Posts Tagged ‘nuclear power’


Chernobyl Turbine Hall, November 2016

February 1, 2017

Please select any photo in the galleries for a larger version and descriptive caption.

The mercury-vapor lights in the ChNPP turbine hall barely turn on in the freezing darkness of Ukrainian winter, emitting a harsh buzz but only weak, jaundiced illumination.  With no climate control (the on-site heating plant is shut down because the fuel needed comes from Russia and is prohibitively expensive), corrosion has set in on every available surface.  Across the turbine decks, in vast heaps, lie demounted valves, piping, bearings, casings, and of course, pieces of the turbines themselves, all of it too radioactive to go anywhere else but here.  Made in Ukraine at the Kharkov Turbine Factory (now Turboatom), the vast machines are destined to rust away while similar turbines continue to turn at more auspicious nuclear power plants throughout the former USSR.

In addition to the turbogenerators, the turbine hall also contains condensate and feedwater machinery, some of which may be seen in the photos in the gallery here.  The hall is being temporarily used to store radioactive structural components of the highly-contaminated ventilation stack that once stood between the Units 3-4 reactor buildings. Click below to watch a Bionerd video about the turbine hall:



Chernobyl Unit 4, November 2016

January 19, 2017

Please select any photo in the galleries for a larger version and descriptive caption.
In November 2016, the massive New Safe Confinement arch slid over Unit 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and the old “Sarcophagus” that had defined the appearance of the damaged unit for 30 years receded from view.  Over the last three years, the iconic ventilation chimney shared by Units 3 and 4 has been disassembled as well, and now rests in pieces in various places (including the deck of No. 5 turbogenerator).  Inside the unit, work continues to finish the Perimeter Closure Project–the effort to hermetically seal off the east and west boundaries of the New Safe Confinement from the rest of the power plant.  Floor by floor, barriers are going up.  The memorial to Valery Khodemchuk, the first victim of the 1986 accident whose remains have never been recovered, has been removed from its old location at the northwest end of the chemical treatment and ventilation block, and will be reinstalled somewhere else once the project is finished.  The photos in the second gallery show the state of the Arch and the Local Zone around Unit 4 only several days before the Arch began its movement, and are certainly among the last photos of the old Unit 4 exterior we have come to know and love.

I was honored to have Bionerd along for this trip, and her video record of the visit inside Unit 4 is on YouTube here:

Finally, here is a gallery showing the Arch of the New Safe Confinement and some of the “Local Zone” surrounding Unit 4.


Chernobyl Unit 2, November 2016 (Part I)

January 17, 2017

Please select any photo in the gallery for a larger version and descriptive caption.

This photo gallery documents the main circulation pumps and the repair/transport corridor in Unit 2 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant as they appeared in mid-November 2016.  Unit 2 operated until a fire damaged the No. 4 generator and the unit’s feedwater machinery in October of 1991, after which the unit was permanently shut down.  It is an example of the earliest variant of the RBMK plant design, following the model of the Leningrad units.  The main circulation pumps in these earlier units are aligned on an axis perpendicular to the turbines and on the +1.0m elevation, whereas in the later generation of RBMK units (e.g. ChNPP Units 3-4), the pump engines are on the +12.5m elevation and aligned parallel with the turbines so that twinned units could share the same MCP engine halls and associated cranes.  The earlier-generation units are smaller than the later generation, mainly because they lack a steam-condensing “accident localization system” beneath the reactor.

Locations shown in the photo gallery may be identified on the following plan of the +1m elevation in the Unit 2 reactor building, taken from plant safety documentation:


2015 Photos from Chernobyl

June 11, 2016

I have been extremely slothful in attending to my blog, and if anyone still reads it, I apologize and thank you for your patience!  I’m attempting to catch up for the last few years in my spare time, posting the content and photos I’ve intended to publish more punctually but somehow haven’t found the time to do yet.  The following images were taken at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in September of 2015 (with a couple from 2013, another trip I somehow managed not to document on my blog).  Amazing progress has been made on the New Safe Confinement.


Inside Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station

May 26, 2012

The two boiling water reactors at Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station are of the BWR/4 product line from General Electric and are housed in Mark I (“lightbulb”) containments.  They share a common turbine building and a common control room.  Electrical output is about 1200 MW each, leaving the station at a respectable 500 kV to feed the power-hungry metropolitan areas of the northeastern United States.  Condenser waste heat is rejected to the Susquehanna River, supplemented during particularly hot weather by some small forced-draft cooling towers.  Peach Bottom’s official name harkens back to 1958, when “atomic power” was a celebrated novelty, and construction began on a unique gas-cooled reactor at the Peach Bottom site.  The GCR operated until 1974.  Units 2 and 3 came on line that same year on a site on the right bank of the Susquehanna River just north of Unit 1.

Nuclear power plants have understandably committed unprecedented attention to safety and security in the last decade or so.  An unfortunate side effect has been that those of us who don’t work in these facilities have scant resources to help wrap our heads around their scale, layout, equipment, and operations.  With that in mind, I’m profoundly grateful to Exelon Corporation’s Peach Bottom staff, and in particular Jim Kovalchick, director of security, for allowing the comprehensive tour on which these photos were taken in April 2012.

To see pics with my descriptive captions, you must click “permalink” in the slideshow view after clicking the thumbnails below.  Sorry that’s not obvious, but has gone all knuckle-head in the tech department this year.  If you want to see the FULL SIZED photo: (1) click the thumbnail; (2) select “permalink”; (3) click the larger photo.  Whew!


