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You Can Stop an Explosive Nuclear Disaster: A Message to Nuclear Power Reactor Operators

Message Robert A. Leishear, PhD, PE, ASME Fellow

If you lose power to cool your nuclear reactor, and a meltdown occurs, you (the nuclear power plant reactor operators) can still stop the monstrous explosions that can blast radioactive materials into the air and across your country and/or other countries.

On September 11, 2022, the shutdown of the last operating Zaporizhzhia reactor commenced ("Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Reactor Halts Operations", click here). According to this report, appropriate systems are now available to safely shut down this reactor with adequate cooling. Even so, a loss of coolant accident in the current off-normal operations could still result in a nuclear disaster, where the power plant staff are those who currently understand plant conditions. However, information to react to a disaster situation has been withheld from these operators. We just do not know what to expect, and events at Zaporizhzhia evolved as this article was being written.

By resisting technology, the IAEA unnecessarily risked lives and unnecessarily risked a radioactive Europe. In the wake of a potential Zaporizhzhia meltdown, information was available to stop explosions if a meltdown occurred, but that information was not made available to operators. An immediate nuclear threat at Zaporizhzhia has been avoided, but dangerous uncertainties of this nuclear scare were uncovered, where a lack of provided explosion safety information demands attention to prevent such an untenable situation in the future.

Prior to this shutdown decision, fears of a nuclear disaster escalated in response to military attacks on Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants. If operators had lost cooling for a reactor, they may not have been able to stop a terrible reactor meltdown and the creation of massive amounts of explosive hydrogen. In that case, operators would have had a dangerous bomb in their hands, which may have been in the shape of a reactor building. Such risks may temporarily still be present.

"Message": Steps to Stop Explosions

To defuse such a bomb, I have dedicated most of my life over the past six years to stop the next nuclear power plant explosion disaster, and Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine could have been the next nuclear disaster waiting to explode ([Figure 1,] "A Nuclear Disaster in Europe Can Be Stopped!", R. A. Leishear, OpEd News, Click Here). However, I have built a new set of steps to follow to stop nuclear power plant explosions, if a nuclear reactor melts into a molten mass of uranium fuel and metals, which can be the size of a room.

In such a nuclear emergency, please consider the following steps to stop explosions, if operators are thrust into a nuclear reactor meltdown response. Together, we can stop an explosion nuclear disaster, if confronted with such a dangerous situation.

  • Several explosions occur as water is added to cool a partially melted, or fully melted, reactor core.
  • Explosive hydrogen and oxygen will form during a meltdown.
  • During water additions for cooling, explosions can ignite at high points in the system and at the hot reactor core.
  • If possible, monitor containment building hydrogen concentrations (4% - 75%) in air to know if an explosion is about to ignite.
  • If possible, monitor reactor system hydrogen (4% - 94%), and monitor oxygen concentrations to confirm the hydrogen explosion limits, which define the range of explosion ignition concentrations.
  • To minimize explosion hazards, use nitrogen, if available, to force hydrogen and oxygen from the reactor system and containment building.
  • While venting the reactor system and adding water, monitor temperatures, and ensure that temperatures do not go above normal operating temperatures to prevent the ignition of explosive gases.
  • Preferably, hydrogen should be vented first from the reactor containment building, and preferably, hydrogen from the reactor system should be vented directly to the air rather than into the building.
  • Otherwise, the building and reactor system should be vented together.
  • To cool a damaged reactor, add water to a melted reactor core at a velocity slower than 9 feet per second (~3 meters per second).
  • Explosive hydrogen will form during water additions, and additional venting will be required.
  • Even if an explosion ignites in the reactor, continue to follow these steps to stop the subsequent, larger explosions.
  • Unburned hydrogen from the reactor core moves to the reactor containment building to mix with air when the reactor system is damaged by initial explosions.
  • While adding water to cool the reactor, slowly vent unburned explosive hydrogen from the nuclear reactor, piping, reactor containment building, and any other structures that may contain hydrogen.
  • There will still be risks of other spark sources in such an explosive situation, but the primary explosion ignitors will be cut off if the above steps are followed.
  • Avoid electrical switching, shutdowns of equipment, and startups of equipment, in so far as possible, to enable venting to stop explosions.
  • These steps will need to be tailored to your reactor systems, and additional details are available ("Will We Let a Ukraine Power Plant Explode?", R. A. Leishear, OpEd News, Click Here).
  • Hopefully, you will never need these steps.
  • Credentials: Previous Lead Research Engineer (Principal Investigator) for the DOE, Savannah River National Laboratory (
  • Thank you for protecting us.

