Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine

Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine

A look inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, the location of the worst ever nuclear disaster.

Visited April 2014 and October 2019  Ukraine Chernobyl, Ukraine Nuclear clean-up and decommissioning
The monument commemorating those who lost their lives in the Chernobyl disaster standing in front of reactor 4, as seen in 2014 before the NSC was moved into position
The monument commemorating those who lost their lives in the Chernobyl disaster standing in front of reactor 4, as seen in 2014 before the NSC was moved into position

The Vladimir Ilyich Lenin Nuclear Power Plant, commonly referred to as Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, owing to its close proximity to the town of that name, consisted of four RBMK-1000 reactors, each capable of producing 1,000 megawatts (MW) of electric power (3,200 MW of thermal power), and the four together produced about 10% of Ukraine’s electricity at the time of the disaster. Construction of the plant and the nearby city of Pripyat to house workers and their families began in 1970, with reactor No. 1 commissioned in 1977. The completion of the first reactor in 1977 was followed by reactor No. 2 in 1978, No. 3 in 1981, and No. 4 in 1983.

Electrical energy was generated by a pair of 500 MW hydrogen-cooled turbo generators. These were located in the 600 metre-long machine hall, adjacent to the reactor building. The turbines were five-cylinder K-500-65/3000 and the electrical generators were TBB-500’s.

Reactors No. 3 and 4 were second generation units, whereas No. 1 and 2 were first-generation units. Second-generation RBMK designs were fitted with a more secure containment structure visible in photos of the facility.

Turbines in the Machine Hall, before the accident
Turbines in the Machine Hall, before the accident
Cross section of the power plant
Cross section of the power plant
Chernobyl Power Plant - The power plant in 2019, with a new mural named "Looking into the Future", painted by Valeriy Korshunov on the eastern wall
Chernobyl Power Plant – The power plant in 2019, with a new mural named “Looking into the Future”, painted by Valeriy Korshunov on the eastern wall

Accident and Decommissioning

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl disaster occurred at reactor No. 4, caused by a catastrophic power increase resulting in core explosions and open-air fires. This caused large quantities of radioactive materials and airborne isotopes to disperse in the atmosphere and surrounding land.

The disaster has been widely regarded as the worst accident in the history of nuclear power. As a result, Reactor No. 4 was completely destroyed, and shortly after enclosed in a concrete and lead sarcophagus, followed more recently by a large steel confinement shelter, to prevent further escape of radioactivity. Large areas of Europe were affected by the accident. The radioactive cloud spread as far away as Norway.

After the explosion at reactor No. 4, the remaining three reactors at the power plant continued to operate.

Unit 4 before and immediately after the accident in 1986
Unit 4 before and immediately after the accident in 1986
Chernobyl Power Plant - The reactor building of unit 3 and the New Safe Confinement (NSC) positioned over unit 4
Chernobyl Power Plant – The reactor building of unit 3 and the New Safe Confinement (NSC) positioned over unit 4

Unit 3 Reactor Hall

The nuclear reactor during commissioning. Workers are handling fuel rods without protection, as they emit only a low dose of radiation before use
The nuclear reactor during commissioning. Workers are handling fuel rods without protection, as they emit only a low dose of radiation before use
Chernobyl Power Plant - View over the reactor top. Each square block is a reactor channel, each of which contained a nuclear fuel rod when in use. The fuel has since been removed.
Chernobyl Power Plant – View over the reactor top. Each square block is a reactor channel, each of which contained a nuclear fuel rod when in use. The fuel has since been removed.
Chernobyl Power Plant - The reactor hall viewed from above
Chernobyl Power Plant – The reactor hall viewed from above
Chernobyl Power Plant - Closer view of the nuclear reactor
Chernobyl Power Plant – Closer view of the nuclear reactor
Chernobyl Power Plant - This machine enabled the reactor to be refuelled whilst in use
Chernobyl Power Plant – This machine enabled the reactor to be refuelled whilst in use
Chernobyl Power Plant - Blocks on top of the reactor channels
Chernobyl Power Plant – Blocks on top of the reactor channels
Chernobyl Power Plant - Selfie on the nuclear reactor!
Chernobyl Power Plant – Selfie on the nuclear reactor!

Control Rooms

The control rooms of each unit are positioned centrally between the machine hall and the reactor halls. A long corridor known as “The Golden Corridor” connects all the control rooms.

Chernobyl Power Plant - The Golden Corridor
Chernobyl Power Plant – The Golden Corridor
Chernobyl Power Plant - Tiled floor of the golden corridor. Entrance to control rooms on the left.
Chernobyl Power Plant – Tiled floor of the golden corridor. Entrance to control rooms on the left.
One of the control rooms, sometime before the accident occurred
One of the control rooms, sometime before the accident occurred

Control Room 2

Control rooms 1 and 2 were identical, controlling the two first-generation units.

