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The outflow of hydrogen from bowels of the Earth: Sasovo and Chernobyl. Safety of Nuclear Power Plants

Last Updated: Friday, 06 March 2015 12:09

V. Larin, N. Larin


On the night of April 25, 1986 the fourth reactor of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had exploded. The immediate investigation placed the blame on the power plant operators; incompetence and criminal negligence were imputed to the plant’s staff and engineers. But after a short time the hastiness of this conclusion became obvious. They began to search for the deficiencies in the design of the reactor, and apparently did find some. However, the developers and designers have convincingly shown that those defects were not fatal and could not lead to the disaster if operated properly.

There were a lot of different versions about the causes of the accident, but none of them has been accepted by the international community of experts. In 1993, the INSAG (International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group) was forced to admit that “it is not known for certain what started the power excursion that destroyed the Chernobyl reactor”. The only thing competent judgments coincide in is the general idea of an uncontrolled increase in reactor power, which then turned into a "thermal explosion of a nuclear nature". And even this judgment is highly questionable. The term "thermal explosion of a nuclear nature" implies reaching temperatures of many thousands of degrees. However, there were no traces of impact of such temperatures neither on the inner walls of the reactor, nor in the reactor hall.

In 1995 it was ascertained that there were three seismic stations of military establishment in the area, which registered a "seismic event" in the disaster area on the night of April 25, 1986. In 1997, the Schmidt Institute of Physics of the Earth and Institute of Geophysics of Ukraine combined forces to conduct a thorough study of seismograms, and came to such a conclusion: "The seismic event being analyzed had occurred at least 10 seconds (or most likely 16 seconds) before the explosion at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant... "



What was the nature of that "seismic event"? The records of Chernobyl event were compared to the records of explosions in the local quarries made from about the same distance. Seismologists insist that in terms of dynamic characteristics seismic records differ from records of surface explosions and are similar to the records of local earthquakes. Local earthquakes occur in the areas of modern volcanism and active tectonics, while Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is located on the ancient (Precambrian) platform with no endogenous activity. At the same time the third reactor wasn’t damaged. Therefore, the earthquake was ultra local, it occurred right beneath the fourth reactor.

An ultra local seismic event, with a center located in an area with no tectonic activity and no volcanic processes – that sounds quite strange and mysterious, doesn’t it? Being unable to explain that with known physical processes, some geophysicists started explaining the phenomenon assuming even more mysterious phenomena, which greatly undermined the credibility of the "seismic event" itself, which, however, took place, and preceded the disaster.

Below we will explain the endogenous cause of mechanical destruction of the nuclear reactor that could cause the catastrophe. But first let us briefly recall the nature and sequence of events on the fourth reactor.

So, in the night of April 26, 1986 the reactor was working, producing only 5% of its capacity, and there were no signs of what was going to happen. The staff was getting ready for the experiment with the turbine. Such experiments had been carried out several times on other similar reactors, so it was routine.

Though that time suddenly the following took place:

• A low-frequency rumble appeared and began to grow;

• The walls, the floor and the equipment began to shake and the gaging equipment went crazy;

• The first and the second strokes occurred as a conjoint bottom explosion;

• The building was shaking, threatening to collapse, all the equipment stopped working;

• Finally the powerful upper explosion in the reactor hall occurred.

According to the staff’s estimations the entire process lasted for 7-11 seconds. According to the log entries, another explosion occurred in 15 minutes.

It has to be mentioned that before the accident optical effects (namely glow) were observed above the plant; and fishermen (members of the plant’s staff) who were at a distance of 1.5 km heard repeated long subterranean rumblings.


Now let’s talk about the events that took place near Sasovo, Ryazan region. On April 12, 1991, at about 1:30 am the following happened:

• The earth began to shake; a low-frequency rumble appeared and began to grow;

• The houses and buildings began to shake,

• Then there was a massive explosion and the walls began to sway,

• Then the subterranean rumblings subsided and all was quiet.

A few hours before the earthquake and the explosion pillars of light and unusual glows (according o multiple evidences) emerged in the area from time to time.

The nearest seismic station recorded a seismic shock.

