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What is the elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor?

What is the elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor?

What is the elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor?

The Elephant’s Foot is a radioactive mass of corium that formed under the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant in April 1986. It’s located near Pripyat, Ukraine. The Elephant’s Foot is a lava-like fuel-containing material (LFCM) made of a toxic substance called corium. Corium is a once-molten concoction of uranium, graphite, concrete, and sand. The Elephant’s Foot is mainly made of silicon dioxide.

The Elephant’s Foot gets its name from its shape and texture. It’s estimated that being in the same room as the Elephant’s Foot would kill you within five minutes. Researchers have taken photographs of the Elephant’s Foot, but the radioactivity makes the film blurry.

What is the elephant foot at the site of the Chornobyl disaster? How is it still a danger today?

The “Elephant’s Foot” is a solid mass made of melted nuclear fuel mixed with lots and lots of concrete, sand, and core sealing material that the fuel had melted through. It is located in a basement area under the original location of the core.

Initially, they scrambled to find out what had happened to the missing fuel from the core. It was expelled into the air with the steam explosion, but most of it was still missing. This presented a challenging task for the heroes who had to clean this mess up. They were dubbed “Liquidators”, and honestly, I feel these guys didn’t get nearly enough credit for their actions.

Their jobs were simple but deadly. Assist with the cleanup, but also go into the depths of the reactor and find the missing fuel. This was the most dangerous place on the planet at the time, and the equipment they were given for this was ludicrous. See pic below.

Note how they have little equipment and protection. Some guys even used duct tape to seal their suits. Lead was also stolen from within the still functioning reactor complexes 1 to 3 and made into homemade armor.

This pic is fascinating. These guys had to run onto the roof of the reactor, scoop up pieces of the graphite and reactor, run and dump it back into the destroyed reactor, and run around. This was the amount they were allowed to work FOR THEIR ENTIRE LIVES. They would receive their lifetime dose in those few minutes and could work no further.

Around every corner, the radiation level could spike to Lethal amounts. Every inch of an already destroyed deathtrap had to be carefully navigated. Eventually, a few months later, they discovered what had happened to the rest of the fuel.

It had leaked down and mixed with several other substances. This substance was hot and VERY radioactive. So much so that they had to use mirrors to look at it, as the equipment they were trying to use kept malfunctioning due to extreme radiation levels. Find yourself accidentally walking into the room with the below, and you will find yourself dead in minutes.

This is a shot of the “Elephants Foot” named so because of its shape. It is a material known as Corium. And till this day, it burns with radioactivity.

How close can you get to the elephant’s foot in Chornobyl before it becomes fatal?

Quite close now. But it’s not just a question of how close; it’s a question of how long you stay there. For example, here is someone approaching very close to the elepelephant’st.

I don’t think this man was there on a suicide mission. In 1986, approaching this close probably would have killed you; that is, you would likely have died within a couple of weeks to a month if you had stayed there for about 300 seconds.

When first measured on the foot, the initial radiation levels were about 10,000 Roentgen per hour. Recall that 400 rems is the LD50/30 without receiving special medical treatment, and you have a rough idea of how long you could stay there. No one did that, of course. There was no conceivable need for anyone to do that. The first photos were taken by cameras that were pushed towards the foot on carts.

By 1996, the time you could stay before receiving a potentially lethal dose was up by a factor of 10, so about an hour, and the radiation levels were down by a similar amount. Since then, it has been another 20 years, and there is undoubtedly a further reduction in the radiation levels near the foot, but probably not as much as there was initially. 

The longer half-life fission products like Cs-137 and Sr-90 are still emitting, and the half-lives for those nuclides are about 30 years, so it takes longer for them to decay away by another factor of 10. 

For these isotopes to decay by a factor of a thousand, it takes about ten half-lives, about 300 years. There will still be radioactivity at that point, but it will come from less radioactive and longer-lived nuclides.

By the way, the shielding the man is wearing is not enough to stop gamma rays. That is mainly intended to keep him from getting radioactive dust on his skin, and the breathing filter that he is wearing will prevent inhalation of any radioactive dust particles. 

