THIS IS BEYOND WEIRD!!!! On a tragic day in 1986 that will be remembered forever, the Number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had a power surge during a routine test, triggering an emergency shutdown. Instead of shutting down as planned, the reactor continued surging power. Control rods, used to manage the core’s temperature, cracked in the rising heat and locked into place. When the water used to cool the entire reactor vaporized, a massive explosion blew the 4-million pound lit through the roof of the building. A second explosion followed shortly thereafter, sending broken core material, fire, and radioactive waste into the air.
Without tons of steel and concrete to shield it, the core of the reactor began to melt, resulting in a lava-like molten mixture of portions of nuclear reactor core, nuclear fuel, and fission products—known as corium. The corium ultimately melted through the bottom of the reactor vessel, ate through concrete, oozed through pipes and solidified. The spot wouldn’t be discovered until December 1986, buried under the sarcophagus, a large concrete enclosure built on the site to contain the fallout.
During a research trip to the sarcophagus, equipment registered levels of radiation so high that it could kill anyone who got too close for more just 300 seconds. To find the source of the daily readings, one scientist attached a camera to a wheeled device and rolled it in the direction of the source. That’s when they spotted the Elephant’s Foot—an structure so deadly that spending only 30 seconds near it will make you sick—and five minutes will kill you.
Particles emitted from radioactive atoms are a form of ionizing radiation—meaning they have enough energy to scramble atoms and molecules they come into contact with. They have the power to destroy or alter the bonds that hold our DNA together and with enough damage, cells can start to function irregularly—leading to potentially lethal effects like cancer. The more radiation released from a mass of atoms, the more dangerous it is. The Elephant’s Foot was off the charts.
Even after three decades, the foot is melting through the concrete base of the plant, making the surrounding city uninhabitable to humans for at least the next 100 years. Worse yet, if the foot continues melting into a source of ground water, it could contaminate nearby villages as well.
Essentially, the Elephant’s Foot is the most dangerous piece of waste in the world. For humans, at least.
Interestingly, biologists from the University of Georgia set up cameras to track animal activity in the area that has been forcefully abandoned by humans. The cameras spotted healthy populations of gray wolves, red foxes, wild boars, moose, and deer. As it turns out, many species of animals are still living in the area—and thriving in it. In a true demonstration of the potentially destructive presence of human beings can be on an animal population, the area of the Chernobyl disaster has become a wildlife refuge for many different species.