A monster was born in the Chernobyl disaster. Lurking in the depths of the reactor ruins, the monster is one of the most dangerous things in the world. In the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, to spend a few minutes in its presence would bring certain death. Even today, it radiates heat and death, though its power has weakened. Nevertheless, it may break free of its prison and cause unspeakable horror yet again.
This monster, which is reminiscent of the Medusa of Ancient Greek legend, has a much more mundane name: the Elephant’s Foot.
(Picture by U.S. Department of Energy, via Nautilus.)
The Elephant’s Foot is a molten mass of radioactive lava, a mixture of radioactive fuel, fission products, molten concrete, and melted pieces of the nuclear control rods. The material has been given the rather innocuous name of Corium, which doesn’t do justice to the true nastiness of the substance. As the description suggests, The Elephant’s Foot formed from the meltdown of reactor number 4 at Chernobyl in 1986.
I first came across mention of The Elephant’s Foot the other day on Twitter, where an infographic suggested that simply looking at it would kill a person. This isn’t quite true; at its “hottest,” the Foot would provide a fatal dose of radiation in 300 seconds, if that’s any comfort. Today, it would take an hour to kill, but any exposure is still incredibly dangerous. The original photographs of it were taken via a camera wheeled around a corner.
The best description I’ve found of The Elephant’s Foot and its history is an article published at Nautilus Magazine late last year; it is worth reading in its entirety.
The Foot is still dangerous — as it is still literally hot, it is slowly melting its way through the ground. If it hits water, it could contaminate the surrounding area or cause another explosion. Will it do so? Nobody seems to know for sure.
Like the Demon Core I have discussed previously on this blog, deadly radioactive elements take on a life and legend of their own, earning their own proper names and spreading fear. They are the closest to real monsters that humanity has ever experienced.