Inhaling alpha emitters and some beta emitters can be a significant problem. I’m I’me he managed his time there so that the dose he absorbed was not enough to be dangerous.

Can the Hulk survive the radiation of the Elephant’s Foot in Chornobyl?

Yes, he absolutely can. He is a walking nuclear reactor and is presumably immune to the radiation, given he was fine after the atomic strike on him. He has survived a nuclear bomb in point zero area.

What happened to the man pictured with the Chornobyl Elephant’s Foot?

Jeeees, Jacob. No, the pictures were taken in 1996. The man, Artur Korneyev, was interviewed by, I believe, the New York Times after his retirement in 2014.

In the picture, Artur entered the room with his automatic shutter camera. His flashlight is the only light in the room, so he has the shutter time up to 2–3 seconds. Like the old-time flash pics, he must stay still for 2–3 seconds to get a solid image. The camera takes a few before he’s ready. That is why he looks ghostly in the most-used pic. The ones where he is stable aren’t as popular, and I’ll let you guess why.elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

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The EF looks like concrete poured out on the floor; it has no intrinsic light. The specular flashing comes from the only light in the room – Kornyev’s flash. He drops it in the middle of setting up, and it lights up and overexposes the Foot.

The Elephant’s Foot is a large mass of corium and other materials formed underneath the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, during the Chornobyl disaster of April 1986, notable for its extreme radioactivity.

Discovered in December of that year, it is located in a maintenance corridor near the remains of Reactor No. 4. It is still an extremely radioactive object. However, the danger has decreased over time due to the decay of its radioactive components.

The Elephant’s Foot is a mass of black corium with many layers, externally resembling tree bark and glass. It was formed during the Chornobyl disaster in April 1986 and discovered in December 1986.

It is named for its wrinkled appearance, suggestive of an elephant’s foot. One small part of a much larger mass lies beneath reactor no. 4 of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. The Elephant’s Foot is located in Room 217/2, 15 meters (49 ft) southeast of the ruined reactor and 6 meters (20 ft) above ground level.elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

The Elephant’s Foot is so radioactive that it can cause severe radiation sickness or death if exposed to it for even a short period. The radiation level at the surface of the Elephant’s Foot is about 10,000 roentgen per hour, about 100 times the lethal dose. The radiation level decreases rapidly with distance, but it is still dangerous to approach the Elephant’s Foot even from a few meters away.

The Elephant’s Foot is a reminder of the dangers of nuclear power and the importance of safety procedures. It is also a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, as it has survived for over 30 years despite its extreme radioactivity.

Does the Elephants Foot still exist at the Chornobyl nuclear plant?

Yes, it is there. And it gets a lot of bad press that it doesn’t deserve. The EF is a mass or corium. That is melted reactor fuel rods mixed with sand, pulverized concrete, and whatever else the 2000-degree mass rolled over on its way into the basement below the reactor. elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

When it was found (about three months after the accident), it was still quite hot, though solidified. It weighs about ten metric tons (often-heard quotes about it being hundreds of tons are fantasy), it is not hundreds of degrees at its center, and it is not moving the basement beneath it around. 

Its initial radioactivity was estimated to be 10,000 roentgen/hr when it was discovered. Still, like all radioactive materials, it has decayed roughly according to the 7/10 rule of thumb, and today is around 500 roentgen/hr. 

That is still lethal for someone who would spend an hour or so in its close presence, but people have visited it. A series of photos was taken by an automatic camera of one Chornobyl worker (Artur Korneev, Deputy Director of Shelter Object) kneeling within a couple of feet of it in 1999. That person was interviewed by the NY Times in 2015. 

Some of the effects in the photos are weird, but only because the camera was on automatically and was taking time-lapse because of the darkness. Korneev was carrying a flashlight that made what looked something like lightning streaks in the photos (google “Korneev Chernobyl elephants foot images” to see them or visit The Famous Photo of Chornobyl’sChernobyl’s Most Dangerous Radioactive Material Was a Selfie for the story.

