Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Chernobyl’s new sarcophagus (bbc.com)
251 points by Sami_Lehtinen on Jan 8, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 85 comments

If you haven't seen it, this is a great photo essay that goes through the history of the Chernobyl accident and aftermath: http://imgur.com/a/TwY6q

It's pretty enthralling

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 3D shooter trilogy maps are based on real plans of Chornobyl and Prypiat. See photos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPf8YlzUPw4 .

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. itself is unusual game.

It's fantastic. Easily my favourite game (series) of all time.

The sense of desolation, claustrophobia, isolation and hopelessness in the world the developers created is something that still stands unmatched for me.

WARNING: Human gore and mutated animal photos are part of this.

A lot of fascinating images I have never seen before, thanks!

Another interesting biological result at Chernobyl is not mutation, but simply natural selection: Radiotrophic Fungus.


Fungus that is essentially using "photosynthesis" of gamma radiation from the melted core instead of sunlight to grow.

Take the mutated animal photos with a huge gigantic grain of salt. The "citation needed" alarm rang out loud when I looked at those.

Also interesting if older is the The Battle of Chernobyl (2006) film (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1832484/), on youtube here under a different title https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dS3WvKKSpKI .

Has interviews from the likes of Gorbachev saying even he didn't know what was going on at the time.

The author did a fantastic job ! Thank you for posting it here.

Thanks! Is there a better way to view these images (with captions) without lots of manual scrolling fit each image on the screen?

Fake news didn't start in 2016 [1].

> Following the news, global media had a fit and made wild assumptions about the accident. In fact, only 2 men had died when these were published.

[1] http://i.imgur.com/EF8o29L.jpg

Afaik, those are tabloids which were notorious to invent stories?

That was a great read, thank you!

Vinci and Bouygues, two french companies in the construction business with a long history of corruption all over the world including Russia (qatar, turkmenistan, french pentagon, cambodia airports, notre dames des landes, ... just to cite a few of the most recent). Both have ties with previous France president and have pointed for shady practices from illegal construction to use of migrant as slaves and forced labour.

The attribution of the sarcophagus contract to those two was suspicious at the times. It's not unheard of in Vinci and Bouygues cases that whistleblowers and witness tend to die or be sued into oblivion using SLAPPs. AFAIK no one came forward to speak and the deal went on.

Seems to be a nice engineering work though, sadly it funnels money to rich family with poor ethics and practices.

"Notre Dame des landes" there are no proofs at all, only suspicions coming from environmental extremists whom often lie to achieve their goal, not really trustworthy people. I am not saying that the 2 companies are clean, but let's face it the construction business is corrupted or using un-ethical practices (like agreement on price between competitors) almost all over the world. For instance, you would expect the construction business to be clean in a country like Canada which is often praised for being a non-corrupted country but at least in Québec it is owned by mobster overpricing every project.

The pyramids were also built with slave labour. Sad that we haven't progressed very far since then though.

> The pyramids were also built with slave labour.

Last time I read about this subject, historians and egyptologists were still having some disputes about this.

Supposedly the pyramid construction crews had a core of several thousand skilled tradesmen who received salaries, plus a larger group of poor seasonal laborers who worked in lieu of paying taxes. They weren't exactly slaves, but if they didn't have the cash to pay their taxes then they had to work.


Yeah they discovered bakeries, breweries, family housing etc at the sites of pyramid construction. Or maybe being a slave was a whole different thing back then...

Well,... slaves still had to eat, drink, make more little slaves (i.e. have families) and so on, so keeping them alive and reasonably well was probably a good thing to do. Dead slaves can't reasonably do all that heavy lifting.

The official time-lapse video of this, without all the ads:


Some people are wearing hazmat suits, some others not. How come?

From what little I know, the people in hazmat suits are those who are in an area where they could pick up radioactive particles on their clothing; the suits can be shucked as part of an exit process to keep all of the radioactive particles confined. The hazmat suits do little to protect against the actual radiation, most of that is mitigated by limiting the time you can spend in the area.

