Scientists monitoring increased radiation levels at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant are considering whether human intervention may be required to prevent a further catastrophe.
It was reported last week that sensors in one of the basement rooms containing solidified fuel (FCMs) from the remains of the destroyed nuclear reactor had been picking up increased levels of neutrons over the past four years, signalling the nuclear fission process has restarted.
Nuclear scientists monitoring the activity say they aren’t sure why the reactions are increasing, and they can’t rule out the possibility of an accident should levels continue to rise. Now, authorities are working to figure out a solution.
In the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, volunteers were sent into the remains of the reactor building to drain radioactive ‘lava’ from the basement. A similar operation took place in 1990, when a volunteer entered the basement rooms to spray a reaction-preventing gadolinium nitrate solution on some FCMs that had reached critical levels.
For obvious reasons, sending a human into a highly radioactive room is something scientists would ideally like to avoid, but alternative options are limited.
Science Magazine reports one possible response being considered is to develop a robot capable of handling radiation exposure to drill holes in the roof of the basement room. From there, boron cylinders could be inserted into the materials to act as ‘control rods’ absorbing excess neutrons.
The Ukrainian government has also been working on a long promised plan to remove the solidified fuel materials from the reactor’s remains and store them in a safe environment, but it’s still not clear exactly how that could be achieved.
Experts at the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine say they’re monitoring activity in the basement rooms, but as reactions increase, so does the risk of an ‘uncontrolled release of nuclear energy,’ meaning sooner or later, humans may need to step in.