"Introduction" to Zaporizhzhia "Message"

The following text accompanied and introduced an edited version of the above "Message" that was sent to members of the press and the IAEA. The "message" above was edited since the single operating Zaporizhzhia reactor is being shut down in this rapidly evolving set of circumstances. In other words, this article was originally more focused toward a Zaporizhzhia disaster.

"Following a series of articles that I published in the OpEd News and an interview with the George Elias Radio Show [Click Here], I am gravely concerned that nuclear plant operators do not yet know how to respond to a military attack and loss of power to prevent catastrophic nuclear power plant explosions in Ukraine [or elsewhere]. To this end, my hope is that I may be able to reach [nuclear power plant reactor operators] operators. A copy of this message has been forwarded to the IAEA.

Nuclear power plant explosion credentials: I have spent most of the past six years performing full-time voluntary research to stop nuclear power plant explosions at a personal cost of more than $249,000. These expenses were invested to complete all of the courses required for [a nearly completed], in-process Nuclear Engineering Ph.D., and to attend courses and conferences around the globe to study nuclear reactor design, nuclear law, radiology, corrosion, and combustion. This education has yielded 23 peer-reviewed engineering publications and 9 Op Eds on nuclear power plant explosions. Prior to this research, I worked as a Fellow Engineer at the DOE Savannah River Site nuclear plants in South Carolina, and also worked as a Lead Research Engineer at the DOE Savannah River National Laboratory".

Figure 1: Although Ukraine Blames Russia and Russia Blames Ukraine, One Type of Russian Artillery is Shown Here
Figure 1: Although Ukraine Blames Russia and Russia Blames Ukraine, One Type of Russian Artillery is Shown Here
(Image by Russian Government)
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Figure 1: Although Ukraine Blames Russia and Russia Blames Ukraine, One Type of Russian Artillery is Shown Here ("A Nuclear Disaster in Europe Can Be Stopped!", Click Here)

Figure 2: One Estimate for Radiation Exposures in Europe, Following Explosions at Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine
Figure 2: One Estimate for Radiation Exposures in Europe, Following Explosions at Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine
(Image by Ukraine government)
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Figure 2: One Estimate for Radiation Exposures in Europe, Following Explosions at Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, ("Scientists simulate spread of radiation in case of accident at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant", click here)

A Failure to Communicate to Zaporizhzhia

In addition to the above, initial Op Ed article that I wrote, I do not believe that any of the articles that I wrote to stop explosions at Zaporizhzhia were communicated to those who are operating Ukraine nuclear plants ("We Can Still Prevent Any Widespread Catastrophic Explosions At Ukraine Nuclear Power Plants", click here). This danger was the initial reason for writing this article, but preventing nuclear plant explosions is important enough to talk about power plant explosions once more. Now that imminent dangers have been addressed by the Zaporizhzhia reactor shutdown, lessons learned are still important to understand this potential disaster situation.

In this Op Ed, I capsulized and clarified steps for nuclear power plant operators to follow during a nuclear disaster sequence to thwart a potential radiation disaster (Figure 2). Nuclear reactor operators deserve the most concise directions that I can provide.

To reach nuclear reactor operators, an edited version of the above "Message" and the above "Introduction" were sent to the IAEA and various news agencies. The IAEA refused to respond, and, at their discretion, members of the press either declined to publish or refused to respond. News agencies included the LA Times, the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Hill, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Associated Press, the Guardian, and the BBC. One response by the Left Green Press basically stated that my research is too supportive of nuclear power, since they completely oppose nuclear power. Specific reasons for refusals by other listed news outlets are unknown. However, "Newspapers claim to print Letters to the Editor that differ in opinion, but not in this case of nuclear power explosions" ("Press Censorship and the Nuclear Power Plant Explosions That Still Bangs at Our Doors", click here).

