exposure and the places where I stood still would be much brighter. I can exaggerate this by turning off my flash light when I was moving.


This article[1] seems to believe it was multiple workers who took this photograph (and this source is a bit more credible imho), and notes it's still deadly to be in close proximity for more than 2 minutes.

Your explanation still doesn't explain the lack of motion blur walking over to the spot, although we see the flashlight(s) blur. There also appears to be two distinct flashlight blurs.

[1] http://nautil.us/blog/chernobyls-hot-mess-the-elephants-foot...


You're right in that we don't know how the photo was taken but a long photo exposure doesn't necessarily mean you will see his trail. My explanation still stands a pure guess of how that photo could have been taken. Let me explain more:

There is only so much range a piece of film can achieve. I don't know how much you know about photos but exposure and light are usually discussed on a log(base 2) scale. Each exposure "unit" called a "stop" equates to doubling or halving the amount of light. So a 4 second exposure is 1 stop darker than an 8s one because it lets in half the light.

Assuming there are no other light sources we can assume the entirety of the exposure came from the flash light. There is a shadow behind and above the elephants foot which tells us the elephants foot was illuminated by a light below the camera. Assuming the guy had the camera at almost eye level, shines the flashlight at waste level could produce this kind of shadow.

Now let's say the guy turns the flashlight off walks over to where he is in the photo and starts moving the flash light more, shift position and does it again. You will not see him walk to the spot in the photo even if the room was not completely dark.

If he took a 60 second photo, he set the exposure for 30ish seconds of light from flash light and not from ambient light. This means the ambient light reflecting off the guy while he walked probably exposed a trail that is over 10 stops below what the light from the flash light did. In good conditions your average color negative film has about 7 stops of dynamic range or +3 from middle tones before turning completely white and -3 from going to complete black. It's not hard to set up a photo where you don't register because you're trail exposes below the range of the film. Many people do these kinds of photos and they are called "lightpainting".

This is very commonly done in landscapes where certain features of landscapes like trees and rocks are painted. You don't see the people walking around because they turn their lights off when they do it. They do produce walking smears but they account for such a small proportion of the overall exposure they don't show up in the final photo. I believe this what these guys do and notice no people in their photos:

http://www.lightmark.de/overview.html

However they might compositing images. Here is another example:

http://cache3.asset-cache.net/gc/554997063-glowing-digital-m...

I've personally done photos like that in a single long exposure. I'm sure the photos I linked have lots of photoshop to get them perfect to get them perfect the principal stands. I'm assuming a lot of photography sophistication that the elephant foot photographer may or may not have but how knows!


Even with a proper exposure including a shutter speed as short as 30 seconds, a person walking in front of the camera won't show up unless they stand still. You can use that technique to take a picture through a busy sidewalk and see the people vanish on the image. The image also appears to be lit by a small work-light on camera right (note the hard shadow of the foot and the reflection on the man's helmet). He could have walked in the shadow and stopped in the light to increase that "vanishing" and reappearing effect (similar to how you might use a long shutter speed to blur a background while using a flash to "freeze" the subject).

Doing some back of the envelope calculations, with a somewhat bright room, you could take the exposure in anywhere from 15s to 2m which is plenty of time to walk across the room.

Of course all this is irrelevant because timers (mechanical and electronic) had been standard features in cameras for decades by 1996. It looks to me like he just moved in the midst of a 2 or 3 second exposure.


To play devil's advocate, this can actually be easily achieved with a timer delay, a shutter drag AND a flash.


I don't believe that would explain the two distinct humanoid figures, with little motion blur between them. The person would have had to move extremely quickly from bent-over to up-right (almost instantly as the shutter opened) and held that position. Seems unlikely.

In addition, maybe it's just the lighting effects, but the figure standing almost upright is wearing what appears to be a yellow jumpsuit, while the figure bending over is wearing white. The red box on their hip is probably some sort of geiger counter, and most folks getting this close probably had one.


Not sure why you're so breathless. Of course you could time a photo by using a long exposure, and you'd get precisely this kind of effect for a moving subject in a very dark room.


