Concrete to Encase Reactor for Centuries, Soviets Say
Crews at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor stopped the white-hot core from burning into the Earth, and it will have to be buried in concrete for centuries, Soviet officials said today.
Also today, a Soviet official said a total of six people have died since the April 26 accident at the Ukrainian power plant spewed radiation over much of Europe. A vaguely worded government statement, issued Monday, led to speculation that eight people might have died.
In a report from Chernobyl, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda quoted Yevgeny Velikhov, a coordinator of the cleanup at the plant, as saying it could take months to finish encasing the reactor in concrete to seal off its radioactive core.
System to Be Sealed
Ivan Yemelyanov, deputy director of the organization that designed the reactor, said today the concrete also would be poured into the reactor’s cooling apparatus and other portions of the system.
Once sealed, the reactor would have to remain “entombed” for hundreds of years while its radioactive core decays into harmless substances, Yemelyanov told West European reporters in Moscow. A transcript of his comments was provided by one of the reporters present.
Velikhov, vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, told Pravda that a crisis developed 10 days after the accident, which began when an explosion rocked Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor and it caught fire.
“The reactor was damaged. It’s heart was a white-hot core, a scorched, active zone that was somehow ‘hanging,’ ” Velikhov said.
Scientists had feared that tons of sand, lead and other material dumped on the reactor to stop leaking radiation would force the burning core into a reservoir of water below the reactor, he said.
‘Such a Complex Situation’
“Would we manage to keep it intact or would it go down into the Earth? No one in the world has ever been in such a complex situation,” he said.
Velikhov said scientists averted a catastrophe by pumping out the water and drilling holes to draw heat from the reactor. It was not clear when the holes were drilled, but Velikhov said the effort succeeded.
Other reports have said workers began pouring concrete below the reactor to reinforce its foundation.
Boris Y. Shcherbina, head of the government investigaton, held a briefing today for diplomats from 15 nations.
Those attending said they were told that radioactive emissions from the stricken reactor have nearly ceased. “First they said emissions stopped, then they said emissions practically stopped,” one diplomat said on condition his name not be used.
Confusion Over Deaths
A Scandinavian reporter quoted Yemelyanov as saying a total of six people died in the accident. The official news agency Tass said Monday that “35 persons are in a grave condition; six persons suffering from burns and radiation died.” The phrasing appeared to indicate that the six dead were in addition to the two reported killed earlier. Industrialist Armand Hammer arrived in Moscow today on a plane loaded with supplies for the U.S. medical team. Hammer, who has maintained contact with top Soviet officials for decades, was instrumental in getting the Soviets to accept private American medical help.