The big cache on YouTube is that it is the most dangerous object on Earth. No, that’s incorrect. The most difficult objects on Earth are freshly spent nuclear fuel bundles. We put these MDOoEs in a swimming pool; 3–4 meters of water makes it safe. Here is a half-facetious article about them: Spent Fuel Pool. 

But at any rate, corium, which is at least half concrete and sand, will never equal the radiation from these spent fuel rods.

In short, yes, it does exist. It’s getting old and feeble, and I imagine in 20–30 years, it will either be broken up or hauled out whole to the treatment plant on the site.

Does the Elephants Foot still exist at the Chornobyl nuclear plant?

There is a report available online from 2017 that suggests the dose rate from the elephant’s foot is about 9,500 rem at one meter, which would kill a human being in five minutes. The activity level is sufficiently high to fog camera film. 

The elephant’s foot is composed of a material generically called “corium,” as it is the resolidified mass of molten core material that escaped the containment vessel, known explicitly as “Chernobylite,” for obvious reasons.

I have read that the elephant’s foot is sufficiently complex to deflect conventional drills. Still, as another responder noted, Russian investigators had at it with a Kalashnikov and could chip it to obtain test samples.

The structure is steadily cracking and otherwise turning to dust, estimated to weigh two metric tons. Russian authorities determined early on that the Elephant’s Foot was beyond conventional cleanup. As I understand it, the current plan is to construct a specially designed containment around the whole room.

What is the status of the elephant’s foot created during the Chornobyl disaster?

The Elephant’s foot is still very radioactive; it is now more than ten times less than when it was first spotted. It has decayed to the point at which people can go near it for a short time. If you look here (The Elephant’s Foot of the Chornobyl disaster, 1986), you will see a photo of a worker close to it. elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

The silver suit and the “gas mask” prevent the man from getting contamination on his skin or lungs.

However, I have been told that the basement of unit 4 is now off-limits to people for safety reasons, and the fuel containing lava is starting to leach by water.

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Recently, the water in the basement of the wrecked reactor has been found to contain actinides leached from the fuel. One interesting thing is that the plutonium does not dissolve as well into the water as the americium/curium if you look at A. A. Odintsov, V. E. Khan, V. A. Krasnov, E. M. Pazukhin, and V. N. Shcherbin, Radiochemistry, 2009, Vol. 51, No. 4, pp. 383–389.

You will see how the ratio of Am to Pu in the water is very different from that in the fuel. The reason is that Am(III) is more soluble than Pu(IV) in the fuel-containing mass.

The water in the basement contains Cs137, Sr90, U238, U234, Pu238, Pu239/Pu240, Am241 and Cm244. One of the puddles which these workers sampled contained 19 MBq of Cs-137, 1.6 MBq Sr-90, 150 Bq U238, 450 Bq U234, 270 Bq Pu238, 580 Bq of Pu239/Pu240, 2.6 kBq of Am241 and 120 Bq of Cm244 per liter.

The fact that the U234 level tends to be higher in most samples in that paper suggests that either some parent other than U238 / Th234 / Pa234 exists for U234, the enrichment process for the fuel production was concentrating the U234 in the fuel, or a n.2n reaction caused by fast neutrons was forming U234 from U235 in the reactor. I still need to do the maths to determine which of the three possible reasons is most likely the cause.

I know that Rn-220 in the air and its daughter are at a higher-than-average level in the reactor building. This is most likely due to the decay of U-232 in the fuel. This rare uranium isotope can be formed from the decay of other actinides in a nuclear reactor. elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

The n.3n reaction on U234 by fast neutrons can form U232, as can the alpha decay of U234 to start Th230. The Th230 undergoes neutron activation to Th231, which decays to Pa231, which is activated to Pa22, and then does a beta decay to form U232. These processes are discussed in a paper by Kento Yamamoto & Keisuke Okumura (Journal of Nuclear Science and Technology, 2014, Vol. 51, No. 4, 568–573).

