Quantum and Nuclear

The radioactive elephant’s foot

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 16-19 IOP RESOURCES

During the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, the reactor core melted, mixing with steel and other materials to form lava-like flows which cooled and solidified beneath Reactor No. 4. A scientist who entered the power station after the meltdown described the material:

It is very black, like glittering coal... It’s awfully beautiful, it shines like silver. You feel like you’re on the Moon but rationally you know the radiation is extremely high. It is an unforgettable experience.

The frozen flows have formed shapes reminiscent of stalactites and stalagmites with one particularly noticeable feature named the elephant’s foot because of its shape. Even eight months after the disaster the elephant’s foot gave off so much ionising radiation that a visitor had a 50% chance of death if they spent five minutes close to the foot. The activity of the waste has since decreased.

The radioactive elephant’s foot


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