It turns out that Chernobyl and Sasovo events were quite similar: local earthquakes, unusual light phenomena, subterranean rumblings and powerful explosions. Experts observed this similarity right after the Sasovo explosion, but nobody discovered the real reason for the latter phenomena. There were a lot of versions yet none of them could explain the whole complex of phenomena or their correlation. In our opinion some geophysicists, in fact, had a correct interpreted of the incident, linking it to the explosive ejection of "energy clusters" from the bowels of the earth. Unfortunately, they could not explain the material nature of these "clusters" with known physical laws and processes and explained the phenomenon (mysterious indeed, but still real) with even more mysterious phenomena (for example, the ejection of "clusters of vacuum energy in the form of antigravity bolides" from the depths). This undermined such judgments in the eyes of experts in nuclear technology and, therefore, it depreciated the information about Sasovo explosions. Experts started to question the reality of the event itself, the reliability of information about it, and tried not to consider it as a part of basic data while clarifying the causes of Chernobyl disaster.

Now let’s revert to Sasovo events in 1991. The morning after that nightmare it turned out that there are no victims, but the city was badly damaged - in many houses the doors and windows were torn out... (there’s a full picture of what’s happened on the Internet). Here we should only mention that it was a thermobaric explosion and that experts equated its capacity with an explosion of 30 tons of TNT. About 700 meters away from the city, in the valley of river Tsna a fresh crater with a diameter of 28 meters and a depth of 3 meters was found. More than 1,500 m3 of soil (about 3,300 tons) were withdrawn and scattered for hundreds of meters around the crater. At the same time in the immediate vicinity of the crater the grass, shrubs and trees remained intact (damaged by neither the shock nor the high temperature). These facts confused many experts who came to Sasovo to clarify the cause of the incident.

The causes

In our opinion, everything that happened in Sasovo was caused by hydrogen degassing of the Earth. To read our version in detail follow this link: “Hydrogen seeps have been discovered in the central area of the Russian Platform”.

Below we’ll only review the main points of our version.

The outlets of hydrogen streams rising from the bowels of the planet were discovered on Russian Platform.

In the upper layers of the Earth's crust hydrogen accumulates in tubular zones (it’s not a hypothesis, but an empirical fact).

Hydrogen (literally - “giving birth to water”) and those tubular zones are naturally irrigated (oxygen is taken from hydroxides of iron, manganese, etc.)

Usually deep fluids carry sulfur, chlorine and fluorine, so the deep juvenile water must contain dissolved acids and has to be warm due to the exothermic reactions and the geothermal gradient.

Acidified and warm water is sure to be heavily mineralized due to its chemical aggressiveness. At low temperature and pressure of the near-surface conditions minerals gained at great depths are dumped in a form of different hydrothermalites.

As a result, hydrogen stream in the upper layers of crust forms a dense cover of hydrothermalites around itself; this obstacle causes accumulation of hydrogen and other gases in a certain volume under the cover, thereby leading to a sharp increase in pressure. And when it exceeds certain level (lithostatic pressure?) streams of gas break through to the surface.

In our opinion, that’s what caused the crater to emerge on the surface, but in our case it was a “breakthrough” crater rather than an "explosive" one. That is why the grass and bushes nearby the crater weren’t damaged by the explosion.

The explosion itself occurred in the atmosphere, where hydrogen mixed with oxygen from the air and formed a cloud of detonating gas. It could only be a thermobaric explosion, which naturally explains why many windows and doors were torn out of the houses and buildings.

Thus, we assume the formation cover of hydrothermalites which makes some kind of “boiler”. This causes the accumulation of hydrogen and other gases in a certain volume (the “boiler”) under the cover, thereby leading to a sharp increase of pressure. Bubbles of gas that pop up from great depth of poorly compressible liquid (water in our case) lead to the increase of pressure in the upper parts of the system filled with this liquid. The reason is the following: if the liquid is poorly compressible, the gas bubbles will not expand on their ascent from depth, i.e. they preserve their volume and accordingly maintain the gas pressure inside the bubble. As they emerge from the depth, where the pressure is high, the bubbles carry the high pressure up in their volume. As a result, the pressure in the system increases. Such a natural mechanism of pressure increase was discovered (and later confirmed by laboratory experiments) by Genrich Steinberg – the famous volcanologist, and Larin, Sr. was the first to know about it.