I expect in the future that the radon-220 problem and the high energy gamma photons from the daughters of U-232 will become a more significant fraction of the problem at the Chornobyl site as more of the U-232 daughters appear in the fuel and the Cs-137 decay away.

The elephant’s foot is a large mass of an element called corium. It is scarce and refers to the molten mass created when a reactor core melts down and the fuel and core mix. When it was first discovered, the radiation levels it gave off were so deadly you would die if you stood next to it for more than a few seconds. It’s not quite as fatal these days, but it needs to be advised to stand near it for too long without shielding.

How dangerous is the “Elephant’s Foot” at the Chornobyl reactor wreck?

Comparable to nuclear waste, but uncontained and unshielded

The accident happened just as the reactor was coming to the end of a fuel cycle. This meant the fuel was “used” and contained many waste products. These waste products cause the majority of radiation in spent fuel and the “Elephant’s Foot,” and thus make it dangerous.

For a vivid description, I was given that. So back when the “foot” was discovered, the dose rate was approximately 100 Gray per hour, meaning a lethal dose — 5 Gray — was achieved in a mere 3 minutes. However, after 33 years, the worst of the worst has decayed away. The Iodine-131, for instance, is gone. GoneIt’s total; not a single atom of that remains. So, it is not as insanely “hot” as immediately after the accident. The dose rate has dropped.

Exactly how much has the dose rate dropped today? We do not know for sure. But you do not want to be near it for any extended period because already at about 0.1 Gray, you start to increase your risk of getting cancer.


It can be approached, but only for very short times.

We are talking fractions of a minute without protective gear.

The elephant foot in Chornobyl was the result of an explosion at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant when radioactive material melted and dropped to the bottom of the reactor containment vessel.

This reaction produced a molten mass of highly radioactive materials resembling an elephant’s foot. It included fissionable uranium, plutonium, concrete, sand, and other reactor core materials, forming a compound known as corium.
The corium elephant foot formation at Chornobyl could only happen in a nuclear accident resulting from human errors and reactor malfunctions.

Events like this have produced corium five times, once at Three Mile Island in 1979, another at Chornobyl in 1986, and three times at the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor in 2011.

No one can physically approach this mass of highly radioactive corium for more than a few minutes without risk of radiation poisoning and death.elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

In 1986, a coffin was built to seal the highly radioactive materials (including the elephant foot) in reactor no. 4. Another structure was created to improve containment in 2016.
Fifty emergency workers and firefighters died of radiation exposure after the Chornobyl nuclear disaster.

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Why are people fascinated with “the Elephant’s Foot” in the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant?

I imagine it’s for the same reason that many people love a good horror flick. Most people want to be scared as long as they know they are safe where they are. Some will even forego the safe part.

Then there are the ones who are ready to furnish the same. At least four YouTube videos were produced last year that tout the Elephant’s Foot at the Most Dangerous Place on Earth. Bar none. This has obviously been proved false by logic and recorded experience, but like elsewhere, “if it bleeds, it leads,” and nowhere where I have left comments have bothered to correct their videos.

To put it briefly, the EF would kill you in about three minutes when it was first discovered in August of 1986. It was visited and photographed in 1996 in the room. Today, it would take back an hour to give you a lethal dose. It weighs a few tons, is warmer than room temperature, does not glow or lighten the room, and hasn’t moved an inch from when it was discovered.

Is the Chornobyl “elephant’s foot” really as lethal as people say it is?

Not as much as a lot of people say, anyway.

Let’s start with the fact that it was discovered in the basement under the reactor that exploded three months after the accident, and there are claims that its radioactivity was measured at the time to be 10,000 roentgen per hour, or at least, roughly, 100 Grays/hr. 5 Grays in a short time is usually considered the dosage necessary to cause death 50 percent of the time, so it was very lethal at the time it was found.

There is a rule of thumb often used in nuclear bombs and reactors called the 7–10 rule, which applies to the normal range of fission products produced by fission. It says that for every 7-fold increase in time after the fission event, there is a 10-fold decrease in the exposure rate. 

