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The Behavior of Nuclear Fuel in First Days of the Chernobyl Accident


Various types of Chernobyl fuel containing masses named black “lava”, brown “lava”, porous “ceramic” and “hot” particles that formed during first days of the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant 4th Unit were studied by methods of optical and electron microscopy, microprobe and x-ray diffraction. Data about their chemical, phase and radionuclide composition are summarized. The products of interaction between fuel, zircaloy and concrete, produced under experiments in laboratory were examined for comparison with samples of Chernobyl “lava” and “hot” particles. The behavior of nuclear fuel in first days of the Chernobyl accident was a three-stage process. The first stage occurred before the moment of the Chernobyl explosion and was exceptionally short-lasting, perhaps, less than a few seconds. It was characterized by reaching a high temperature, ≥2600 °C, in the epicenter of accident and formation of a Zr-U-O melt in a local part of the core, which is estimated to be not more than 30% of whole core volume. The second stage lasted for about 6 days since the explosion, during which there was interaction between uranium products of the destroyed reactor: UOx, UOx with Zr, Zr-U-O, with the environment and silicate structural materials of the 4th Unit. The third stage, after 6 days involved the process of final formation of the radioactive silicate melt or Chernobyl “lava” at one of the sections of the destroyed 4th Unit. During this stage the melt's lamination occurred, followed by a break-through of the “lava” reservoir on the 11 th day of the accident and penetration of the “lava” into space under the reactor.

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The authors are very grateful to R.C. Ewing and W. Lutze of the University of New Mexico for help in the preparation of this review and to N. Rutchkovski of IPSN and A. P. Zavragzin of Radium Institute for the translation of this article into English. The collaboration between University of New Mexico and V.G. Khlopin Radium Institute is supported by the NATO International Scientific Exchange Program.

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Burakov, B.E., Anderson, E.B., Shabalev, S.I. et al. The Behavior of Nuclear Fuel in First Days of the Chernobyl Accident. MRS Online Proceedings Library 465, 1297–1308 (1996).

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