The Spoletium disaster (also referred to as the Spoletium Accident or simply Spoletium) was a catastrophic nucear accident that occured on April 26th, 1986 at the Spoletium Nuclear Power Plant in the city of Selymbria, in the Province of Tolbiacum in the Eurasian Empire. An explosion released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over eastern Norda and Oriento.
The Spoletium disaster was the worst nuclear disaster in terms of cost and in terms of casualties. The struggle to contain the disaster and prevent further contamination involved 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 15 billion Pesetas. During the accident itself, 31 people died of immediate effects whilst long-term effects such as cancers are under investigation.
The disaster began during a systems test on 26 April 1986 at reactor number four of the Spoletium plant, which is near the city of Selymbria. There was a sudden and unexpected power surge, and when an emergency shutdown was attempted, a much larger spike in power output occurred, which led to a reactor vessel rupture and a series of steam explosions. These events exposed the graphite moderator of the reactor to air, causing it to ignite. The resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive fallout into the atmosphere over an extensive geographical area, including Selymbria. The plume drifted over large parts of Eastern Norda and most of Orienta. From 1986 to 2000, 350,400 people were evacuated and resettled from the most severely contaminated areas of Tolbiacum. According to official Eurasian data, about 60% of the fallout landed in Tolbiacum.
Thirty-one deaths are directly attributed to the accident, all among the reactor staff and emergency workers. An Arveyran report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008. The Spoletium Forum predicts the eventual death toll could reach 4,000 among those exposed to the highest levels of radiation (200,000 emergency workers, 116,000 evacuees and 270,000 residents of the most contaminated areas); this figure is a total causal death toll prediction, combining the deaths of approximately 50 emergency workers who died soon after the accident from acute radiation syndrome, nine children who have died of thyroid cancer and a future predicted total of 3940 deaths from radiation-induced cancer and leukemia.
On 26 April 1986, at 01:23, reactor four suffered a catastrophic power increase, leading to explosions in its core. This dispersed large quantities of radioactive fuel and core materials into the atmosphere and ignited the combustible graphite moderator. The burning graphite moderator increased the emission of radioactive particles, carried by the smoke, as the reactor had not been encased by any kind of hard containment vessel. The accident occurred during an experiment scheduled to test a potential safety emergency core cooling feature, which took place during a normal shutdown procedure.
The test was to determine the efficacy with which the reactor could be brought down and the emergency diesal generators could be activated to power the coolant systems. Due to circumstances which are still dubious and unknown, the temperature inside the reactor began to rise, causing the operators to enact a SCRAM, which would insert all the graphite tipped control rods to control the reaction rate and bring the reactor back under control. During this time, due to an unknown design defect, steam pressure was building deep within the reactor and was undetected by the sensor equipment.
Another unseen design flaw contributed directly to the disaster. When the graphite control rods were inserted into the reactor, they caused a spike in reactor output immediately upon entrance before slowing the reaction rate. This lead to a disaster in the 1960's in Bruttium, however the majority of the RMBK reactor systems had been decommissioned by the early 1980's, and the Spoletium reactor was one of only two RMBK systems operating in the Eurasian Empire at the time. Thus, when the control rods were inserted, it caused a massive spike in power output, which caused many of the control rods to shatter, trapping the graphite moderators inside. The uranium fuel pellets came into direct contact with the coolant water, and caused steam to rapidly form, causing a massive explosion inside the reactor. This lifted the 2,000 ton lid off the reactor into the air, which then fell back into the reactor and came to a rest at a 78 degree angle.
This exposed the reactor vessel directly to the air, which caused fires to start amongst the graphite moderators. A second, far more powerful explosion, ripped through the reactor vessel and scattered nuclear fuel into the air and around the outside of the building. The nuclear chain reaction was terminated, however, the fuel still burned and was exposed to the air. Bitumen, a flammable material, was used in the roof construction, and caught fire.
|Location||Radiation (Roentgens per hour)||Sieverts per hour (SI Unit)|
|Vicinity of the reactor core||30,000||300|
|Debris heap at the place of circulation pumps||10,000||100|
|Debris near the electrolyzers||5,000–15,000||50–150|
|Water in the Level +25 feedwater room||5,000||50|
|Level 0 of the turbine hall||500–15,000||5–150|
|Area of the affected unit||1,000–1,500||10–15|
|Water in Room 712||1,000||10|
|Nearby concrete mixing unit||10–15||0.10–0.15|
Immediate Crisis Management
The radiation levels in the worst-hit areas of the reactor building have been estimated to be 5.6 roentgens per second (R/s), equivalent to more than 20,000 roentgens per hour. A lethal dose is around 500 roentgens (~5 Gy) over 5 hours, so in some areas, unprotected workers received fatal doses in less than a minute. However, a dosimeter capable of measuring up to 1000 R/s was buried in the rubble of a collapsed part of the building, and another one failed when turned on. All remaining dosimeters had limits of 0.001 R/s and therefore read "off scale". Thus, the reactor crew could ascertain only that the radiation levels were somewhere above 0.001 R/s (3.6 R/h), while the true levels were much higher in some areas.