An Industry Shutdown of Explosion Safety Information

Previous Op Eds were ignored by the U.S. DOE, the U.S. NRC, the NEA, the IAEA, and the United Nations. Comprehensive research was presented to each of these agencies, and limited response, or no response, was received. Silence is the tool that these agencies enforce to ignore nuclear power plant explosion safety dangers ("The U.S. NRC Still Fails o Protect Us Against Nuclear Power Plant Explosions Like Fukushima", click here).

ANS refuses to reprint this research. I responded that "this ANS decision is a disservice to the nuclear industry, and this ANS decision jeopardizes nuclear power plant explosion safety. A series of emails to support this opinion are provided as comments to this article.

Why the silence of the nuclear industry cannot be breached to save lives is a baffling question. I just wanted to stop a potential European disaster, or any other nuclear disaster, and save lives, and I would think that others would want to stop such disasters as well. Quite the opposite, refusals to act by nuclear industry representatives block the way for new technology to stop nuclear plant explosions.

Such a disregard for human life is irresponsible and dangerous ("Deceit is the Core of Nuclear Power Explosion Safety", click here). Even though a potential Zaporizhzhia disaster was avoided, the potential for the next disaster is still with us.

I sent 9 Op Eds on nuclear power plant explosions to the IAEA since March, where I explained reactor system explosion risks in detail. Engineering journals were referenced to support this research. Whether this information influenced the IAEA throughout the Zaporizhzhia scare is unknown, but what is known is that actions have not been taken to prevent explosions for any future reactor meltdowns. We had a nuclear scare, and we should be better prepared next time.

A Disagreement That Threatens Lives

I agree with most of a recent NPR article, and there is much information provided that is presented to update public knowledge on this evolving nuclear scare. However, I strongly disagree with the minimization of explosion dangers at the Zaporizhzhia plant.

That NPR article stated that "Even in the worst case scenario, the reactors at Zaporizhzhia are a modern design surrounded by a heavy "containment" building, Nesbit says, 'It's reinforced concrete, typically about three to four feet of that; it's designed to withstand very high internal pressures.' That could allow it to hold in any radioactive material" ("Here's why the risk of a nuclear accident in Ukraine has 'significantly increased", September, 9, 2022, Click Here).

Stating that I disagree is way too mild. "Could allow it to hold in" may, or may not, be correct, but what if the concrete is inadequate. The Fukushima plants were also modern designs with 5.58 feet (1.7 meter) thick concrete containment (click here), and those reactors were claimed to be completely safe, but history proved that Fukushima reactor buildings exploded violently after reactor meltdowns. As a society, we do not currently know the explosion risks throughout the world-wide nuclear power fleet for the numerous reactor designs in service.

When Steve Nesbit was President of the ANS, I wrote to him in March, 2022 that "The fact is that safety analyses for nuclear reactors do not address acts of war, and accordingly nobody knows if a meltdown can occur if a nuclear power plant is attacked.

However, one thing is certain, meltdowns cause explosions, and such explosions can be stopped. A criticality releases sudden high levels of radiation inside a nuclear plant where protective actions are in place, but explosions expose people outside the plant where protective actions are not in place".

Note that a meltdown and possible Zaporizhzhia radioactive explosions due to military attacks are now accepted by many. At that time in March, I stood alone to publish nuclear plant explosion dangers due to possible military attacks ("Potential Explosions at Ukraine Nuclear Reactors Can Be Stopped", click here).

I disagreed with Mr. Nesbit then, and I disagree with him now. We still do not know the scope of such explosions. A forty-three-year cover-up of nuclear power plant explosions - since Three Mile Island ("Blasting Into Our Lives - The Three Mile Island Cover-up: TV, Myth, and Reality, click here) - hinders a clear understanding of power plant explosions by many nuclear engineers.

A Repression of Explosion Safety Information

The ANS, that Mr. Nesbit once headed, refuses to reprint OpEd News articles that I write. Consequently, the ANS inhibits essential nuclear safety information from reaching nuclear engineers world-wide (We Should Be Afraid of Nuclear Power, click here).

