Nuclear Technology / Volume 201 / Number 1 / January 2018 / Pages 11-22
Technical Paper / dx.doi.org/10.1080/00295450.2017.1384269
The nature of two explosions that were witnessed within 3 s at the Chernobyl-4 reactor less than a minute after 21:23:00 UTC on April 25, 1986, have since then been the subject of sprawling interpretations. This paper renders the following hypothesis. The first explosion consisted of thermal neutron mediated nuclear explosions in one or rather a few fuel channels, which caused a jet of debris that reached an altitude of some 2500 to 3000 m. The second explosion would then have been the steam explosion most experts believe was the first one. The solid support for this new scenario rests on two pillars and three pieces of corroborating evidence. The first pillar is that a group at the V. G. Khlopin Radium Institute in then Leningrad on April 29, 1986, detected newly produced, or fresh, xenon fission products at Cherepovets, 370 km north of Moscow and far away from the major track of Chernobyl debris ejected by the steam explosion and subsequent fires. The second pillar is built on state-of-the-art meteorological dispersion calculations, which show that the fresh xenon signature observed at Cherepovets was only possible if the injection altitude of the fresh debris was considerably higher than that of the bulk reactor core releases that turned toward Scandinavia and central Europe. These two strong pieces of evidence are corroborated by what were manifest physical effects of a downward jet in the southeastern part of the reactor, by seismic measurements some 100 km west of the reactor, and by observations of a blue flash above the reactor a few seconds after the first explosion.