"It's like embers in a barbecue pit."
Ukraine's Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was destroyed decades ago in a horrific radioactive accident. But it turns out that nuclear reactions are still smoldering away inside, even now.
Pieces of uranium fuel buried beneath the power plant's wreckage have started to flare up in new nuclear fission reactions, Science Magazine reports. In the face of a potential repeat disaster, experts are now scrambling to figure out if the radioactive "embers" will die out on their own or if someone needs to go in and take care of it.
"It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit," University of Sheffield nuclear chemist Neil Hyatt told Science.
The Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP), a nuclear safety organization in Kiev, Ukraine, found that the strength of the runaway nuclear reactions seems to be growing in strength. But that increase is happening slowly, so officials should have a few years to first determine whether a new accident could happen and then find the best way to prevent it.
"There are many uncertainties," ISPNPP official Maxim Saveliev told Science. "But we can’t rule out the possibility of [an] accident."
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If there's a silver lining here, it’s that whatever course of action the ISPNPP and other officials end up taking at Chernobyl could help Japanese authorities manage the crumbling Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which suffered a huge accident in 2011, Science notes.
But before they can share any lessons, they need to actually reach the active uranium. The fact that it's buried beneath concrete, coupled with dangerous levels of radioactivity, will make tackling this growing problem particularly difficult.
READ MORE: ‘It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit.’ Nuclear reactions are smoldering again at Chernobyl [Science Magazine]
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