29 November 2021

Technology from FOI to go to Chernobyl

FOI’s unique expertise in measuring airborne radioactivity may soon benefit Chernobyl. Using measurements of the noble gas, xenon, a technology originally developed to detect nuclear weapons tests, the fuel in the wrecked reactor will be monitored to further increase the safety at the plant.

A group of people visitning Chernobyl

Photo: ChNPP.

On April 26, 1986, the most serious reactor accident in history occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Ukraine. To prevent the spread of radioactivity, the accident site is covered with a sarcophagus. FOI has now, together with Uppsala University and the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, initiated a project where a measurement system developed by FOI will be used to make the sarcophagus even safer.

Anders Ringbom, Research Director at FOI, recently visited Chernobyl.

“The idea is that the technology we have developed to monitor whether nuclear weapons tests are being conducted will be installed in Chernobyl. It is gratifying that the method also has the potential to be used in this context and that we have an opportunity to contribute to increased safety. This year we will carry out a simpler measurement to get a first idea of the method’s feasibility.”

In short, the noble gas xenon is a very good indicator of fission, the process that releases energy both in a nuclear explosion and in a nuclear reactor. When a nuclear device is detonated underground, xenon can enter the atmosphere and show that a nuclear weapon test has taken place. The same principle applies in other contexts where slower fission processes could take place. An increased amount of xenon in the sarcophagus could indicate increased fission activity in the wrecked reactor, which could be a safety risk for those working at the plant.