Of course, only a certain amount of emitted hydrogen exploded, most of it simply dispersed. Let’s suppose that only a tenth exploded, releasing energy equal to the explosion of 30 tons of TNT. Then the total amount of hydrogen accumulated in the boiler was about 10.5 tons. Let’s calculate the approximate size of the boiler under the following assumptions: the boiler was located in the stratum of carbon limestone at a depth of 300 meters, where the lithostatic pressure is 75 bars. The boiler itself was a certain volume with only 5% porosity in the form of connected cavities (it’s a common phenomenon in carbonate strata of the Russian Platform). The connected cavities were filled with hydrogen, the pressure before depressurization reached 75 atm. Then the volume of the boiler (31,000 m3) would fit under the lampshade-shaped cover with a diameter of 50 m and height of 25 m. Thus, the boiler could be miniature in terms of geology.

Now let’s estimate the internal energy «U», accumulated in the boiler (in the form of compressed gas). If the volume of cavities (with 5% porosity of 31 000 m3) equalled V = 1550 m3, and the pressure P = 75 atm, then according to the following equation U = 5/2 P • V the internal energy was about 3 • 1010J. That amount of energy is enough to withdraw 3,300 tons of soil and lift to a height of 900 meters. In trotyl equivalent it is about 7 tons of TNT.

Thus, we assume that the cause of Sasovo phenomenon is associated with depressurization of a “high-pressure boiler”. If it had occurred on the surface, it wouldn’t differ from a usual detonation. But depressurization occurred at a depth where the lithostatic pressure impeded the explosive release of accumulated energy. Most likely, there was a "weak spot" on the upper surface of the boiler, where cracks occurred and started to grow (the tensile strength of cleaving rocks is 6-12 times less than its compressive strength). This area expanded, reached the surface and let through the eruption of accumulated gas. As a result of this eruption the crater emerged. And, apparently, besides hydrogen the released gas contained a significant admixture of methane, oil and water, in which hydrogen is the predominant element by the number of atoms.

Obviously, the process was very dynamic, accompanied by intensive crushing of rocks, so the local residents interpreted it as an earthquake with intense subterranean rumble (after all, it does take some effort to break through 300m-thick layer of rock). Of course, the earthquake was local, so active tectonics or volcanic processes weren’t necessary, the only thing it took was hydrogen degassing in the region with stable tectonics (apparently, it is hard to construct a sealed trap for hydrogen bubbles in the area of active tectonic movement and deformation) .

The formation of Sasovo crater can be figuratively compared to a shot of a giant air gun. Pulling the trigger of an air gun you let out the compressed gas from the high-pressure cylinder. Something similar happened in Sasovo, only the "gun" was a little bigger, and after the shot, interpreted as an earthquake, several thousand tons of soil was in the atmosphere.

We can assume that a similar "shot" from the bowels of the earth occurred below the fourth reactor in Chernobyl. According to our calculations, this "shot" could have enough energy to destroy the reactor, and hydrogen (in the form of detonating gas) could cause the "upper explosion" in the reactor hall. Under these assumptions we get an entirely different picture of the Chernobyl disaster and its causes.

However, it’s not our business, as we are geologists. This information has to be considered by experts who know the details about the damage, about where the fuel went, what temperature could be reached in the destroyed reactor, where the "atomic lava" was generated, and how much of it got under the reactor, etc. Our only goal is to convince experts not to disregard Sasovo events when considering the possible causes of Chernobyl disaster. To do this first of all we have to prove that Sasovo events are not that uncommon.

Therefore we must mention that in the night of July 7, 1992 about 4.5 km to the northwest of Sasovo, a new crater emerged in the cornfield; it was perfectly circular and had steep walls (the diameter was 11.5 m and the depth was 3.5m). There was a bolster-shaped ejection encircling it at the edges and according to witnesses boulders of ejected soil were scattered all around within 150-200 meters radius. And again, in the immediate vicinity of the crater (five feet away from it to be precise) the corn wasn’t damaged. It seems that no one heard the explosion, and if so, then apparently hydrogen doesn’t explode every time it ejects.

