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Index : ArticlesIndex : What has been gained from the Chernobyl disaster?

What has been gained from the Chernobyl disaster?

Leaving aside the verdict of history on its role in melting the Soviet iron curtain, some very tangible practical benefits have resulted from the Chernobyl accident . The main ones concern reactor safety, notably in eastern Europe. (The US Three Mile Island accident in 1979 had a significant effect on western reactor design and operating procedures. While that reactor was destroyed, all radioactivity was contained - as designed - and there were no deaths or injuries.).

While no-one in the West was under any illusion about the safety of early Soviet reactor designs, some lessons learned have also been applicable to western plants. Certainly the safety of all Soviet-designed reactors has improved vastly. This is due largely to the development of a culture of safety encouraged by increased collaboration between East and West, and substantial investment in improving the reactors.

Modifications have been made to overcome deficiencies in all the RBMK reactors still operating. In these, originally the nuclear chain reaction and power output would increase if cooling water were lost or turned to steam, in contrast to most Western designs. It was this effect which caused the uncontrolled power surge that led to the destruction of Chernobyl-4.

All of the RBMK reactors have now been modified by changes in the control rods, adding neutron absorbers and consequently increasing the fuel enrichment from 1.8 to 2.4% U-235, making them very much more stable at low power. Automatic shut-down mechanisms now operate faster, and other safety mechanisms have been improved. Automated inspection equipment has also been installed. A repetition of the 1986 Chernobyl accident is now virtually impossible, according to a German nuclear safety agency report.

Since 1989 over 1,000 nuclear engineers from the former Soviet Union have visited Western nuclear power plants and there have been many reciprocal visits. Over 50 twinning arrangements between East and West nuclear plants have been put in place. Most of this has been under the auspices of the World Association of Nuclear Operators, a body formed in 1989 which links 130 operators of nuclear power plants in more than 30 countries. See also Cooperation in the Nuclear Power Industry.

Many other international programmes were initiated following Chernobyl. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety review projects for each particular type of Soviet reactor are noteworthy, bringing together operators and Western engineers to focus on safety improvements. These initiatives are backed by funding arrangements. The Nuclear Safety Assistance Coordination Centre database lists Western aid totalling almost US$1 billion for more than 700 safety-related projects in former Eastern Bloc countries. The Nuclear Safety Convention is a more recent outcome.

In 1998 an agreement with the US provided for the establishment of an international radioecology laboratory inside the exclusion zone.

The 2005 Chernobyl Forum report said that some seven million people are now receiving or eligible for benefits as "Chernobyl victims", which means that resources are not targeting the needy few percent of them. Remedying this presents daunting political problems however.

For more information see http://www.foccus.org

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Chernobyl"

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