I would have expected the film to be completely blackened, once brought to proximity of a strong source of gamma radiation. (i.e. the "Most Dangerous Radioactive Material")

Even if the camera was put into lead encasing, the shielding shutter was opened for quite a long time and pointed directly at the source of the gamma rays.


I have an old soviet camera that has both timer and shutter speed adjustment that lasts many seconds (both mechanical). The photo looks like it combines the initial camera-flash photo (blue helmet pose) with the blurriness (and flashlight movement) of a long exposure.


The most interesting thing about the elephant's foot was that it disproved the "China Syndrome" hypothesis. That hypothesis of course was that an uncontrolled meltdown would simply melt down through to China (not that it could really go past the core :-) However, what the elephant's foot showed was that the melted core would diffuse into the material as it was melting, eventually it loses enough mass that it goes subcritical, re-freezes and that's that.

That is why pretty much every western reactor has a reservoir of sand under the containment vehicle, if the worst of the worst happens, it melts into the sand which becomes glass.


> the "China Syndrome" hypothesis

Having seen the movie, suspect that a lot of people saw what they wanted to see, and not what the movie actually said. I'm fairly certain the comment about the core melting "all the way to China" was a joke/hyperbole.


IIRC from the movie, it wasn't that it would burrow through to China, but that it would burrow to groundwater and then become a rocket propelled by steam.


Nuclear fusion (the next gen of energy - as opposed to the current, radioactive fission) requires temperatures of 1m degrees. In case of meltdown, would the sand be enough, or would we have something closer to a China Syndrome?


No. If a fusion reactor fails, the fusion plasma would dissipate in less than a microsecond. There are no secondary outputs so the plant would simple "turn off". Unlike a fission reaction which can occur spontaneously on its own[1] the amount of energy to keep a fusion reaction going is tremendous, without that energy it stops.

[1] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ancient-nuclear-re...


Fission and fusion are fundamentally different in the way they work. If a fission reaction goes out of control, it can continue releasing enormous amounts of energy for days or even weeks, because it's based around releasing radioactive energy stored in the nuclear fuel.

Fusion OTOH is fusing together atoms of fuel that are relatively benign on their own - fusion is only possible at the high temperatures inside the reactor. I'm no expert on the physics, but AFAIK as soon as a fusion reactor is breached the conditions needed to sustain the reaction will quickly disappear and the reaction will almost immediately stop.


I doubt you will melt very far. For the same reason it is difficult to sustain super-liquidus magmas on earth-you just melt more material until your composition and temperature converge.

Even a fusion reactor has small thermal mass relative to the rest of the earth.


Of the five corium creations, only Cherobyl's has escaped its containment.

This is statement is a bit too definitive, because it simply isn't known yet how bad the breach is at Fukushima Daiichi No. 2 - from muon radiography it certainly seems to have breached the primary (steel) containment.


More complete quote of the photographer's joke:

> "Don't worry, Soviet radiation is the best in the world. It makes hair thicker and men more potent."

http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/alive-in-the-dead-z...


Love this!

There are some great stories from the Mir station. Brewing mash from random carbs, and distilling "vodka". The haze of tobacco smoke. From black Russian tobacco.

And remember, Chernobyl was caused by a team of (probably drunk) operators just fucking around. Juggling a big knife, basically ;) Showing off, for kicks. 58 points by hberg 1 hour ago | flag | 21 comments


Absolute, complete bullshit, sorry. The experiment massively went wrong, but the people, of whom many died trying to stop the disaster caused by the typical soviet problem of bad planning, slavish obedience to higher-ups and generally worse education and training, should still be seen as what they were. Victims of their system, and calling them "drunk" adds insult to injury.

Edit: typos


Well, the operators did do everything to magnify the scale of the accident

The test itself was criminally dumb, even if the reactor was running nominally. The reactor was pushed so far out a normal working envelope it is a wonder no one though about resheduling The reactor design itself is just abysmal. [1]

While I personally doubt vodka was involved in that one, it would not be surprising. [2] Basically everyone apart from a goddamn trainee was drunk (as far as i remeber the story from when i first heard it)

Im on mobile, so i cant even read my own links (YAY "MODERB WEB 999.0) /rant

[1] https://books.google.pl/books?id=cuiZAgAAQBAJ&printsec=front... [2]http://rbth.com/politics/2015/02/27/total_ceos_plane_crash_d...


