By Brandon Specktor – Senior Writer
Nuclear reactions are smoldering again in an inaccessible basement of the wrecked Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, according to news reports.
Researchers monitoring the plant — which infamously exploded in a deadly 1986 meltdown — have detected a steady spike in the number of neutrons in an underground room called 305/2. The room is full of heavy rubble, concealing a radioactive mush of uranium, zirconium, graphite and sand that oozed into the plant’s basement like lava, before hardening into formations called fuel-containing materials (FCMs).
Rising neutron levels indicate that these FCMs are undergoing new fission reactions, as neutrons strike and split the nuclei of uranium atoms, creating energy.
Tons of nuclear fuel in the wrecked plant’s basement has started to react again, and it’s showing no signs of stopping.
For now, this radioactive waste is smoldering “like the embers in a barbecue pit,” Neil Hyatt, a nuclear materials chemist at the University of Sheffield in the U.K.,told Science magazine. However, it’s possible that those embers could fully ignite if left undisturbed for too long, resulting in another explosion.
Neutron levels have been steadily rising in room 305/2 for four years, Saveliev said, and could continue rising for several more years without incident. It’s possible these nuclear nuggets will fizzle out on their own in that time. But if neutron levels keep rising, scientists will have to intervene.
Read more at Chernobyl’s nuclear fuel is ‘smoldering’ again and could explode
Related article on the Atomic Age website: ‘It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit.’ Nuclear reactions are smoldering again at Chernobyl via Science