Chernobyl's deadly Elephant's Foot


what a non story… you can at least mention the fungus.

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Wasn’t this supposed to show up in China? This core can’t even make it past the basement!

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I think it’s pretty damn interesting myself. I had not heard specifically about the Elephant’s Foot before, it’s a deadly, yet interesting, component of the disaster.


this is an honest question. Shouldnt this thing be giving off enough radiation to fog a photograph? I have the same sort of problem with photos of atomic blasts and the like. Even if its video (which for old pics of atom bomb tests it isnt) surely the equipment would be screwed up in some way


I’m beginning to think Die Hard 5 was not a documentary!

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one of the most haunting things I ever saw was footage of one of the Chernobyl meltdown’s first-responders shoveling sand or concrete over the fuel. Just some local guy by the looks of him, though Chernobyl being a factory town, he knew exactly what was up. The look in his eyes when they met the camera: “I’m fucking dead. But if I don’t do this immediately, something far worse than my death will gain too great a toe-hold.”

I wonder how far away he stood from what became this “elephant’s foot.”


Here is a story about the new steel dome mentioned as a possible solution in the 1991 video: It’s projected to be completed in 2015.

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The photo was taken in 1996, when a person could stand near the thing for almost an hour before absorbing a lethal dose. Presumably the level of radiation is low enough to not interfere with the film too badly.


Explanation A: The photo of a lump of whatever, and all photos of atomic bombs, and whatever other photos of radioactive stuff are faked, obviously, because you have heard that radiation affects film.

Explanation B: Because you are looking at a photo of “the elephant foot”, and have seen lots of photos of atomic bombs radiation either doesn’t affect film so very easily, or the photographers are using methods which mitigate such problems.

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Doesn’t the video contain noise that is attributed to radiation hitting the CCD? It didn’t seem like enough to fog film at the rate it was showing up.

Ionizing radiation will mess up film (and CCDs too), but yes, people have ways of dealing with it. It’s generally only a problem if an area is especially hot. If this photo had been taken back in 1986 it would look different, but 10 years later the lump had cooled off enough to be manageable. I imagine the camera was brought in, the photo snapped, and then the photographer skedaddled. He might have added some radiation shielding to his camera as well.

It was really neat to see the footage from the cameras lowered into the Fukushima dome to access the damage. It looked like a space battle between invisible ships with “laser beams” flying all around the chamber (really radiation hitting the CMOS sensor).

And the guys who dug a tunnel by hand underneath the foundations.
And the guys who had to get on the roof to clear the debris.
Yes, haunting and deeply disturbing.


Films vary in their sensitivity to high-energy radiation. (Kodak has this to say). Higher speed films generally fog faster, and radiation can be an issue since it tends to punch right through merely optically-opaque containers to fog film before you even expose it.

However, if you aren’t concerned about getting a totally perfect image, the visible-band photons just need to sufficiently outnumber the higher energy stuff and you can get your picture (with a bit of additional noise) and then leave. Given that that picture is a fairly grungy black and white, a bit of fog isn’t going to spoil the effect.

With nuclear blast tests, I suspect that it more comes down to the fact that blasts are bright so there is an absurd amount of visible light available (allowing very short exposure of relatively slow film before it goes back in the lead case and heads to the lab for processing).

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The 1991 Nova episode Suicide Mission to Chernobyl is not to be missed. I believe the camera crew is tagging along when the on-site scientists discover the Elephant’s Foot - “There’s 10,000 Roentgens/hour here! Run!”


“are using methods which mitigate such problems.”

maybe radiation resistant glass? i believe only gamma radiation can penetrate even normal glass more than a cm or so thick, what more if they use radiation resistant glass

also they use special films probably

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note that 3 mile island’s reactor half melted and very little radiation escaped due to the presence of a
containment dome

  • That photo is from 5 years after the accident, so the radiation has cooled down a bit
  • The radiation is likely to be uniform and would fog the film evenly

This is a scary photograph taken within the first few days of the Chernobyl disaster. You can see where the film is fogged at the bottom of the picture - the shadows of the sprockets that advance the film are visible where they’ve blocked the radiation coming up from the debris at the workers feet.

Fuck we're toasted


The book Voices From Chernobyl tells some of the stories of the workers and their families, it is a heartbreaking and fascinating read.

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Yea, if I had to guess I would guess that the procedure for photographing nuclear waste/wreckage/explosions is something like:

Don’t use super fast film, use a bright light (like that nuclear bomb that is going off, heh).
Protect the film from radiation before and after you take the picture.

Also, yea that elephant foot picture isn’t that great. It may well be fogged.