Environmental Science/A few questions...

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Question
Dear Mr.Luhowy,

My name is Matt Wilhelm and I am a student at Diamond Oaks High School. I am currently working on my Senior project that is about the Chernobyl disaster, and the affects/cleanup that is involved after a nuclear disaster. Since you are an expert in this field, would you have time to answer a few questions for me?

They are listed below and a few sentences would be a great help to me.

1. Is the Chernobyl power plant itself still dangerously radioactive?

2. Is there anyone who worked in the plant that is still alive today?

3. Is there still work being done there?

4. What steps have been taken today to reassure that another chernobyl will never happen?

5. What is the second most devastating nuclear disaster next to chernobyl

Thank you so much for your time, sincerely, Matt Wilhelm

Answer
Hi Matt:

Iím happy to give you a few points to point you in the right direction, but I would encourage you to consult public sources of information on this topic. There is a lot of information about Chernobyl, Fukushima, and nuclear safety in general available on the Internet and at your library.

1. Is the Chernobyl power plant itself still dangerously radioactive?

Yes. The #4 reactor is encased in a concrete sarcophagus. There is a 1000 square mile exclusion zone around the plant where the public is not allowed.

2. Is there anyone who worked in the plant that is still alive today?
Yes. There were actually only two immediate casualties of the explosion, and about 50 deaths due to acute radiation sickness among plant workers and emergency responders. I donít know the exact number, but there would have been thousands of people working at the plant in 1986.

3. Is there still work being done there?

Yes. In fact, other units the plant were still used to produce electricity up to the year 2000. Decommissioning of the plant, including monitoring and cleanup, is underway.

4. What steps have been taken today to reassure that another chernobyl will never happen?

The nuclear industry is both  tightly regulated and self-regulating. The licencing body in each country requires nuclear power plants have quality assurance programs to learn from their own mistakes, but most importantly from the mistakes of others. In addition, there are industry bodies such as WANO and INPO where plants evaluate and grade one another on all aspects of their business, from purchasing, to maintenance, to emergency preparedness.
The basic conclusions resulting from years of study into the causes of Chernobyl have concluded that it was due to a combination of design flaws and human error.

5. What is the second most devastating nuclear disaster next to chernobyl

This would likely be the Fukushima Daiichi event following the 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami. Of course, this was fundamentally different than Chernobyl since it was part of a much larger natural disaster.  

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Dylan Luhowy

Expertise

I can answer questions about groundwater contamination and monitoring, stormwater management, environmental assessment, landfill sites, nuclear waste management, geology, and the nuclear fuel cycle. I have knowledge and experience with the management of nuclear waste, but I can't answer specific questions about the operation of nuclear power plants.

Experience

I have 10 years experience in groundwater monitoring, landfill operation, nuclear waste management, sedimentary geology, stormwater management, environmental sampling, and environment, health, safety and quality managemnet. I've been a co-author and presenter for numerous papers in the fields of geology and nuclear waste management at international conferences.

Organizations
Licensed professional engineer in the province of Ontario.

Education/Credentials
B.A.Sc. Environmental Engineering, University of Waterloo, 2001.

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