Found in 9 comments on Hacker News
Buttons840 · 2021-09-01 · Original thread
That manually operated control rod was sophisticated compared to some of the earlier experiments. They used to stack bricks around a chunk of uranium, so the bricks would reflect neutrons back at the uranium. Eventually, once you stack enough bricks around the uranium it goes super critical and just goes nuts. They used to manually search out this super critical threshold by manually stacking bricks and then slowly move that final brick towards and away from the uranium and watch it balance on the line between sub critical and super critical.

One day, someone dropped the brick and there was a blue flash. Lots of neutrons were released that day. People died from radiation exposure soon after.

There's also a story about a fuel rod getting jammed, so they tried to force it with a crane and ended up breaking it in half, spilling highly radioactive water all over the place, and then the fuel rod catches on fire because it's not being cooled anymore. It's comical how quickly these disasters escalate.

Read , it's accurate and relatively fun given the subject. One of the chapters is titled "The US Government almost never lost nuclear weapons", which I find subtly amusing.

pinewurst · 2016-07-06 · Original thread
Or Atomic Accidents by James Mahaffey - this is a great book

helper · 2015-10-12 · Original thread
This is my favorite book on the state of atomic energy: The book looks at the history of atomic accidents from an engineering perspective right up to Fukushima. The author is a nuclear engineer and understands the systems he talks about.

Interestingly I came away from a book about atomic disasters being pretty pro nuclear, at least more so than I was before reading the book. Here are my main take aways:

- The US needs to start back up the waste reprocessing program. Jimmy Carter banned this in the hopes of setting a good example for other countries (one of the byproducts being plutonium). But everyone else continues to process nuclear waste except for the US and it just makes the waste storage problem that much harder. 95% of the fuel that comes out of a rector is harmless U-238. We should only be burying a tiny fraction of what we currently bury.

- We need to start innovating beyond PWR and BWR reactors. Things like liquid metal fuel reactors have the nice property of not having to worry about them melting down because they are already melted.

andreasvc · 2015-04-09 · Original thread
Atomic Accidents - A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters, by James Mahaffey.
arethuza · 2014-11-28 · Original thread
I can recommend Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima by James Mahaffey - it has a chapter on Chernobyl and goes into a fair amount of details:

arethuza · 2014-11-04 · Original thread
This accident, along with quite a few others, is covered in the excellent book: Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima by James Mahaffey:

Edit: The book is no way anti-nuclear and actually starts with a description of a horrific accident at a hydro-electric plant.

arethuza · 2014-08-27 · Original thread
In the book "Atomic Accidents" James Mahaffey points out that the Convair B-58 Hustler bomber actually gave off more radiation than the nuclear weapon it carried as its airframe was made of an alloy of magnesium and thorium ("mag-thor")

arethuza · 2014-08-19 · Original thread
There were two explosions - first was a steam explosion followed 2 or 3 seconds later by another more powerful explosion - with the cause of the latter still being debated. However, one theory does describe it as follows:

"However, the sheer force of the second explosion, and the ratio of xenon radioisotopes released during the event, indicate that the second explosion could have been a nuclear power transient; the result of the melting core material, in the absence of its cladding, water coolant and moderator, undergoing runaway prompt criticality similar to the explosion of a fizzled nuclear weapon."

NB I'm in the process of reading *"Atomic Accidents - A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: from the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima" - but I haven't got to Chernobyl yet....

arethuza · 2014-07-28 · Original thread
On a related point - I just finished reading "Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters" and the author specifically mentions how the "can of soup" shape is pretty dreadful for holding fissile materials:

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