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Finding rewrites worst nuclear disaster
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20.09.2018

Finding rewrites worst nuclear disaster

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A SWEDISH study has shed new light on what really happened during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that could up-end our understanding of events.
On April 25, 1986, two explosions within three seconds of each other occurred at Chernobyl-4 reactor in a catastrophe that would ultimately kill 28 people in four months and lead to nearly 7000 cases of thyroid cancer.
It’s been widely believed for more than 30 years the first blast was caused by steam or water vapour with the second a hydrogen explosion. However a new Journal of Nuclear Technology report claims we may have actually had it backwards all along.
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“The first explosion consisted of thermal neutron mediated nuclear explosions in one or rather a few fuel channels, which caused a jet of debris that reached an altitude of some 2500 to 3000m,” the researchers wrote.
“The second explosion would then have been the steam explosion most experts believe was the first one.”
The dramatic switch is based on the fact “newly produced, or fresh, xenon fission products” were found in the town of Cherepovets, 370km north of Moscow within four days of the disaster by another research group from the V. G. Khlopin Radium Institute.
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This, combined with new meteorological “dispersion” data shows this would have only been possible if the debris reached a much higher altitude than previously thought, researchers claim.
They also argued the “blue flash” witnesses reported make the case for their version as blue light is often seen after oxygen and nitrogen rather than vapour.
At the time, a man fishing on a cooling pond 500 metres away reported hearing a large clap followed by an explosion. Seconds later, he saw a “bright blue flash” followed by another enormous explosion. Power plant employee Alexander Yuvchenko, described how he “ran out and saw half of the building gone and the reactor emitting a blue glow.”
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SPIKE IN RADIOACTIVITY
The news comes as Russian authorities confirmed a spike in radioactivity over the Ural Mountains which may be linked to a nuclear fuel processing plant allegedly behind another nuclear disaster from 2004.
On Tuesday, the Russian Meteorological Service said it recorded the release of Ruthenium-106 in the southern Urals in late September and classified it as “extremely high contamination.” France’s nuclear safety agency said it too found increased radioactivity near the Ural Mountains but it posed no health or environmental risks to European countries.
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At the time, Russia’s state-controlled Rosatom corporation said there had been no radiation leak from its facilities. However the weather office’s report noted high levels of radiation near Rosatom’s Mayak plant for spent nuclear fuel.
Air samples in the town of Argayash in late September-early October, for example, showed levels nearly 1,000 times higher than those recorded in the previous months.
The Russian Natural Resources Ministry — seeking to reassure the public — said levels were still lower than those deemed dangerous.
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Mayak has denied being the source of contamination. However in 2004 it was confirmed waste was being dumped in the local Techa River. Nuclear regulators say that no longer happens, but antinuclear activists say it’s impossible to tell given the level of state secrecy.
In 2016, Associated Press reporters visited a village downstream from Mayak where doctors have for years recorded rates of chromosomal abnormalities, birth defects and cancers vastly higher than the Russian average. A Geiger counter at the riverbank in the village of Muslyumovo showed measurements 80 to 100 times the level of naturally occurring background radiation.
A decades-long Radiation Research Society study of people living near the Techa River, conducted jointly by Russian and American scientists, has linked radiation particularly to higher rates of cancer of the uterus and oesophagus.
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The Nuclear Safety Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences, which oversees safety standards for the country’s nuclear industry, has insisted, however, that Mayak’s nuclear waste processing system presents no danger to the surrounding population.
Environmental pressure group Greenpeace said in a statement on Tuesday that it would petition the Russian Prosecutor General’s office to investigate “a possible concealment of a radiation accident” and check whether public health was sufficiently protected.
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