A Dark Achievement: Commemorating 30 Years of the Chernobyl Sarcophagus
A Dark Achievement:
Commemorating 30 Years of the Chernobyl Sarcophagus
A workshop on Monday, December 5, 2016, at Virginia Tech's Research Center in Arlington, VA.
2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, but it is also the 30th anniversary of the completion of the enormous concrete structure that came to be known as the “sarcophagus”. While the physical entombment of Chernobyl’s reactor 4 was only one (albeit important) piece in the emergency response to the nuclear disaster that began in the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, it was an incredible achievement against all possible odds. The workshop will provide an opportunity for engineers, historians, social scientists, and emergency response professionals to take a fresh look at one of the worst nuclear disasters in history, and the response to it.
The workshop, “A Dark Achievement", will bring together a select, yet diverse group of scholars, practitioners, educators, emergency managers, and regulatory professionals to exchange ideas on the experiences with, challenges of, and successes in nuclear emergency response, past, present, and future. The goal is to generate new interdisciplinary insights on nuclear disaster response: insights that will inform research, collaboration, training, and outreach relating to disaster studies in general, and nuclear emergency response in particular.
The upcoming workshop consists of three parts. First, the participants will ponder questions of technical containment in nuclear emergency response: What do we mean by “sealing off” something, and what timescales are involved? How do engineered containments relate to broader social concerns about containing dangers? And how do such techniques of containment apply beyond the nuclear accident itself, for example, by informing long-term storage and/or long-term accident containment? For this first session, we are expecting a report from a team that is currently visiting Chernobyl, just as the international consortium Novarka is planning to complete the “New Safe Confinement,” and slide the colossal arch structure over the original Chernobyl sarcophagus.
The second session of the workshop will be devoted to the challenges of preserving, teaching, and transferring nuclear disaster response expertise to future generations of emergency responders and nuclear specialists. What knowledge and what skills are required in an emergency and how are they different from what nuclear experts need to know under normal operating conditions? How is nuclear disaster expertise different from “all hazards” emergency response skills (or is it)? How can the creative elements of disaster response be meaningfully captured, organizationally operationalized, and transformed into teachable skills? What role do memory and memorial play for disasters that are never really "over," where beyond all technical factors the fears, memories, even the pride of survival are retained in stories, in images, in art?
The format of the workshop will be as follows: the two first sessions (on technical questions and human factor and organizational issues) will be small working groups, whose discussions will be prompted by short “interventions” by participants, and guiding questions developed by the workshop organizers.
The late afternoon panel discussion (featuring a subset of the participants) will feature short statements by the panelists, before engaging in a conversation with the audience.
Confirmed participants include Scott Knowles (Drexel), Mary Mitchell (Cornell), Davide Orsini (MS State), Doug Chapin (MPR), Carl Willis (Qynergo), Jeffrey Glick (DHS), Tomoko Steen (Georgetown).
Nobody is more qualified to participate in, and speak at, this workshop than Nikolai A. Steinberg. Not only has he written on the Chernobyl disaster, he was directly involved in the accident mitigation process from day one: the Soviet authorities appointed the experienced nuclear engineer the plant’s chief engineer immediately following the accident. Mr. Steinberg was also the lead author of what came to be known as the "Steinberg Report," published in 1991, which challenged the human error version of events and led to a fundamental revision of the IAEA's widely cited "INSAG-1" expert report that had blamed control room operators for having caused the Chernobyl catastrophe. In addition, Mr. Steinberg's expertise has been recognized internationally, as he currently serves on a high-caliber international expert consortium advising the Japanese utility TEPCO on the decontamination and decommissioning process of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Please note that in addition to participating in the workshop, Mr. Steinberg will also deliver a keynote speech on Tuesday, December 6, as part of the SIREN series (Siren stands for “Seminar on Interdisciplinary Expertise in Nuclear Emergency Response”). For details, see siren16.eventbrite.com.
Monday, Dec. 5, 2016
9:15-12:00 Welcome and Workshop: Engineering Approaches to Containing Nuclear Disasters
1:15-4:00 Workshop: Nuclear Emergency Response Expertise: Human and Organizational Factors
4:00-4:30 Coffee Break
4:30-6:00 Public Panel with participants from both workshop sessions
Virginia Tech's Department of Science and Technology in Society will provide breakfast, lunch, and afternoon refreshments during the workshop. Limited funds are available to assist with travel costs; we are working on establishing a remote connection for those unable to travel (please check back for updates). For details and more information please contact Sonja Schmid, PhD, +1 703-538-8482, email@example.com. Also, please contact us if you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation.
Register by November 30, 2016 at https://darkachievement.eventbrite.com. Registration is free.