Chernobyl Power Plant - Reactor control desk in Control Room 2
Chernobyl Power Plant – Reactor control desk in Control Room 2
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 2
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 2
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 2
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 2

Control Room 3

Control rooms 3 and 4 were identical, operating the two second-generation units. Some modifications were made to control room 3 after the accident, but this is pretty much how unit 4 would have also looked.

Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 3
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 3
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 3
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 3
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 3 closer view of control desk
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 3 closer view of control desk
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 3
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 3
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 3
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 3
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 3 reactor overview
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 3 reactor overview
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 3 rod indicator panel
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 3 rod indicator panel
Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 3 rod indicator panel
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 3 rod indicator panel
Chernobyl Power Plant - The infamous AZ-5 button (labelled A3-5 in Russian)
Chernobyl Power Plant – The infamous AZ-5 button (labelled A3-5 in Russian)

Control Room 4

This is the room in which operators attempted to run the safety test and pushed the reactor to its limits. The AZ-5 shutdown procedure was then activated, which, unknown to the operators had a fatal flaw, triggering the explosion and meltdown of the reactor.

Chernobyl Power Plant - Control Room 4 Reactor Panels
Chernobyl Power Plant – Control Room 4 Reactor Panels
Chernobyl Power Plant - Panels in Control Room 4
Chernobyl Power Plant – Panels in Control Room 4
Chernobyl Power Plant - Panels in Unit 4's Control Room
Chernobyl Power Plant – Panels in Unit 4’s Control Room
Chernobyl Power Plant - Unit 4 Reactor Controls
Chernobyl Power Plant – Unit 4 Reactor Controls
Chernobyl Power Plant - View down control room 4
Chernobyl Power Plant – View down control room 4

Computer Room

The process computer for the RBMK nuclear reactors prior to October 1995 was SKALA (from the Russian which translates to “Control system of the devices of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant”). Dating back to the 1960s, it used magnetic core memory, magnetic tape data storage, and punched tape for loading software.

Chernobyl Power Plant - Computer control stations
Chernobyl Power Plant – Computer control stations
Chernobyl Power Plant - Computer control stations
Chernobyl Power Plant – Computer control stations
Chernobyl Power Plant - Units 1 and 2 computer power panels
Chernobyl Power Plant – Units 1 and 2 computer power panels
Chernobyl Power Plant - Magnetic tape storage
Chernobyl Power Plant – Magnetic tape storage
Chernobyl Power Plant - Command station with CCCP book on the desk
Chernobyl Power Plant – Command station with CCCP book on the desk

Main Circulation Pumps

The MCPs were responsible for ensuring a constant stream of water entered the reactor to remove the heat. During operation the heat turned the water to steam for use in the turbines. While the reactor was in a shutdown state, water was still required to keep it cool.

Chernobyl Power Plant - Unit 3 main circulation pumps
Chernobyl Power Plant – Unit 3 main circulation pumps
Chernobyl Power Plant - This memorial is dedicated to Valery Khodemchuk who was the senior operator of the main circulation pumps at the time of the accident. His body was never found.
Chernobyl Power Plant – This memorial is dedicated to Valery Khodemchuk who was the senior operator of the main circulation pumps at the time of the accident. His body was never found.

Unit 5​

Two more blocks, numbered five and six, of more or less the same reactor design, were planned at a site roughly a kilometre from the contiguous buildings of the four older blocks. Reactor No. 5 was around 70% complete at the time of block 4’s explosion and was scheduled to come online approximately six months later, on November 7, 1986. In the aftermath of the disaster, the construction on No. 5 and No. 6 were suspended, and eventually cancelled in April 1989, just days before the third anniversary of the 1986 explosion. 6 further reactors were planned on the other side of the river. All 12 reactors were planned to be running until 2010.

Chernobyl Unit 5 - Exterior of the unfinished building
Chernobyl Unit 5 – Exterior of the unfinished building
Chernobyl Unit 5 - Inside unit 5 was a bit of a mess - anything of value has been salvaged and metal scrapping is ongoing
Chernobyl Unit 5 – Inside unit 5 was a bit of a mess – anything of value has been salvaged and metal scrapping is ongoing
Chernobyl Power Plant - Units 1-4 and the New Safe Confinement, as viewed from the roof of Unit 5​
Chernobyl Power Plant – Units 1-4 and the New Safe Confinement, as viewed from the roof of Unit 5​
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