The disaster that occurred at the Chernobyl power plant in April 1986 left behind a legacy of forced evacuations, serious illness, and loss of life, along with a gigantic radioactive mass known as “The Elephant’s Foot.”
Due to the Elephant’s Foot’s radiation levels, it’s a difficult object to study, but that doesn’t mean brave individuals living near Chernobyl haven’t tried. There are even a few Elephant’s Foot pics online for curious folks to peruse.
The mass may not look like much, but even in Chernobyl today, it packs enough radioactivity to end a person's life within minutes of exposure. As if that weren’t frightening enough, it’s also slowly burning through the floor of the power plant and into the ground, posing catastrophic consequences.
It’s A Glowing, Hot Mass Of Radioactive Material And Melted Concrete Dubbed 'Corium'
The Elephant’s Foot represents the largest mass of corium ever formed. First identified at the 1979 incident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, corium is mostly made up of the materials that surround a nuclear core - concrete, shielding metals, and sand - melted together with the remnants of the core itself.
The resulting lava-like mixture is one of the most radioactive substances ever created on Earth, and even though it quickly cooled and hardened, the Elephant’s Foot remains incredibly hot and lethal.
The Elephant’s Foot Wasn’t Discovered Until Several Months After The Disaster
Though the Elephant’s Foot came about in the immediate aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986, it was not discovered until months later. The reasons for the delay are obvious; first responders and liquidators couldn’t approach the area where the Elephant’s Foot came to rest due to extreme radioactivity, and they had more important things to worry about at the time.
After putting out the radiation-spewing fires and draining coolant pools to prevent further explosions, responders finally explored the damaged reactor and subsequently found the Elephant’s Foot.
The Elephant’s Foot Is Contained Within A Concrete Sarcophagus
The fourth reactor at the Chernobyl power plant continued to emit radiation into the atmosphere until a concrete sarcophagus was constructed to cover it. The building of this sarcophagus began in April 1986 - before the Elephant’s Foot had even been discovered - and was completed in October of that year, though multiple access points were left open for the purposes of study and monitoring.
The Elephant’s Foot was buried under mounds of concrete before people even knew it existed, but brave individuals can still visit it to this day, even as additional layers of protection are added.
If It Burns Through The Floor, A Massive Explosive Could Occur
The irradiation of groundwater may be the likeliest risk of the Elephant’s Foot burning into the ground, but it isn’t the most spectacular. The hot, radioactive mass could also potentially make contact with a large source of groundwater and set off a steam explosion similar to the one that sparked the initial incident at Chernobyl.
This would make for an effective “Chernobyl 2.0,” and Europe would be irradiated once again - further adding to the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster more than three decades after it occurred.