There have been a few "dirty jobs" type shows which have shown this process in action: when replacing a turbine on a nuclear generator, there was a literal line in the floor everyone watched - materials and people could only move in one direction with respect to that line without a lengthy cleaning and inspection. There's also a few Veritasium YouTube videos about a visit to Chernobyl which goes into detail about the exposure limits.

I'm fairly sure the show you are talking about is "World's Toughest Fixes" specifically the episode "Nuclear Turbine".

It is available paid on Youtube/Amazon

I would speculate that either the folks in hazmat suits had to traverse more contaminated areas to get where they are standing, or the activity will potentially dislodge radioactive material into the air around them, or there are unmarked hot spots where radiation levels are higher.

It's not a bad article, but I do take exception to:

On 26 April 1986, the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded during a routine stress test.

… which is emphatically not what happened!

Indeed, many safeguards were deliberately disabled during this "test".

Well, it was a test & it was deliberate. But definitely not routine.

I imagine the author is trying to convey that it was a pre-planned action, not a response to some kind of emergency. It was still a terrible, terrible idea of course.

It was designed to be done at the day shift, but they needed additionnal power at that time... (so it ended being done by people without training)

Conducting the test using a power station near a very big city was retarded idea in the first place as pretty much most things in USSR.

Right conducting test with nuclear power plants near big cities is a great idea :).

A mandatory read about how people's lives were affected by the accident - "Chernobyl Prayer" - Svetlana Alexievich (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svetlana_Alexievich)

She won the Nobel prize for her writing.

The accident happened in Ukraine but a fact that is not usually written is that Belarus had a QUARTER of it's land mass polluted (and Belarus is a large country).Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster

I showed a Ukrainian a photo of Steven Seagal holding gift melons from the president of Belarus, her response was "Only old people who don't care about radiation buy produce from Belarus"


I've also read that Belarus still spends around 20% of their budget on Chernobyl disaster related activities and payouts.

I only recently found out that Chernobyl was still a functioning power plant until 2000:


Yep, imagine if Fukashima (which leaked radiation slowly into the ground water an ocean rather than burning the pile) were treated like Chernobyl. Amazing how I read articles about how the area is such a great nature preserve now, when it was so much (5-10x) larger.


In comparison the Tohoku Tsunami caused 25k casualties, which (outside of Japan) seem have been largely ignored over by the coverage of the radiation leaks.


i love how wikipedia portraits it like an event with no aftermath.

fukushima is still leaking. 400 tons of radioactive water. this will probably go on forever. the meltdown may have reached ground water. nobody knows because tepco and japans enlighted gov won't tell.


More info about the arch. I recommend watching the movie. http://www.mammoet.com/en/cases/Arch-over-Chernobyl/

I studied mechanical engineering... and was mostly interested in off shore (heavy) tech. this is kind of comparable. My background makes me more then interested in these kind of things. The size of this mobile structure is just impressive.

> Invited guests enjoy a virtual reality experience in the hospitality tent at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (Credit: Anton Skyba)

I never considered VR as a way to explore things that would kill you in reality. That's awesome. I want to go poke the elephant's foot.

Seems like a natural progression given video games. When I saw that photo I immediately thought about the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video game series. That gave a lot of gamers an idea of what walking around in the exclusion zone was like, albeit a very fantastical version of it.

More info and pix on the original sarcophagus:


I still remember watching the Chernobyl accident report in TV with my family when I was a boy. We started crying spontaneously when it was explained that many volunteers knew they were working knowing they would not survive (when the situation was still out of control). It was terrible.

From my reading, the volunteers were not actually informed of the true danger they faced. In multiple instances either no warning was given or the truth hidden, saying that the background levels were harmless when in fact they simply had no equipment that could measure high enough.

In addition, I'm skeptical that the biorobots and liquidators were true volunteers. If the Soviet government comes to your house and hands you three sets of clothing saying "we need volunteers", you didn't really have a choice.