Since it was found and measured three months after it was created (actually when active fissioning ceased in the reactor), then at 21 months after the “Foot” was found, the radiation should have declined to 10% of that at three months. So by April 1988, the radiation should be around 10 Grays/hr. Still lethal, but much less so than two years before.

One more such step says that 16 years after the accident (2002), the dosage would be 1 Gray, a large but not usually lethal dose.

In 1996, a physicist from Kazakhstan was working at Chernobyl and took some selfies of himself using a timed exposure camera in the room with the Foot. He used no flash but took exposures long enough to use his flashlight for lighting. 

Some of the pictures look otherworldly when they took a photo while he was moving around – his flashlight looked like lightning, he was transparent because of his motion during the exposure, and the Foot looked afire with reflections and glints from the flashlight. 

But one or two exposures were well posed. His name was Artur Korneyev; he took pics of himself in the room with the radiation and was the subject of a New York Times interview in 2015, 19 years later. Our calculation above shows that the radiation would have been tolerable in 1996 if unsafe, and Korneyev’s photos prove the point.

A word about Korneyev’s apparel. He used the equivalent of a lab coat and no respirator. Full-dress HAZMAT suits, often seen in these circumstances, are not worn to protect the user from radiation; they cannot do that. They prevent dust particles from attaching to the skin; when they are shed, they prevent the radiation from being tracked outside the close area. Similarly, a respirator keeps dust out of the lungs. Korneyev is an expert on these issues and acted according to his knowledge of the dangers.elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

(Oops, I just looked at his still picture, and it appears he is wearing a HAZMAT equivalent and a filter mask, at least. Not as dangerous as I had supposed.)

What has been the composition of the Elephant’s Foot (Chernobyl) over the last 30 years?

The FCM, known as the elephant’s foot, had multiple samples taken over the years, the first in 1988. The FCM contains only 3-20% of the core original fuel. The rest is a molten mixture of materials from the biological shield, concrete, sand, boron, lead, and graphite. The elephant’s foot and other FCMs cooled in a rigid, rock-like state but, over the years, have become very brittle, like ceramic and glass.

What is the Elephant’s Foot in Chernobyl?

Originally Answered: What is elephant’s foot in Chernobyl?

The “Elephant’s Foot” is a nuclear-fuel-containing mass located in a service corridor beneath the Unit 4 reactor at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP). 

It was formed during the 1986 accident when nuclear fuel melted and flowed out of the reactor. As the molten fuel flowed, it dissolved silica and other materials in its path, considerably diluting to about 10% uranium by weight. Ultimately, this lava solidified into the unique one-meter-wide stalagmite with the appearance of an elephant’s foot. 

Shortly after the accident, such fuel-containing masses emitted lethal radiation from the many short-lived fission products in the nuclear fuel. However, most of the gamma-emitting radioactivity has now decayed, and the “Elephant’s Foot” cancan be briefly approached by workers (see photo).

The image above shows the location of the “Elephant’s Foot” within the Unit 4 reactor building. It is along the west wall at axes 45-D, Service Corridor 217/2, at about +6.0 meters above grade. The pathway to reach it in the damaged reactor building is now quite complicated; videos on YouTube show workers in ChNPP walking to this location from the western part of the deaerator building. (Just for reference, the compartments marked 210 in the above drawing are part of the second-generation RBMK reactor’s pressure suppression pool lying directly beneath the nuclear reactor and comprise a network of normally-flooded cells that condense steam in the event of a cooling circuit break.)

Who decided it would be a good idea to fire a Kalashnikov round into the “elephant’s foot” in Chornobyl?

Originally Answered: Who decided it would be a good idea to fire a Kalashnikov round into the elephant’s foot in Chornobyl?

It was proposed to shoot exploding 7.62 rounds at the graphite blocks on the roofs to “push” them back into the reactor. 

They couldn’t get close to the foot; it’s a big rock, and it worked. They got their samples. Edit: the pictures below are not from the elephant’s foot but from other chunks of corium; they’re just for reference.

Is there a radioactive elephant foot in Chornobyl?