I agree with your points about crazy management, bad planning, chaos, poor training, etc. For the rest, I'm just going from what I've read, and from my experience of the culture. Did you live in the Soviet Union? If so, for very long?


Luckily, no. I am to young. But I know some people who did and took the first chance to get away from there. More or less the tenor is: Good that its gone.


I grew up between Leningrad, Copenhagen and New York, as a diplomatic brat. The Soviet Union was fun. We had access to the Party shops, and foreign currency.

But just about everyone old enough was at least somewhat drunk, at all times. Except for the Jews, anyway. And that was a very good thing, because without them, there would have been total chaos.

For context, I also found that many Americans were at least a little drunk, most of the time. It was just part of some cultures. People drank at lunch, and then seriously after work. Many a bit in the morning, to take the edge off.

We had friends who would show up drunk, after driving for several hours. Beer and vodka in the trunk. Cops would help you get home, and tell you to sleep it off. As long as you were white and at least middle class, anyway.

That culture was just stronger in Slavic areas, and it lasted longer. The Soviet Union didn't have WASPs to keep people sober. They had Jews, but they lacked the authority. They just got stuff done, and imposed a little sanity. And the got out, as soon as they could.


I hope you have written your experiences down somewhere - and if you have, I'd love to read them. Which country were you a representative of?


I was just a kid. My parents were low-level Soviet diplomatic staff. But my paternal grandfather had emigrated from New York in the 30s. So when in New York, I attended the UN International School. But I also had cousins to hang with.


I assume you mostly talk to expatriates - the sentiment in Russia is generally strongly nostalgic, and the majority are buying into Putin's promise to "make Russia great again" (I transliterate but you get my point).

I was in volgograd not long ago, the locals now exclusively call is stalingrad once more, they were playing the communist international up by rossiya-matushka, people were crying and singing along, young and old.

In astrakhan they're flying the hammer and sickle above government buildings, along with the tricolor.

Did it ever even go away?


"I was in volgograd not long ago, the locals now exclusively call is stalingrad once more"

Ditto, but never heard this even once. Just to add perspective.

Soviet sentiment is strong among Russians which is even more bizzare considering that Russians (as opposed to other Soviet nationalities) were the bulk victims of most Soviet mistreatment.


A great use case for drones to fly in and take photographs.

A quick Google search shows it already has been done => https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ra7YbBvbRYQ

Had drones existed in 1986 and deployed to take close photographs of disaster, would it have been safe to access that drone after it returned?


Well, maybe, except the fact that the SU tried to use Robots built in Western Germany, and the radioactivity just fried them. They were absolutely inusable under those conditions. Read about radiation shielding in space missions and the problems that microelectronics have there.


Apparently they designed the robot against specs that were deliberately underestimated to prove that a meltdown couldn't cause the amount of radiation damage it did, and the Germans built the robot to spec and it instantly fried


Oh, didnt know that. Probably should read up on this, then. But yeah, it fits.


I see.

Quote from wikipedia: "Equipment assembled included remote-controlled bulldozers and robot-carts that could detect radioactivity and carry hot debris. Valery Legasov (first deputy director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy in Moscow) said, in 1987: "But we learned that robots are not the great remedy for everything. Where there was very high radiation, the robot ceased to be a robot—the electronics quit working.""


That was a bad link, those are just photos of the outside, where it was perfectly fine to visit if you avoided standing downwind. In fact, they apparently overflew it just two days later and took this footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoJTNC-3XLA

They've tried to put drones into Fukushima, attempts so far have been unproductive one way trips. Not all of that is the radiation killing stuff, apparently the geometry to be navigated has some pretty narrow passages as well.


Yeah, except when: "TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said that due to its small size and weight, the drone was “unlikely to crash through the rooftop and damage the reactor.”"

http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/06/25/t-hawk-uav-fails-at-fuk...