I have watched a lot of footage and read many accounts of Liquidators who thought they really were fulfilling their duty to the Motherland.

I suppose it could all be a Soviet psyop, but to me it's convincing.

I remember watching a 90 minute documentary on Chernobyl on television around 2010. It was mentioned that the construction of sarcophagus was 10 year behind schedule.

Glad to see the work done though the world paid a huge, huge price for it.

There's something that always wonders me abouth these kind of disasters.

You have people saying "we shouldn't be making more nuclear plants, they're all too dangerous and can explode!" And then you have others who say something in the lines of

"But they get the cleanest energy" or "you can't depend on solar energy for everything"

I think the question almost nobody is asking is what will happen to this if it goes unmantained and workers leave the plant unattended, for example, a disease striking the region, economic collapse or a civil war. What containment do any goverment have for that kind of situation, it's not like you can put someone in there and push some random buttons or something to keep the entire thing from melting...

We already have inherently safe nuclear reactors[1] that automatically power down if the core gets too hot due to the physical properties of the fuel, without the need for an electronic control system. However, incidents such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima have already tarnished nuclear in the public view, making it politically unfeasible to spend money on new reactors. This is a good summary of the situation: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602051/fail-safe-nuclear-...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten_salt_reactor

It has to be said again that RBMKs like Chernobyl are a terribly unsafe design, in that they have a positive void coefficient and can go prompt-critical (basically the core can explode). If you read between the lines, this design won in the USSR because it was easier and cheaper to build[0]. The soviets also (allegedly) skimped on the construction[1].

Since way before Chernobyl, the US has been operating LWR and PWR designs, which have a negative void coefficient and therefore can be built to be passive-safe[2]. Correspondingly, no deaths have ever been directly attributed to failure of a production LWR or PWR.

[0] https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/25204744759.pdf (page 51)

[1] http://articles.latimes.com/1986-05-02/news/mn-3039_1_cherno...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_nuclear_safety

For the USSR the RBMK design had two advantages.

1. You could refuel it while the reactor was running. 2. It could supply needed Plutonium for nuclear weapons.

I hadn't heard about refueling while the reactor was running, interesting.

For Chernobyl, the security measures were explicitly bypassed after the reactor was poisoned to raise the power level...

Yeah, that too...

Wasn't the Fukushima reactor supposed to be passive safe ?

It was, and at no point during that incident was there any plausible risk of the core going prompt-critical or radioactive fuel being thrown into the atmosphere. As I remember it, the most serious risk was that the earthquake or tsunami could have damaged both the primary containment and the concrete "bathtub", so molten core materials could have leaked into the surrounding terrain. That's why they pumped in seawater to try to keep the core from melting down (an attempt which did not succeed).

As far as I know the primary containment for all Fukushima reactors is still intact.

But I think your explanation sort of highlights why promises of "safe nuclear design", at least in my opinion, have a tendency to be overstated by nuclear proponents, and then result in a complete backlash against nuclear when things go wrong. Fukushima was a Level 7 disaster, on par with Chernobyl, that will result in large swaths of Japan being uninhabitable for lifetimes. Trying to make a distinction that it wasn't really that bad only makes your average Joe discount any assurances that "passive safe" is safe at all.

> Fukushima was a Level 7 disaster, on par with Chernobyl

This is disinformation. It's an arbitrary bureaucratic designation (Level 7 means "measures were taken to mitigate effects"), and the two events were incredibly different.

> that will result in large swaths of Japan being uninhabitable for lifetimes.

This is completely false. I've said before that if it were legal for me to do so, I'd pack up and move to the Fukushima site tomorrow. I would never say the same thing about Pripyat.

> that will result in large swaths of Japan being uninhabitable for lifetimes.

Utter hogwash. This statement could not be more false.

Your article mentions waste twice:

>What’s more, the new plants should produce little waste and might even eat up existing nuclear waste.

>That means they should dramatically reduce the amount of nuclear waste that must be handled and stored.

