The Elephant's Foot of Chernobyl is a toxic mass so radioactive that even standing close to it means death

The Elephant's Foot of Chernobyl is a toxic mass so radioactive that even standing close to it means death
(Source : Getty Images)

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident is still considered the most devastating incident of its kind to this day in history. It also happens to be the home of the most toxic mass in the world. It was called "The Elephant's Foot". The toxic sludge is an extremely radioactive mass of corium that formed during the plant's meltdown in April 1986. The large mass of black corium has multiple layers that make it look, at least on the outside, like tree bark and glass.

It was formed during the disaster but was found only in December that same year. The unique name comes from its wrinkly appearance, which resembles the foot of an elephant. It can be found beneath Reactor No. 4 under reactor room 217.

The Elephants Foot of the Chernobyl disaster. In the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, a few minutes near this object would bring certain death. Today, it is still radioactive (Source: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)


The Elephant's Foot is mainly comprised of molten sand, concrete, and a large amount of nuclear fuel. It is more than 2 meters wide and had been described as being steaming hot at the time that it was discovered. The radiation levels at the time of the discovery was said to be so high that it caused death within 30 seconds of being near it. Now, it has increased to 300 seconds but that's still a pitiful number when considering the dangers the mass poses if left where it is.

The Russian government moved swiftly to cover up a mistake by building a giant concrete structure to shield the rest of the world from the radiation that was constantly being emitted from the site. It is reported that all of the workers who were involved in the investigation and the construction of the "sarcophagus" - the concrete structure that was built deep within the radioactive city of Chernobyl - died within a year because of radiation exposure.

It was because of a series of unfortunate events during a safety check, when someone switched off all the safety systems, that the meltdown occurred. Reactor No. 4 exploded and this forced a massive amount of radioactive fumes to suddenly be ejected into the air and into the surrounding area. More than 4000 deaths have since been attributed to the reactor explosion. This hasn't stopped people from being fascinated with the mass which is accessed through multiple security doors.

There have only been two pictures of the foot that have ever been released to the public and they are quite fascinating. The Foot has so much pressure when a person stands close to it, that the camera's film was affected. The resulting images look much more deteriorated than they should have been and there are anomalies in the picture quality as well. This ended up giving the images strange auras over time. In a haunting twist of fate, both of the photographers would be victims of the toxic mass and die shortly after taking the images.


The mass is so radioactive that it emits a staggering 10,000 Roentgens per hour, which means that it would only take 300 seconds of standing close to it to bring death in about two days. To put it in better perspective: 5 to 10 Roentgens leads to a change in a person's blood chemistry, 70 Roentgens causes vomiting and hair loss, and 1000 Roentgens leads to the destruction of the intestinal lining, internal bleeding, and finally, death. 

The story of the Foot, however, is far from over. In a rush to find a safer and better solution than just a sarcophagus in 1992, a competition to find a solution for the situation resulted in an idea to create the world's largest mobile metal structure. On its own, the sarcophagus was only built to last a total of 30 years before it would once again be declared unsafe. The newly thought of project reportedly has an estimated worth of about $2.3 billion.

Toys and a gas mask lay in dust in an abandoned preschool in the deserted city of Pripyat on January 25, 2006, in Chernobyl, Ukraine (Source: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)


It bragged of creating a giant shield-like arch that would not only be able to minimize and contain the radiation but also be able to house the robotic equipment that will be able to dismantle both the sarcophagus and the reactor over time. The structure was finally completed and successfully moved over the contamination site in 2017. The project is still on-going.

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