No. The Elephant’s Foot is not an actual animal leg. Instead, it’s the remains of reactor 4. The reactor melted during the Chornobyl incident, resulting in “corium,” which is the combination of reactor fuel, waste, control rods, reactor materials, reinforced concrete, and whatever else it melted through. 

This corium eventually ended up in a corridor below the reactor, where it solidified. The Elephant’s Foot is called such because the general shape bears a superficial resemblance to the feet of elephants. It has no significant relation to actual elephants.elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

How dangerous is the so-called “Elephant’s Foot” at the Chernobyl reactor wreck?

When it was first discovered beneath Reactor 4, it was found to have a count of 10,000 roentgens per hour, enough to give you a lethal dose of rads in a few minutes.

I don’t know how a half-life works (you can Google that yourself), but essentially, radioactive byproducts decay to half their value, making them inert and harmless, or at least less benign than they once were.

The Elephant’s Foot has undoubtedly decreased in its lethality since 1986. It’s not safe and won’t be entirely safe for thousands of years (along with the rest of the Zone), but to put it simply, it took 3 minutes, if not a few seconds, to receive a lethal dose back then. If you came across it today, it would give you a lethal dose in perhaps 5 minutes.elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

You don’t have to worry, though, if you go with a tour guide to Chornobyl unless you’re the authorized member of a scientific expedition to go into the building; people aren’t allowed to venture into the destroyed reactor anyway. 

Because between you and the Elephant’s Foot is firstly a pretty tall wall, then an enormous construction site, then the new silver Containment building, then the old coffin, then the actual reactor building wall proper, still in a ruinous and rubble-filled state, corridors and corridors of space to go until you reach the basement where the Elephants Foot is.

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What is the elephant foot at the site of the Chornobyl disaster? How is it still a danger today?

The Elephant’s Foot is made mainly of steel and concrete, with some spent fuel dissolved into it. It is one of hundreds of fuel-containing masses in the basement of unit 4, directly below the reactor. The Uranium Octoxide fuel pellets fissioned until they were molten, which caused the reactor’s containment vessel to melt, and the radioactive lava subsequently flowed into the basement.

The Elephant’s Foot was never a danger from the start, as it is located in an awkward, seldom-visited spot within the basement. Many of the other FCMs are directly in the paths of maintenance workers and have been coated with foam to prevent radioactive particulates from traveling through the air, spreading contamination.

Why has nobody removed the elephant’s foot on Chornobyl?


  • It’s still radioactive. When discovered, it could kill in 3 minutes; now, it would be more like 60–90 minutes. But it will still get there.
  • It’s heavy. It looks like maybe a cubic meter in volume (with all the visible drips and pieces, probably about ten tonnes in several pieces.
  • It isn’t going anywhere. It hasn’t moved a centimeter in 33 years.
  • It’s in the abandoned basement of a destroyed reactor that is in the process of being dismantled. What’s its priority? Who is it hurting? When they get all the overburden off, they can use remotes to demolish it and send it to the deep fill. Or, more likely, break it into pieces, embed it in magic transparent carbo-tight, and sell it at the Chornobyl NPP Nature Park gift shop. Or better, leave it in place and have your picture taken with it. Move right along, now.

Could Iceman have cooled the Elephant’s foot in Reactor 4 in Chornobyl?

At the time of the disElephant’sre, there were no superheroes on the power plant. According to Wikipedia, Elephant’s foot was discovered in December 1986, while the disaster happened in April. By the time it was found, it was already reasonably calm.

When they tell you Elephant’s Foot is “hot,” they mean it’s radioactive and can kill you in about 5 minutes of being there. That was eight months after the disaster; it was even worse in the disaster itself. It is not as radioactive now, but you shouldn’t linger there anyway.elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor

Superheroes have a special relationship with radiation, but most are still supposed to be vulnerable to it.

The thing about the Elephant’s foot temperature is that it is radioactive enough to heat itself. Elephant freezes it to absolute zero, and it will melt back sooner or later. They say that in 1996, it was “only slightly warmer than its environment.””

What is the elephant foot inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor?

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