In the spring of 1999 at least eight break-through craters emerged in Kursk region. Some of them emerged in front of witnesses, who were greatly impressed by these phenomena (search "Fatezhskie craters" on the Internet). There were many researchers and investigators there, but in the end the phenomena haven’t been explained.

We visited Sasovo craters in August 2005. We asked V. L. Syvorotkin, the Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences to accompany us. He had all the necessary equipment and kindly agreed to introduce us to the method of hydrogenometry. The measurements carried out by V.L. Syvorotkin in Sasovo area showed the presence of free hydrogen in the subsoil air. Unfortunately, by the time we visited 1991-crater it had turned into a small lake, therefore it was impossible to take measurements inside the crater itself. However, the presence of hydrogen was detected both in the immediate vicinity of the crater and several hundred meters away from it. Dr. Syvorotkin was greatly surprised to see how high hydrogen concentrations were, he told us he had never come across anything like it. 1992-crater was intact and completely dry; the measurements made at its bottom showed that the concentration of hydrogen was double as high as that of the surrounding area. These data confirmed our hypothesis about hydrogen impacting the formation of craters. Since 2006, we’ve been studying the structures formed at the outlets of hydrogen streams in different regions of European Russia.

After six years of research and expeditions we have established the following:

1. Hydrogen degassing is manifested all over the Russian platform.

2. In areas of intense hydrogen infiltration structures of three types emerge on the surface. Those types are:

· breakthrough craters (similar to the ones near Sasovo);

· collapse sinkholes;

· ring-shaped structures of subsidence with diameters ranging from 100 m to 3 km.


A new look at an old phenomenon

It is traditionally believed that the formation of karst cavities in the crust is a slow process, because we typically associate it with the soakage of rain and snow waters into the depths. These waters are practically distilled and cold enough, so their ability to dissolve carbonates is very small. That’s why karst formation is considered to be a slow process, prolonged in geological time. However, considering the existence of hydrogen streams the dynamics of karst cavities formation can be quite different. Hot juvenile water with different acids in it has the capacity to form karst cavities very quickly and thus provoke the appearance of depressions on the Earth’s surface (the word “quickly” refers not to the geological time, but to our fast human time).

And if there are hydrogen streams on the Russian Platform (we are sure that there are some) capable of producing warm and chemically aggressive water, then this water will erode the intense rocks at first, i.e. it will erode the rocks under the foundations of heavy buildings. Do not mention the high buildings of the Stalin era as a disproof. Yes, they have been standing for more than half a century. But, firstly, they were built in another way, and secondly, the hydrogen degassing is likely to intensify. In recent years, media has been reporting about land subsidence more and more frequently. It seems it hadn’t been like that before. Most probably, we will face a lot of trouble with the "rapid karst" in the near future. And nuclear reactors are not immune to this process.


Fig. 1 Sinkholes 5km away to the southeast of the Kursk nuclear power plant.

The spreading of craters

It is easy to distinguish between breakthrough craters and sinkholes, if they are fresh. But if they are at least 50 years old, if the steep walls have collapsed, if they have turned into lakes or swaps, it is practically impossible to distinguish between them. Below there is a snapshot from «Google-Earth» showing how compactly could sinkholes and craters be located.


Fig. 2 Craters in Lipetsk region. The area looks like a military training ground after the bombing. Only the craters are larger.


Fig. 3 Craters in Lipetsk region (photo was taken on March 12, 2011; the nearest settlements are Grachevka, Storozhevoe, Zavalnoe).

In the lower left corner of the picture there are two perfectly round craters; one of them is a bit concealed by a cloud’s shade. Perhaps, they were formed very recently.

There are not many areas with such density of craters. For example, in Moscow region there are much less similar structures (those formed at the outlets of hydrogen streams), but at the same time in this particular region hydrogen concentration in the subsoil air is abnormally high almost everywhere. We gave this vast territory our own nickname - "the regional anomaly". In accordance with our view of the Earth and its internal processes we assume that in the near future the emergence of craters and sinkholes will become very common, and maybe that future has already begun.

The destructive effect of hydrogen on steel and concrete constructions

Now hydrogen concentration reaches 1.5-1.7% in many areas we conducted measurements at. However, when sampling subsoil gas we cannot exclude the admixture of air with practically no hydrogen. Taking this into account the real hydrogen concentration in the subsoil air can reach up to 2.5-3%. Engineers are very well aware of the catastrophic brittleness of steel and other metals that have been kept in such a mixture of gas for a long period of time (months).

