Archive for Tuesday, November 22, 2011

25 years ago: Chernobyl disaster avoidable, says visiting prof

November 22, 2011

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From the Lawrence Daily Journal-World for Nov. 22, 1986:

Bernard Cohen, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, had spoken recently to a group of about 90 academicians at a Kansas University conference on Chernobyl. The conference was the sixth annual Conference on International Affairs, sponsored by KU and U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan. In his talk, Cohen pointed out some of the fundamental differences between reactors in the Soviet Union and those in the United States. Philosophies on nuclear power were also different, he said, adding that the Chernobyl disaster had happened in part because the plant had been designed with plutonium production -- not safety -- in mind. One difference he outlined was that the plants such as Chernobyl were used to make bomb-grade plutonium for nuclear warheads as well as to produce electricity. Plutonium production required the use of graphite as a "moderator," and Cohen explained that graphite made the reactor unstable and could also catch fire. Reactors in the U.S., on the other hand, used water to slow down the reaction. Cohen also mentioned that most Soviet reactors had no containment structure. However, he added, the Chernobyl disaster could have been avoided if the Soviet engineers had not blatantly disregarded safety procedures.

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