ⓘ Elephant's Foot (Chernobyl)


ⓘ Elephants Foot (Chernobyl)

The Elephants Foot is the nickname given to a large mass of corium and other materials formed during the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 and presently located in a steam distribution corridor underneath the remains of the reactor. It was discovered in December 1986. It remains an extremely radioactive object; however, its danger has decreased over time due to the decay of its radioactive components. Unyielding to a drill, the mass is quite dense, but it is able to be damaged by an AKM rifle with armor-piercing rounds.


1. Origin

The Elephants Foot is a large mass of black corium with many layers, externally resembling tree bark and glass. It was formed during the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986, and discovered in December 1986. It is named for its wrinkly appearance, resembling the foot of an elephant. It lies beneath Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, under reactor room 217.


2. Composition

The Elephants Foot is composed primarily of silicon dioxide, with traces of uranium, titanium, zirconium, magnesium and graphite. The mass is largely homogeneous, though the depolymerized silicate glass contains occasional crystalline grains of zircon. These grains of zircon are not elongated, suggesting a moderate crystallization rate. While uranium dioxide dendrites grew quickly at high temperatures within the lava, the zircon began crystallization during slow cooling of the lava. Despite the distribution of uranium-bearing particles not being uniform, the radioactivity of the mass is evenly distributed. The mass is quite dense and unyielding to a drill mounted on a remote-controlled trolley, but able to be damaged by a rifle using armor piercing rounds. By June 1998, the outer layers had started turning to dust and the mass had started to crack.


3. Lethality

At the time of its discovery, about 8 months after formation, radioactivity near the Elephants Foot was approximately 8.000 roentgens, or 80 grays per hour, delivering a 50/50 lethal dose of radiation 4.5 grays within five minutes. Since that time the radiation intensity has declined enough that, in 1996, the Elephants Foot was visited by the Deputy Director of the New Confinement Project, Artur Kornayev, who took photographs using an automatic camera and a flashlight to illuminate the otherwise dark room.

The Elephants Foot had flowed through at least 2 m 6 ft 7 in of pipes and fissures to reach its current location. There were fears that the corium might continue to penetrate deeper into the ground and come into contact with groundwater, contaminating the areas drinking water and leading to illnesses and deaths; however, as of 2016, the mass has not moved significantly since its discovery and is estimated to be only slightly warmer than its environment due to heat from the ongoing nuclear decay.