Daniel Halliday
Apr 26 · Last update 3 mo. ago.

Why is it so hard to clear up after a nuclear disaster?

The 26th April is International Chernobyl Disaster Remembrance Day, marking a day of remembrance for the explosion and following nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. Nuclear disasters have unfortunately repeated since this unfortunate time, so while we are remembering the 8.4 million victims of radioactivity exposure in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, let’s try and understand why is it so hard to clean up after a nuclear disaster... un.org/en/events/chernobylday/index.shtml
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The involvement of groundwater
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Lack the technology
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People may want to carry on living there
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Complex scenarios, different in every case
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Radioactivity and its slow decay
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The involvement of groundwater

Contaminated water is a big problem in the clean up of a nuclear disaster as groundwater may become contaminated and help carry radioactivity to different areas via the water table (the movement of water above and below ground toward the ocean/sea). This was a particularly difficult problem with the Fukushima disaster, due to the location of the power station, the need for water as a coolant in nuclear plants and the persistence of leaks from somewhere in the plant’s complex architecture, according to Japan’s National Radiation Authority (NRA). This on-going issue has seen TEPCO (Tokyo Eclectic Power Company) contract a massive 1500-meter frozen-soil shielding wall to stop the movement of groundwater in an effort curb the amount on contaminated ground water making its way into the sea.

jaif.or.jp/en/nra-approves-full-water-shielding-wall-at-fukushima-daiichi-npps web.archive.org/web/20130714164622/http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20130711p2a00m0na010000c.html

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Daniel Halliday
Sep 17
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Lack the technology

It is especially clear from the Fukushima disaster that there is a distinct lack of technology available to use in such cases of monumental nuclear disaster. Even years after the disaster the state of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor is still “almost beyond comprehension” [1] according to experts undertaking the plant clean-up project. The efforts made have relied on the use of specially designed robotics, the so called “scorpion” units being manufactured by Toshiba, however due to such unprecedented levels of radiation repeated failure has been the fate of the majority of machines sent in. In 2017 however Tokyo Electricity Power Company (TEPCO) announced that similar robots have helped locate the Unit 3 reactor building's fuel, but the technology and what to do next hangs in the balance for this mammoth mission for robotics engineers.

[1] theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/09/fukushima-nuclear-cleanup-falters-six-years-after-tsunami nytimes.com/2017/11/19/science/japan-fukushima-nuclear-meltdown-fuel.html

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Daniel Halliday
Sep 9
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People may want to carry on living there

In some of the world’s worse nuclear disasters of history there have been those that refuse to leave and those that insist on returning, despite the extreme hardship. In the cases of both Chernobyl and Fukushima thousands of people have chosen to stay behind, both legally and illegally, or somewhere in between, braving the high health risks in order to stay in an environment they are financially and emotionally invested in. To complicated things further there is further illicit use of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, with an economy of “smuggling, research, farming, tourism, poaching” [1] amidst of dangerous climate of radiation. This adds an extra dimension of complication to clean up operations as the human cost will be greater down to those that decide that continuing their way of life is worth the health risks posed.

[1] fastcompany.com/3020853/stunning-images-of-the-thousands-of-people-who-still-live-near-chernobyl-and-fukushima

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Daniel Halliday
Sep 9
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Complex scenarios, different in every case

Nuclear reactors have been such a complicated mess to address when they have become disaster areas in the past, and with multiple types of nuclear reactor, using different cooling systems, and having very different topography and population in the surrounding areas, each power station poses a very individualistic threat. In Fukushima, Japan the cleanup plan is estimated to take a further forty years; the main concern is maintaining a frozen soil barrier in an attempt to prevent contaminated groundwater seepage. In Chernobyl, Ukraine the scale of the explosion and the threat of nuclear contamination were so great that an exclusion zone and a containment structure have been the only way to address the disaster, confinement being the only viable solution.

theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/09/fukushima-nuclear-cleanup-falters-six-years-after-tsunami

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Daniel Halliday
Jun 6
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Radioactivity and its slow decay

The underlying problem behind the difficulty in clearing up nuclear disasters is similar to the dilemma of how to “get rid” or more accurately store nuclear waste. Current methods for dealing with nuclear waste involve segregation and storage, or reuse in some limited forms, but in nuclear disasters this material, hazardous to all life forms, is spread far and wide by the nuclear explosion. Some of these chemicals may stay radioactive for a long time, having a half-life of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years. This radioactivity poses a serve threat to all life it comes into contact with, meaning that some clean-up efforts may require protective equipment, or special techniques to remove such chemicals from the environment they pollute, while some may remain impossible to remediate due to the cost and difficulty.

greentumble.com/7-reasons-why-nuclear-waste-is-dangerous

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Daniel Halliday
Apr 28
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