The Chernobyl Disaster — Painful Lessons Learned and a Safer Path Forward for Nuclear Energy
by Dr. Gary L. Deel and J. J. Marra
Last year, I interview nuclear physics expert J. J. Marra about the breakthrough discovery of a means for controlled nuclear fusion — a news headline that rocked the science world and is likely to revolutionize the nuclear energy industry in the decades ahead.
Following that article, I watched the Max series Chernobyl — which, for any interested readers, is an exquisitely well-produced dramatization of the heartbreaking human story surrounding the 1986 powerplant disaster, its causes, and its fallout.
Thereafter, I reconnected with J. J. on this topic, and I thought it might be interesting for us to look at the Chernobyl disaster together, in order to talk about a number of related topics, including: what the average person might misunderstand about nuclear power plants, what went wrong at Chernobyl, what the costs were (then and now), what we learned from the tragic incident that occurred there, how Chernobyl shaped public opinion around the safety of nuclear energy, and how the new discovery regarding nuclear fusion might further improve safety in the nuclear energy industry. Below is our interview on these subjects and more.
Gary: In order to set the stage for our discussion, I think we should cover some fundamentals of the nuclear energy. So first, are there different kinds of nuclear power reactors? What are they?
J. J.: Nuclear reactors used for commercial power create thermal energy (heat) that is transformed into electrical energy (electricity.) Reactors differ in the medium that transfers the heat, how the heat is transferred, and how the reactor is cooled to control its temperature. Pressurized water reactors heat liquid water, which then generates electricity through a steam turbine. A boiling water reactor also drives a steam turbine, but the water is boiled and serves as a coolant by interacting directly with the nuclear fuel. Heavy water reactors are similar to boiling water reactors, but instead use deuterium oxide, a form of water that is more effective at moderating the nuclear reaction.
Gary: What kind of nuclear reactor was Chernobyl? How did it work?