They used (or tried) a lot of remote controlled robots, but many of the break down due to the high radiation. There is a museum of them: http://io9.gizmodo.com/a-museum-of-robotic-equipment-used-du...


Thanks for the link.

You can see robots being used to clear off debris here: https://youtu.be/ezohqY-vg4s?t=57m43s


> Research on the substance has found, for example, that dumping water on it after it forms actually does stop some fission products from decaying and producing more dangerous isotopes.

What? I bet it doesn't. There's no way cooling will interfere with the half-life of the elements. They probably mean that solidifying the extremities reduces toxic/radiation exposure.


Dude, it's a complicated sludge of radioactive material that is flowing and interacting with itself in complicated ways, not a pure uranium sample on a pedestal.

For instance, cooling it will make the molten metals harden, meaning that there will no material transport. So once some piece of the sludge goes out of criticality, cooling ensures that it will stay sub-critical and decay along a more preferable path.

There is also the possibility that water will do something funky to the chemistry beyond the cooling.


> There's no way cooling will interfere with the half-life of the elements.

Wow, so even at absolute zero, decay happens at the same rate? It kind of makes sense, but it's surprising if you've never thought about it.

Wikipedia seems to confirm it: "A number of experiments have found that decay rates of other modes of artificial and naturally occurring radioisotopes are, to a high degree of precision, unaffected by external conditions such as temperature, pressure, the chemical environment, and electric, magnetic, or gravitational fields." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_decay )


I have to tell you this is only mostly correct, and there are a few really impressive exceptions. Certain nuclear decay modes, such as electron capture, do depend on the chemical environment of the nucleus.

Beryllium-7 decays purely by electron capture with a half-life of somewhat over 50 days. Differences in chemical environment can alter the half-life by around 0.2%, and high pressures produce somewhat similar changes.

A much more spectacular alteration is if you strip away all the electrons from the very weak beta-emitter rhenium-187 in a particle accelerator, to form a bare nucleus. Neutral rhenium-187 has a half-life of 42 × 10^9 years, the fully ionised rhenium-187 has a half life of just 33 years - a billion fold speed up in decay rate!

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/ParticleAndNuclear/dec...


> so even at absolute zero, decay happens at the same rate

You'll never get to absolute zero (reality and practicalness aside), because the element radiates it's own heat.


I don't see any reasons why you could not cool radioactive isotopes to essentially zero Kelvin and observe the decay rate. It would probably be hard(er) to do with larger chunks because the decaying nuclei would dump parts of their energy into the sample but if you only use a single atom or maybe tens or hundreds of them and measure the time until the first decay event or between the fist two events you could certainly determine the decay rate close to absolute zero.


> I don't see any reasons why you could not cool radioactive isotopes to essentially zero Kelvin and observe the decay rate

See the GP, this has been tested and proved to have no effect.


Ha, I remember first reading about this when I was discussing with Young Earth creationists. (What a pointless exercise that was …)

Their big point about dating methods was that radioactive decay could be influenced by external factors. No matter how slight that influence, a tiny little bit was enough to disprove all our dating methods.


Water can change things. It might easily combine with the corium to form various hydrates.

Hydrates contain hydrogen, which is a neutron moderator. To the extent that corium's complex decay involves neutrons, changing the neutron energy spectrum (what a moderator does) could change the decay pathways and durations.

Electronic ("normal") and nuclear chemistries can interact.

Edit: Also, water dumped on hot stuff can crack it. Cracks mean that regions of material have changed their geometric relationships, which affect nuclear decay.


Could it have something to do with preventing neutrons from rapidly increasing the rate of decay?

Because we already use water based neutron moderators. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_moderator


I don't think the Corium is likely to be critical - and if it is, pouring water on it will probably cause an explosion...


Maybe the water absorbs neutrons and slows down the chain reaction?


By absorbing neutrons it reduces neutron-activation of elements in the surrounding environment. The downside is that elements like Cesium are water-soluble so you'll be spreading stuff around a lot more.


This is likely to be from particle capture, in the same way a control rod works.