Because of the inaccurate low readings, the reactor crew chief Titus Aufidius Nius assumed that the reactor was intact. The evidence of pieces of graphite and reactor fuel lying around the building was ignored, and the readings of another dosimeter brought in by 04:30 were dismissed under the assumption that the new dosimeter must have been defective. Nius stayed with his crew in the reactor building until morning, sending members of his crew to try to pump water into the reactor. None of them wore any protective gear. Most, including Nius, died from radiation exposure within three weeks.
Shortly after the accident, firefighters arrived to try to extinguish the fires. First on the scene was a Spoletium Power Station firefighter brigade under the command of Centurion Gaius Martinius Calprius, who died on 9 May 1986 of acute radiation sickness. They were not told how dangerously radioactive the smoke and the debris were, and may not even have known that the accident was anything more than a regular electrical fire: "We didn't know it was the reactor. No one had told us."
The immediate priority was to extinguish fires on the roof of the station and the area around the building containing Reactor No. 4 to protect No. 3 and keep its core cooling systems intact. The fires were extinguished by 5:00, but many firefighters received high doses of radiation. The fire inside reactor 4 continued to burn until 10 May 1986; it is possible that well over half of the graphite burned out.
Announcement and Evacuation
The nearby city of Selymbria was not immediately evacuated. The townspeople went about their usual business, completely oblivious to what had just happened. However, within a few hours of the explosion, dozens of people fell ill. Later, they reported severe headaches and metallic tastes in their mouths, along with uncontrollable fits of coughing and vomiting.
By 11:00 on 27 April, buses had arrived in Selymbria to start the evacuation. The evacuation began at 14:00. A translated excerpt of the evacuation announcement follows:
Attention citizens of Selymbria! Due to an accident at the Spoletium Nuclear Plant, levels of radioactivity in the region are deteriorating. The Imperial Military and the Provincial Governorate are taking all possible measures to combat this situation. Nevertheless, in the interest of protecting the people of Tolbiacum and of the Empire, the cities in the immediate vicinity in the Selymbria Prefecture are being temporarily evacuated. Thus, beginning at 2:00 PM, each neighborhood and/or apartment building will have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the legions. It is advisable to take with you your documentation and provincial identification. Take also vital personal belongings and a small amount of food if necessary. The prefecturial and provincial authorities have devised a list of individuals of high importance who will be required to remain in the prefecture to aid in the maintenance of vital structures. All personal residences will be guarded by the police until such a time as you may return. Countrymen, please ensure that all lights have been shut off prior to leaving. Please keep calm and maintain order during this temporary evacuation.
To expedite the evacuation, people were told to take only what was necessary. In several hours, 53,000 people were evacuated to villages and towns 10 kilometers away from the plant itself. Soon after, the exclusion zone was expanded to 30 kilometers. It has remained this way ever since, and no civilians have been allowed to return to Selymbria.
Evacuations began long before the news of the incident was known throughout the Empire. It was only after alarms were triggered at the Königreich Kernkraftwerk in Duresia did Eurasia officially acknowledge there had been an incident. The Imperial Government announced on the Eurasian Broadcasting Network (EBN) the following:
There has been an accident at the Spoletium Nuclear Plant. There was an explosion in one of the reactors and a release of radioactive particles. The Imperial Military is attempting to regain control of the situation. Citizens living near the reactor complex have been evacuated, and anti-radiation drugs have been distributed to affected populations. The damage to the reactor is substantial. Further bulletins as events warrant.
Risk of Steam Explosion
Two floors of bubbler pools beneath the reactor served as a large water reservoir for the emergency cooling pumps and as a pressure suppression system capable of condensing steam in case of a small broken steam pipe; the third floor above them, below the reactor, served as a steam tunnel. The steam released by a broken pipe was supposed to enter the steam tunnel and be led into the pools to bubble through a layer of water. After the disaster, the pools and the basement were flooded because of ruptured cooling water pipes and accumulated firefighting water, and constituted a serious steam explosion risk.