Moreover, long-term diffusion of hydrogen through granite leads to formation of voids, forming a system of permeable tubules. This is caused by conversion of feldspars into various clay minerals. We have observed the early stage of this process for many times. Even the sturdy granite-gneisses (you can hit it with a hammer and it will just bounce off with a clang) become so friable you can rake them with your own hands. Those two often come along, and you could never guess before you touch that the rock is going to crumble right in your hands. If you arm yourself with a special magnifying glass you would see that the mineral grains of such rocks are covered with clay foil. Please trust us, as we are geologists with plenty of field work experience, that this phenomenon is not related to exogenous factors. Of course, we make such a conclusion on the basis of long-term studies of an entire region and processes occurring in it.

Concrete contains almost 90% granite (in the form of sand or gravel). Considering the above facts it is easy to imagine what could happen to foundation made of reinforced concrete, if there’s a hydrogen anomaly in the surrounding area. Underground concrete constructions with steel reinforcement and metal communications may eventually become so brittle they would break under the weight of engineering structures or during the slightest ground shifts. And there will be no need to wait for high-pressure boiler to form itself. Speaking of "time" we mean years not decades.

Until now, the destruction hydrogen can cause has never been taken into account while designing and constructing the facilities like nuclear power plants – the ones that could cause disasters if damaged. However, high hydrogen concentrations in the subsoil air have been discovered, so this factor must be considered.


The data we obtained leaves no doubt that hydrogen seeps from the bowels of the planet right now. It is also clear that this phenomenon spreads to new territories, the ones that recently haven’t had any traces of adverse effects associated with hydrogen, i.e. hydrogen degassing hasn’t stabilized yet, and it is clearly intensifying. Some facts indicate its cyclical nature and most likely we are witnessing the beginning of a new cycle, the one that has begun about 150 years ago and will last for the next several thousand years. Structures that emerge at the outlets of hydrogen streams are easy to see on satellite imagery. Images show the global prevalence of this phenomenon. Mankind is unable to "turn it off" but we can still try to at least partially minimize the negative effects of the hydrogen degassing. For example, to secure nuclear power plants all we need to do is to drill boreholes 1.5-2.5 km deep, and to conduct hydraulic fracturing in order to capture hydrogen at a depth and bring it to the surface in the form of natural gas. Of course, in the area surrounding the nuclear power plant hydrogenometry has to be conducted beforehand as well as other geophysical studies.

Recently, we’ve been concerned about the possibility of another explosion in the area of Sasovo 1991-crater. Geologists have repeatedly observed how quickly damaged hydrothermal structures can recover at the stage of their formation. But if hydrogen degassing continues (and it does), and if our version about the high pressure boiler is correct, then damage caused by the hydrogen trap (which is made of hydrothermalites) has possibly been rehabilitated over the past 20 years. Therefore, the boiler can accumulate energy again, and thus the explosions can repeat. And if the cause of Chernobyl disaster is the same, big trouble might be ahead. The thing is there’s a lot of uranium in the form of "nuclear lava" left under the containment of the 4th reactor. It emerged as a result of fusion of concrete, gravel and other debris in places where pieces of fuel rod fell, and then this lava flowed in the lower horizons of the reactor shaft. In 1987 (the year after the accident), nuclear lava looked like a "thick ware" with glossy surface, and it was very difficult to break off a sample of it for analysis. Now, it is also difficult to take a sample because it instantly crumbles to dust under the touch. And if the disaster happens again, not pieces of uranium (something you can gather) but uranium dust will scatter, which will cause much greater pollution.

Since hydrogen degassing is a global phenomenon, catastrophes similar to Chernobyl disaster can take place all over the world, in places where nuclear reactors are located in areas with similar geological profile of sedimentary rocks. It is especially distressing to know that right now hydrogen degassing is intensifying (in terms of human, not geological, time). And it is not always possible to find hydrogen anomalies using satellite imagery.

P.S. It would be nice to know what was discovered when tunneling under the reactor zone.



Translated by Anna Kolodych

Перевод: Колодич Анна.