"Was a Selfie" - not a selfie "Remarkably, he’s probably still alive." "the radiation probably caused the film to develop strangely"

Is there any solid info or is this just clickbait at its best?


> and in doing so has been exposed to more radiation than almost anyone in history

This is patently absurd. Those exposed to the most radiation are all dead and died from radiation exposure, effects, and side effects.


See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_hormesis

The idea is that a small amount of radiation spread over time is survivable. So in sum total he may have had more than anyone else. (I won't include anyone who instantly died in hiroshima.)


Yes, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are obvious comparisons with the amount of instantaneous radiation affecting thousands of individuals.

My initial thoughts went to Marie Curie (small amounts over time), and Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin, or other Los Alamos engineers involved in criticality accidents.

Plus, other clean-up workers working in disasters like Chernobyl whose deaths from radiation caused illnesses most likely went unpublished.

So at best, that puts him in 10th place with a very loose interpretation, or otherwise significantly behind, and maybe in the top 10 of living individuals. The phrase "in history" is poor writing, however.


I also thought the claim was really dubious, although I thought the author meant total over the guys lifetime, which would probably not be impossible if he spread the exposure quite a bit (compared to the people who died from shorter intense exposure)


Am I the only one who thinks it looks like he is headbanging while holding an electric guitar?


"Laying down a tasty lick on my strat at the elephant foot"


that's literally what I thought when the image loaded initially.


Much more information about the problems to keep the plant from causing more damage is in the NYT article from 2014, the one where the state of health of Artur Korneyev is given:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/27/science/cherno...

"These days Mr. Korneyev works in the project management unit, but because of his health — he has cataracts and other problems related to his heavy radiation exposure during his first three years — he is no longer allowed inside the plant. “Soviet radiation,” he joked, “is the best radiation in the world.”"


In case some didn't follow the first link, it contains this gem: Korneyev's sense of humor remained intact, though. He seemed to have no regrets about his life's work. “Soviet radiation,” he joked, “is the best radiation in the world.


Somewhat related to this, I am amazed by the analysis done by bionerd23. Her study of cesium 137 levels in vegetation is interesting. She measured the levels in mushrooms found in Bavaria and apples found just 4km away from Chernobyl and saw that only 0.10 of cesium was found in apples. Interesting study.

You can find her videos on youtube.


> The shutter speed was probably a little slower than for the other photos in order for him to get into position, which explains why he seems to be moving and why the glow from his flashlight looks like a lightning flash. The graininess of the photo, though, is likely due to the radiation.

Yeah, wouldn't that have been exotic. Having worked many years with high end scanning and digitizing photographs from the 1850 to today I can say that apparent grain in a photo from the 80s is not a strange thing, especially if it's a high ISO film. Correcting a bad exposure when post processing enhances that grain. The "graininess" here looks more like interpolation artifacts after upressing, possibly a highly compressed JPEG, though.


Amazing that Artur Korneyev, the guy in the picture, is still alive.


There is a very interesting documentary from 1991 made as

part of BBC Horizon series called "Inside Chernobyl

Sarcophagus" --> www.imdb.com/title/tt1607059


When they selfie, was the camera on timer? What is the source of the lightning looking stuff?


Yep. "so it’s likely this photo was an old-school timed selfie. The shutter speed was probably a little slower than for the other photos in order for him to get into position, which explains why he seems to be moving and why the glow from his flashlight looks like a lightning flash"


Yes, it was a timer. It's a flashlight.

from the article:

[...] so it’s likely this photo was an old-school timed selfie. The shutter speed was probably a little slower than for the other photos in order for him to get into position, which explains why he seems to be moving and why the glow from his flashlight looks like a lightning flash. The graininess of the photo, though, is likely due to the radiation.


Always makes me wonder whether these people know what the radiation is doing to them and they're doing it out of some heroic duty, or whether they have no idea whatsoever ... I can't stop looking.


I can't get past seeing two users of the Speed Force--one bent over an electric guitar, the other thumping along on bass, captured in a flash of lightning.


I bet bionerd23 knows Mr. Korneyev quite well.


“Soviet radiation,” he joked, “is the best radiation in the world." :)




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