Moreover, new technology is repressed from being considered by other engineers, where my research clearly explains the causes of nuclear plant explosions. My engineering journal articles and OpEds are available to explain these explosions, and, in my opinion, such important safety information should be widely disseminated.

The Importance of New Information

The stakes are too high to not consider new explosion research at all, and simply say that nuclear reactors are safe without formal evaluations. The lack of response to many emails from any nuclear regulatory authorities concludes that all plant operators are unaware of appropriate reactor meltdown responses to stop explosions.

The stakes are too high to ignore this research. The stakes are too high to not inform plant operators of the steps needed to stop explosions. New explosion prevention technology has arrived, and such technology was thwarted throughout this international nuclear fear of power plant explosions.

The Current Explosion Dangers at Zaporizhzhia

At present, reactor cooling is provided by an off-site power source, which has been occasionally damaged by artillery. Diesel and battery backups may yet be required, but could be damaged by artillery as well, and only 10 hours of fuel are available ("Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant shut down, but threat of disaster looms, expert says", Click Here, "Explainer: The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant's shutdown", click here). Again, we just do not know what will happen.

The risk of melting all, or part, of a reactor core continues after the reactor is shut down. If power is lost after a shutdown commences, melting can occur. According to one expert, meltdown conditions are still present after a week for one type of reactor ("Reactor Core Cooling", Click Here). After a core melt, hydrogen then forms to cause explosion conditions, and re-cooling the reactor can cause explosions. The sequence of events for meltdowns and explosions after a shutdown commences is not as well understood as the explosion process while a reactor melts down in operation, which in itself requires more research. An ongoing government cover-up delays comprehensive research of nuclear plant explosions. The extent of Zaporizhzhia danger is indeterminate.

A Request to Pass This Information to Nuclear Plant Reactor Operators

Please pass the above "Message" forward if you have the capability to do so. I do not know who that person will be, but somebody needs to act.

What we learned here is that confusion and false information are presented in the press when things go wrong. We also learned that authorities did not act on new information, regardless of the risks to the public when things went wrong. We learned that new information should be available to nuclear power plant operators far before emergency conditions are upon us.

The next meltdown is predicted before 2039 ("The Next Nuclear Power Plant Explosion Bangs at Our Doors", click here), and any future explosions at any nuclear power plant can be stopped

- even if a nuclear plant is damaged during military operations;

- even if a meltdown occurs;

- even if authorities work against actions that can stop nuclear power plant explosions;

- even if those authorities are willing to risk a radioactive landscape;

- even if those authorities are willing to risk mass evacuations;

- even if those authorities are willing to risk the lives of others.

A Fight Against a Cover-up of Nuclear Plant Dangers

This fight against a shutdown and repression of nuclear safety explosion information is too important to just give up. The risks to our safety and environment are too important to ignore.

Now that we may be out of immediate danger, actions should follow to inform nuclear reactor operators, world-wide, of what steps should be taken when confronted with a meltdown to stop disastrous radioactive explosions. I have provided a basic set of steps, and time is now available to tailor these steps to specific reactors.

Even so, reactor operators must be informed now of the steps presented here, especially those operators in Zapoizhzhia who may yet face a loss of coolant accident. Waiting for regulatory authorities did not work for Zaporizhzhia, and may not work for the next potential disaster. In fact, the IAEA had sufficient information to inform reactor operators of the basic steps to stop radioactive explosions, but the IAEA chose to withhold such crucial information from reactor operators, and risk a radioactive explosion ("The Ukraine Nuclear Scare - The IAEA Endangered Europe and Russia", Click Here). We can stop the next nuclear power plant explosions, or more to the point, reactor operators can stop the next explosions if confronted with a nuclear disaster.

(Article changed on Sep 14, 2022 at 7:45 AM EDT)

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Robert A. Leishear, PhD, P.E., PMP, ASME Fellow, NACE Senior Corrosion Technologist, NACE Senior Internal Piping Corrosion Technologist, AMPP Certified Protective Coatings Inspector, NACE Cathodic Protection Tester, Structural Steel Worker, (more...)

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