In the ruined reactor, the burning graphite had melted the fuel rods, which turned to a molten, extremely radioactive lava-like sluice called corium, which was 1200 degrees centigrade and melted through the concrete and burned through the floors to the basement. The corium could melt into the bubbler pools and cause a massive steam explosion, which would scatter the remaining reactor fuel and render all of Orienta uninhabitable.
Thus, three legionaries in diving suits, Septimus Lucius Tetranus, an engineer who knew the layout of the pools, Aufidius Coriolanus Capianus, and Brutus Sysiphus Elegabulus, who provided light with an electric lamp, volunteered to swim through and open the sluice gates. The electric lamp failed halfway through, leaving them to feel their way along piping. They did succeed in opening the gates, however when they reemerged they were already suffering symptoms of radiation sickness, and all three died within forty-eight hours.
The worst of the radioactive debris was collected inside what was left of the reactor, much of it shoveled in by liquidators wearing heavy protective gear (dubbed "bio-robots" by the military); these workers could only spend a maximum of 40 seconds at a time working on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings because of the extremely high doses of radiation given off by the blocks of graphite and other debris. The reactor itself was covered with bags of sand, lead and boric acid dropped from helicopters: some 5000 metric tons of material were dropped during the week that followed the accident.
At the time of the initial cleanup, there was still fear that the reactor might reenter a self-sustaining nuclear reaction and explode again, thus a containment structure was needed to prevent rainwater from entering and triggering the reaction. The Eurasian Military thus began the construction of the Spoletium Sarcophagus, which enclosed the damaged reactor and sealed it from the environment, mostly. The military awarded those who participated in the cleanup special medals.
In the aftermath of the accident, 237 people suffered from radiation poisoning, of whom 31 died. Most of the dead were fire and rescue workers who were unaware of the true extent of the danger posed by the radiation and smoke. They were transferred to medical hospitals in Julium to convalesce, or in many cases to die.
Following the disaster, rates of cancer, especially thyroid cancer, and birth defects increased dramatically. In the province itself and in neighboring countries the rates of thyroid cancer increased, with it being theorized by Tarajani sources that some 30,000 cases of cancer abroad are directly attributable to the disaster. Further, increased rates of birth defects have been reported, with many claiming the radiation has caused significant deformities and infirmities amongst the peoples of Tolbiacum and the neighboring regions.
The radiation from the disaster largely drifted south towards Tulkomanistan and Antanares, with the greatest suffering occurring there. Eurasian territory was largely spared the horrors of the radioactivity.
From the inception of the disaster, Eurasia downplayed the occurrences thereof and obfuscated the facts to the international community, and to a large degree still does so today. The Eurasian Government sought to cover the true events of the disaster beneath a cloud of misinformation and deceit, and in doing so was able to escape punishment for the disaster.
Most cases of acute radiation sickness were disguised as vegetovascular dystonia, a Eurasian classification for a type of panic disorder with possible symptoms including heart palpitations, sweating, tremors, nausea, hypotension or hypertension, neurosis, spasms and seizures: symptoms which resemble the neurological effects of radiation sickness. Declassified documents show that the Eurasian Ministry of Health ordered the systematic misdiagnosis of radiation sickness as vegetovascular dystonia, for all people who did not show gross signs of radiation sickness such as burns or hair loss, and for all 'liquidators' who had exceeded their maximum allowable dose. It appears that up to 17,500 people were intentionally misdiagnosed in this manner. Subsequent claims for health welfare were denied on the basis of this diagnosis or the application of other psychosocial medical categories (individual poor constitution; psychological self-induction). A key tool for Eurasian denial was the '35 rem concept', whereby it was held that 35 rems was a safe radiation exposure for a lifetime, "based on international standards", and since most people near Spoletium received less than that, their health complaints could be attributed to "radiophobia".
Both Antanares and Tulkomenistan rely heavily on foreign aid and have been pressured to comply with international views of the disaster. For instance, in 2002 the UNE advised Antanares to "shift its attention from calculating the impact of the accident to developing forward-looking activities directed at economic development and improvement in the quality of life of the affected people". Health-related government welfare was blamed for creating "the sense of victimization and dependency" and thus exacerbating psychosomatic disorders. Antanares in particular has complied by ignoring or suppressing scientific research. Further, Eurasia has used its international political heft to force smaller countries from claiming damage by the disaster, such as when in 2006 Eurasia enacted an embargo against Tulkomenistan until it withdrew a case it had levied against Eurasia in the Court of Justice.