Inside Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant 2011, Part I: Unit 3 and V Block

August 8, 2011

I just returned from another trip to Chernobyl. We visited some parts of the power plant that we didn’t get to see on last year’s trip, but—as I’m sure my readers can understand—one day at the station wasn’t enough and I’m left pining for more! (I’m particularly lusting after a certain pachyderm appendage, if you catch my drift.) Anyway, without further ado, here’s a gallery of select images from the Phase II end of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant—that is, from the Unit 3 reactor building and the Unit 3-4 ventilation building (in which is located a memorial to Valery Khodemchuk, the young engineer whose remains have never been recovered from the Unit 4 north main circulation pump engine hall). Click on any image for a larger version with my descriptive comments (and click again for the full-sized photograph).

I’m deeply indebted to Mr. Igor Gramotkin, General Director of ChNPP, and Ms. Irina Kovbich of ChNPP’s Information Department, for permission to visit, and a most fascinating tour of this unique facility.

Watch a short video of our trip to the Khodemchuk memorial:

To get a bearing on the station layout and the path we took within it, please see the floor plan at bottom, depicting the station’s +10/+12.5-meter elevation, compiled from an official plant safety document.  My comments in the photos / video make reference to specific locations visible on this map.

Floor plan of ChNPP Phase II, +10/+12.5-meter elevation


Information on Fukushima Nuclear Crisis [3/21 update]

March 16, 2011

A crisis has been mounting at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant ever since the “Sendai earthquake” and tsunami of March 11 disabled multiple cooling and backup power systems at the six-unit BWR facility.  Efforts of a skeleton operating crew are ongoing to cool the beleaguered reactors and their onsite spent fuel inventory.  Hopefully these workers, widely hailed as heroes, will avert a wider release of radioactive material.  (Tokyo Electric Power Company image, left, shows damaged reactor buildings 3 and 4 on March 15).

I am not in a position to opine on what this accident means for the future of nuclear energy, for the political fortunes of the camps aligned for or against it, or for the risk assessment methodology, regulatory framework, engineering practices, etc. that lay the foundation for safety in this business.   (For all that, stay tuned to network television, where at least one “rodeo clown” possessed of a high-school diploma and a chalkboard is on duty in front of the cameras.)  Where I think I can be helpful is in recommending  and uploading a few sources of eminently credible information.

  • First, for info on the status of the accident, the UN’s IAEA updates a staff report regularly with expert-prepared announcements free of sensationalism and technical misinterpretation.
  • Second, for general info on the power plant systems involved in this accident, I recommend reading the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s BWR section of their Reactor Concepts Manual.  (Page 3-16, for example, has an excellent cutaway image of the GE Mark-1 containment involved in this accident.)
  • Third, some radiological doserate information from cities across Japan, March 14 – 15, was sent to me by colleagues in Tokyo.  I’m grateful to Dr. Ryo Fujii, Cancer Intelligence Care Systems Inc., Tokyo, for this document. It is in Japanese, so I recommend Google Translate for non-Japanese-speakers.  Among the highest readings: 1.318 μGy / hr (0.1318 mrad / hr, about 20-40 times local background), was measured in Utsonomiya, Tochigi Prefecture on March 15.  At a site in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture (approximately 130 km SSW of the power plant), doserate spiked in the morning on 3/15 to around 5.8 μSv / hr (0.58 mrem / hr).
  • UPDATE, 4:20PM MDT March 17: Detailed dosimetric information from near the power plant, released by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology (MEST), shows highest radiation levels (about 80 μSv / hr or 8 mrem / hr) to the WNW, 20-30 km from the station (no points within the 20-km exclusion zone are sampled).
  • UPDATE, 12:38AM MDT March 18: More dosimetric information from the Fukushima vicinity has been released.  Note increases and rates as high as 17 mrem / hr outside the expanded 30-km exclusion zone.
  • UPDATE, 10:20AM MDT March 21: New dosimetric information shows radiation levels generally falling in the Fukushima vicinity.  Additional sampling points have been added within the 30-km zone.  The Japanese government has released some contamination estimates throughout the country, showing levels of I-131 contamination as high as 93 GBq (2.7 Ci) / sq. km in Ibaraki Prefecture.  Levels of I-131 and Cs-137 in drinking water are also reported.
  • What’s in the fallout? Isotopic composition of the fallout would be a valuable key to understanding the process that is releasing contamination, and gamma spectrometry is a straightforward technique to measure this.  However, I can find NO public spectra as of March 18.  As Nature learned, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization has had such information for a while but is not making it public.  I will opine for a moment to say that the lack of openness from CTBTO, its members, and Japan in particular regarding fallout gamma spectra is a disgraceUPDATE, 10:20AM MDT March 21: UC-Berkeley’s Nuclear Engineering Department publishes HPGe gamma spectra of fallout in their local rainwater.  Contents include I-131, Cs-134, Cs-137, Te-132, and its daughter I-132.   I-131 and Te-132 are short-lived nuclides that would have been generated by recent fission.

Finally, though my outpost here on the ‘net is probably mostly known to a niche audience with a like-minded interest in playing with radiation and collecting radioactive material, I am sobered at the thought of the human suffering brought on by the terrible circumstances unfolding in Japan—psychological terror, physical injury, shattered faith.  I wish I could do more to help.

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