But doesn't go into detail about exactly how much waste is generated, how waste is handled and where waste should be stored. This is exactly the problem with nuclear, and our ongoing battle with Chernobyl's corpse is exactly the worst manifestation of that problem.

Molten salt reactors have their issues too eg. "The primary concern with MSRs is that the radioactive fission products can get everywhere. They are not in fuel pins surrounded by cladding, but are just in a big, sealed vat." - https://whatisnuclear.com/reactors/msr.html#problems

Have any full scale molten salt reactors actually been built?

No full scale ones, AFAIK. India and China are investigating the technology. Oak Ridge laboratories ran what was essentially a proof-of-concept MSR achieving criticality in 1965, operating until 1969. Lots of interesting history behind that, as well as interesting findings. They supposedly fuelled it with plutonium at one point...

That only solves some of the many failure modes. Much like preventing the Challenger disaster from happening again did not prevent Columbia from failing.

EX: What happens if a meteor hits it.

> EX: What happens if a meteor hits it.

A nuclear or conventional strike is probably much more likely.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge was actually inspired by the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, because it was unsafe for any humans to go there and people were surprised that no robots were capable of going themselves. Of course, we still have a long way to go before robots are going to deliver on that front. I don't know enough about nuclear reactors to know what the safeguards are in the scenarios you describe, but I do think it's smart to ask about the worst-case scenario.

A core catcher could at least, potentially, contain the meltdown. If we started building plants with them...

There is a great documentary from BBC Horizon series made in 1991 called "Inside Chernobyl's Sarcophagus", it won a Emmy. It shows scientists working inside chernobyl's sarcophagus, in 1996 BBC did a follow-up, and almost all scientists form original program were already dead, mostly from heart attacks.


Do they have plans to fix whats below? "Elephants foot".

I know the new sarcophagus has robotic cranes so they can begin to dismantle the old sarcophagus, at least, and presumably, then presumably start to dismantle the rest of the facility.

The elephant's foot presents an intriguing problem not only because of how deep it is in the facility, but that it's essentially a super-dense, super-concentrated glob of radioactive junk that is essentially fused to the structure of the reactor. And of course, kills anyone who gets close to it.

One article I read, of course, suggested that when it comes to cleaning up radioactive waste, the longer you wait, the easier it is. Which is true, what was done recently would've been drastically more dangerous a couple decades ago. It gets safer to work in the area the longer you wait.

So as long as we can be relatively confident it will hold containment in the facility, it may be best left alone.

I think I heard that the long term plan is to remove all material from the reactor. But I don't when and most importantly, I don't think anyone has a clue on how to remove the material from the reactor.

I guess it's probably "wait for more advanced robots to be developed"

I think the Japanese are working on those because they need them for cleaning up Fukushima.

I remember reading in some forums a while ago that the timeframe is somewhat in the range of 50-100y for recovering most of the waste. Probably they need another sarcophag inbetween ...

This one is designed to last a century, so they do have some time.

Part of the problem is that if they don't do it in time, this sarcophagus is mostly impossible to repair because of all the radioactivity, so they'd need to encase it in a third, even huger one.

If they had built a containment building and a shield building into the design instead of after they melted it down Chernobyl would be a footnote and a lessons learned training tool instead of a disaster area. I was in the nuclear industry in Operations from '74 to '00 and simply could not believe what they did and how unprepared they were.

Earlier when I read this thread someone mentioned they were disassembling the plant. Where are they putting it and why are they moving it? Is it not better to keep it contained or are there some sanitization proceedures that can be used to better contain the radioative particles?

