07:23 GMT +314 December 2018
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    Is the Chernobyl reactor really empty?

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    MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsina)

    German newspaper Berliner Zeitung published articles about the Chernobyl disaster on April 3 and 26 (Die unverstandene Katastrophe; Die Katastrophe nach der Katastrophe), which have been reprinted by many Internet publications.

    Journalists Frank Nordhausen and Christian Esch cite Konstantin Checherov of the Russian Kurchatov Institute, who has "spoken the truth" at long last, they say. Checherov said "nobody studied the Chernobyl disaster more carefully" than he.

    Thousands of specialists from many states have visited the accident site in the 20 years since the disaster. Nuclear physicists joined forces to get to the truth, recreating the picture, studying the situation, and analyzing the containment envelope. About 600 staff members of the Kurchatov Institute have visited the site and continue monitoring the "sleeping" reactor.

    What does Checherov say?

    According to Berliner Zeitung, he has visited the destroyed Unit 4 "more than 1,500 times", making measurements and doing research there. Surprisingly, he has not registered any excessive radiation at the site.

    However, Yevgeny Velikhov, president of the Kurchatov Institute, says: "Radiation was extremely high at the disaster site. I flew over the area, accompanying Hans Blix, then head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Blix's long-time second-in-command Morris Rosen. They had a great number of gauging instruments on them and asked me what range they should set out on them. I said a hundred would be fine. A hundred milliroentgens? they asked. A hundred roentgens, I replied. This made a huge impression on them."

    Velikhov is worried: "It is one thing for Checherov as a private individual to say what he likes. But it is quite another matter when he says he works for the Kurchatov Institute - this makes him our spokesman. Some people may think that what he says is our conclusion, though this is not true at all."

    Dr. Alexander Borovoi, a nuclear physicist from the Kurchatov Institute, had been head of the Chernobyl group for 20 years. "I know Konstantin Checherov; we are colleagues, though he is not a nuclear physicist" he said. "He graduated from the aviation institute. It is true that he had come to Chernobyl in the first few days after the accident, but the next time he came there 18 months later, in late 1988."

    Borovoi said that by that time scientists had completed the picture of fuel layout in Unit 4, described it in numerous documents, and filmed the site. "We were absolutely sure then that about 95% of fuel remained within the containment envelope," he said. "The analysis of soil samples, which was made a thousand times in the industrial zone of the nuclear power plant and outside it, including in many European states, reaffirmed that conclusion. All data checked by different methods showed that less than 5% of fuel had been involved in the accident."

    But Checherov claims there is no radioactive fuel left in the reactor. According to him, more than 90% of fuel, which is about 200 tons of uranium and plutonium, were blown out of the reactor and are still flying somewhere over Europe. Checherov presumes that a nuclear explosion took place at the reactor, which vaporized the fuel at a temperature of 40000°C (72032°F).

    "Checherov is arguing as an amateur who knows nothing about the laws of nuclear physics," said nuclear physicist Boris Gorbachev from Kiev, who had worked in Chernobyl for 18 years. "Every nuclear physicist knows that slightly enriched uranium with a 235U concentration of up to 2% (which was used in the Chernobyl reactors) cannot explode in principle. To be able to explode, uranium should be enriched to 80%. The speed of the chain reaction in a nuclear explosion is millions of times quicker. If there had been a nuclear explosion, it would have vaporized more than just fuel. I cannot bear to think about the potential consequences of such an explosion."

    Edvard Pazukhin, a researcher at the Khlopin Radium Institute in St. Petersburg, wrote his doctorate on the fuel of Unit 4. "The explosion created a mixture that was like volcanic lava, which filled the space under the reactor," Pazukhin said. "We have determined its precise location, and used four independent methods to determine its amount and the physical and chemical composition. We have no doubt that less than 5% of fuel was blown out of the active zone."

    If Checherov is right and the reactor is truly empty, why build a new containment envelope, for which the European Union has allocated hundreds of millions of euros? To believe Checherov, Russia is deceiving Europe in order to get more money from Europe. However, common people can be deceived, but facts speak the truth.

    "One proof of the presence of radioactive fuel in the reactor is temperatures of up to 40°C (104°F) registered in the destroyed buildings. The reason for this can be only the continuing nuclear fission," said Boris Gorbachev.

    "The reactor is a nuclear threat," warns Edvard Pazukhin. "Suffice it to recall the neutron accident (in 1990), when our Finish system registered a dramatic increase in the neutron flow, which means that the reactor is alive. Emergency measures where taken then, with the premises where the accident was registered filled with a special mixture to absorb neutrons."

    From 1998 to 2001, the research institutes of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus collected, at the initiative of German and French scientists, all information about the Chernobyl fuel, which they jointly analyzed again.

    "The databank included more than 6,000 entries and photo and television documents," said Alexander Borovoi. "The final conclusion was that the containment envelope contained about 150,000 tons of fuel from the destroyed reactor. There should be 30,000 tons more, but we have not found them so far. This does not mean that they do not exist; it may mean that they are located in the epicenter, which we could not reach because of high radiation levels. The price to pay would be prohibitive."

    The second containment envelope, which is to be built in Chernobyl with international assistance, should cover 180 tons of fragments of the ruined reactor. The new reliable envelope should keep the radioactive remains calm for about a hundred years, as well as play a strong psychological role, putting an end to the Chernobyl fears.

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