It didn't say explicitly, but my guess is that they want to disassemble the first sarcophagus and the original plant in an orderly manner before they eventually just collapse. Even the new sarcophagus won't last forever, so there also needs to be a plan to eventually deal with the most radioactive material as is done with other highly radioactive waste. (It's entirely likely I expect that the less radioactive stuff will be left on-site, just not as part of crumbling buildings that could eventually collapse, blowing out radioactive dust.)

so sad most of you don't understand german. i could show you one years-old (2002) documentary featuring dr. pflugbeil who went into reactor 4 and to the infamous elephant's foot.

while birds and rainwater went in and out of the defective roof he concluded that that more than 90% of the radioactive material exploded into the atmosphere and unless you're living in chernobyl, there's no danger for the rest of the world anymore. in fact, ppl are living in the zone...

the elephant's foot is no radioactive material. it is just molten material from the building.

if it is that dangerous, why is there no military protecting it from terrorists?

meanwhile, money is to be made from the spectacle that is the fud being spread about chernobyl.


in another film, ranga yogeshwar demonstrated how european companies sold and built decommission facilities on-site, multimillion euro projects, and handed them over w/o instructions. it is left up to the ukrain to use the tools but they don't know how.

scroll to timestamp 35:00 https://youtu.be/eFt1SezekaE

the new sarcophagus is a testament to the political corruption and bankruptcy of the eu. nothing more.

I think the massive costs of a mistake rule nuclear power our. There is no rational calculation to be made. We risk decimating the entire environment around the plant for hundreds of years with consequences that will stay with us hundreds of years. No price can be put on that kind of damage and we have zero right to ruin the earth in this way.

We need to find safer technology. God knows what the final consequences of Fukushima will be. I think nuclear power proponents have no case. I am not russian and have nothing to do with Russia but as a fellow human being those images of ordinary russians trying to deal with the crisis bring me to tears and I don't want any human being to be in that position or suffer in this grotesque way because of someone's overconfidence or mistake.

When working as intended, nuclear is low on emissions and the main concern is the requirement for waste disposal. The waste can be deposited far from human habitation or particularly sensitive ecological areas. Big problems that kill or injure people are rare, but catastrophic.

Its main competitor, coal, is estimated to cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths every year when working exactly as intended, and is the single biggest culprit with regards to human induced climate change, the results of which may be catastrophic.

I wouldn't say I am exactly pro-nuclear but it makes no sense to me to target nuclear when we have this fossilized wooden elephant in the room.

"deposited far from human habitation" Which is not really a solution.

Solar is at $.029/wH now.

Stop the nuclear power non-sense. Stop the coal power non-sense. All of this is obsolete technology now. Both have disastrous and costly consequences.

No solution is going to be perfect.

Going pure solar and wind in the US would require several hundred thousand square kilometers of photovoltaic panels. More for the windmills if you can't build them all out at sea.

Aside from the cost running in to the trillions, you need so much steel and concrete that the emissions produced by those ingredients being made (remember steel in particular requires coal) that the overall emissions from such a project are, let's say, non-negligible.

I'm afraid even visionaries like Elon Musk know that renewables are only part of the solution. Solar and wind's energy output per area is just too small, even before you consider their consistency drawbacks.

Molten salt looks cool but it's not prime time for that yet, and certainly not .029/wH. If we want to reduce emissions now while waiting for better technology to be made, nuclear is as viable an option as any. It's been a shame here to see Germany go backwards and shut down its nuclear plants for new coal ones.


It's a big world out there, solar doesn't work everywhere or at all times anywhere. It's definitely a big piece of the future, but we're never going to go exclusively solar.

Going solar is great, but we need some base-load power generation, and nuclear is brilliant for that.

The options for base-load are: nuclear, gas, oil, coal, dammed rivers. Pick one. Of that set, I prefer nuclear.

I just want to make a slight correction, in case of a catastrophic Nuclear accident the environment is not decimated, it just becomes unsuitable for humans but life finds a way. Chernobyl has become a wildlife refuge [0]. And some fungus have evolved to use Gamma radiations for growth [1].

[0] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/060418-chernobyl-...

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiotrophic_fungus

Yet we seem happy pumping tons of CO2 into the atmosphere which will likely cause far greater damage.

Nuclear hasn't ruined the earth, anti-nuclear protesters have ruined the earth.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact