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In 1986, the greatest heist ever attempted was carried out in secrecy not even KGB is aware of it. A group of special agents managed to steal the blueprint for RBMK-9600, a nuclear reactor which uses graphite tipped control rods. Since then more safer and efficient designs superceded the RBMK-9600 which now sits in the underground facility only a few people including the higher ups knew. One day a worker accidentally discovers that Reactor No. IV showing signs of reactor poisoning, where the byproduct of the decays interfere with neutron absorption process which is the culprit behind the power fluctuations... the rest is history. Moments later reactor no. IV exploded instantly kills all 6760 personnel on the spot. As soon as the US gov learned of the news they know that it is a race against time to cover up the incident, problem is can it be done? Due to the ongoing trade war, the budget for this kind of operation is going to be as small as possible.

P.s: kindly ignore how the positive void coefficient is achieved and focus on the aftermath, thanks. (reply to Starfish Prime's comment )

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    $\begingroup$ nice try, Kim ;) $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Nov 25 '19 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ Of course blueprints do not really explode. So they would have to build a reactor from stolen plans (why? to find out how good/practical it is?) and then hide and forget it. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 25 '19 at 6:08
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    $\begingroup$ "Moments later reactor no. IV exploded" nuclear reactors do not work that way. You have to try really hard, and do a lot of obviously dumb and dangerous things before you can replicate the Chernobyl incident. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 25 '19 at 10:24
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    $\begingroup$ USSR (or Ukraine) didn't told anyone about Chernobyl. It were nordic countries radiation bases that dedected it and started asking question. USSR tried to cover the thing by even organising "The Peace Race" to start from Kijev. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Nov 25 '19 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ Commonly overlooked fact: nuclear reactors need water. Placing one on the middle of an arid area would be sort of, well, stupid. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Nov 25 '19 at 16:11
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Short answer: no.

There is a network of radiation monitoring stations all across the globe. If there is any release of radioactive material into the atmosphere, these monitoring stations will pick it up. This is how the accident at Chernobyl was detected in the West before Soviet Union acknowledged it happening. A monitoring station in Sweden picked up increased radiation and unusual isotopes in the atmosphere.

A coverup could suppress detection at US stations, but that would still leave Canada and Mexico, and eventually the winds would carry the fallout to either Europe or Asia and the gig would be up. Multiple detections will allow them to be corroborated with the wind patterns to pinpoint the source to US west coast.

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  • $\begingroup$ You already accepted this answer?! If you want good answers, you gotta leave some time for the extreme brainstorming to kick in! :-) Sure, “no” is most likely, but stories deal in low probabilities all the time! $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 25 '19 at 20:57
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No, even if they cleverly lied about it

It's quite impossible to conceal the detonation of a nuclear reactor. There are a few reasons for this, namely, the spread of radiation, the fact that the energy from the reactor was being used to power things and is now gone, and the fact that this would literally cause an earthquake where earthquakes aren't supposed to be. Though its mainly the radiation that'd be the tip-off - everything else can be lied about.

However, let's say the government doesn't try to conceal the fact that there was a nuclear detonation. Instead, they try an excuse of 'This was actually the test of a nuclear device, nothing wring happened. The only error was that the public was supposed to be informed ahead of time, and this failed to happen because of an internal miscommunication.

Would that work? No, because there are 6760 dead people. US government workers don't readily conceal information from their friends and family like where they work, or what they do. And a few dozen might be able to be explained by some form of an industrial accident. But not nearly seven thousand, especially since among them would be people known to be trained nuclear scientists, reactor workers, engineers, etc. The fact is that people talk, and once the friends and relatives start laying out the puzzle pieces, the truth will come out.

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I see only one solution: Test many different nukes at various parts of your country around the reactor, and dress these as official weapons test, and intentionally mix in materials which create a signature hiding the nuclear reactor signature.

(You asked for "cover up", not for "hide")

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A meltdown at a reactor like Chernobyl or Fukushima is not concealable, period, as several other answers have eluded: radiation will get out, and radiation is both very carefully monitored for by countries all around the globe, and the signature of the radiation (in terms of what isotopes are released and in what ratios) very distinctly identifies the type of nuclear installation that suffered the incident.

But in true Mythbusters style, let's reframe the question: can we adjust the circumstances so that a cover-up would be possible?

The black ops department responsible for managing Area 51 might have limited resources now, but back when this reactor was built at the height of the Cold War it would have been a different story. An evil-genius-style subterranean installation with blast shielding to resist an external nuclear strike? Yes please. Fully separated air reprocessing system with full isotope filtering? Where do I sign? The American military was big into nuclear hardening and keeping the nasty airbourne byproducts of nuclear war out of their installations; it's not too much of a stretch to think that those same systems would keep nasty airbourne byproducts of nuclear meltdowns in.

Of course for that to be plausible we have to not do too much damage to the infrastructure of our installation with the meltdown, but as noted nuclear reactors do not explode on meltdown, they melt, then usually catch fire, then set everything near them on fire. If there is an explosion, it's usually the rupture of an overheated (hence overpressurised) cooling system, which while very destructive to anything 'delicate' (delicate here including things like inch-thick steel pipes) won't break through metres of concrete rebar. It looks like people are still arguing about exactly what happened physically in the Chernobyl meltdown and how much energy was released, but it's clear that it's in the order of a few tons TNT equivalent, in the range of thermobaric bombs or large mining disasters.

With a yield like that, and the highly toxic airbourne byproducts, killing 6,760 people in the facility is entirely plausible, indeed it would be more remarkable if anyone survived. By containing the radioactive debris underground you essentially guarantee that anyone who breathes that air, dies, probably within hours. As noted, covering up the deaths of several thousand military personnel is going to be challenging. You can't realistically hide the fact that they existed or that they are now dead: it's not plausible that none of them had families or that they were all in 'deep cover': most of them will be technicians, cleaners, guards, doing ordinary(ish) jobs not in the rooms where the alien tech is stored.

However, in a high-security installation it will be possible to control the flow of information from the event and spin it basically however you like. Apparently it turns out that Corporal Surname-That-Sounds-Nasty-and-Foreign was a mole who launched an inside job to steal Perfectly Legal MacGuffin that the US was just being completely prudent and reasonable in guarding; in the process he released a Terrifyingly-Named Chemical Weapon - no, of course that wasn't produced by Patriotic Americans, it was supplied by That Foreign Power We Don't Like (let's slap some (more) sanctions on them in retaliation!), but it poisoned thousands of brave servicemen-and-women in the process. Colonel Strong-American-Surname-Whose-Family-Has-Impeccable-Media-Credentials bravely sealed the facility and fought the insurgents to ensure the safety of the MacGuffin and contain the chemical weapon, at the cost of his own life; his grieving family get a posthumous Medal of Honor or DSC, meanwhile a Navy Seal team shoot up a likely-looking villa in a far-flung country to get the Evil Mastermind behind the attack. Regrettably all the victims have to be cremated on-site, but families are flown in at the government's expense to attend the funerals - most of which can even be open-casket.

That will probably hold for a while, perhaps months or years. The biggest danger to exposure is probably radioactive contamination in the groundwater.

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What follows is the most plausible scenario I could come up with. I would appreciate community help refining it. It is, I acknowledge, a long shot.

Lunar Crater is ~75 miles away from the Area 51 base. There are volcano remnants all over the area, and mild seismic activity was briefly detected in 2018, although it has been ~32000 years since last eruption. Geologically, it is possible for this area to become active again.

In the event of a reactor failure, deeply buried bombs detonate and fracture the lava layers under this dormant volcano. The long-repressed pressure is released to the surface. The resulting eruption completely buries the reactor site.

If the reactor breeches first, the radiation will be detectable. If the eruption buries it first, I think you’ll get away with it. Geologists will be baffled for decades about what the booms were that preceded the eruption, and conspiracy theorists will probably guess deliberate bombs, but they won’t have evidence of anything.

Damage to the surrounding area and loss of life will be considerable. And there will be concerns that the Yellowstone supervolcano is now destabilized, but, hey, those are problems for the next Congress and President, right?

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Not possible for total cover up, look at Chernobyl, you may try to cover up the cause but there are going to be inquires by all agencies and investigation committees. Any discovered attempts at covering up or lying will have ugly results:

court martials, shutting down entire departments, scrutinize and freeze budgets to any ongoing projects, investigations into other projects, more conspiracy theories, more distrust to the government, protests,etc. Any enemy nations are going to have a field day.

Maybe some core secrets can be hidden until some whistleblower leaks it (high ranking family members of the deceased, someone with a conscience,etc), but someone's head is still gonna be on the block.

Edit: Instead of try to cover up the incident as if it doesnt happen, admit the incident did happen,give another alternative possible scenario/cause of what happen so that the public might kinda accept what's the 'accidental' cause instead of prying further into the project. Sacrifice a failed project to save other ongoing projects. Still, its kinda hard to hide from investigations, its USA not China or Russia, censorship has a limit, especially when huge amounts of deaths are involved on local soil.

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They could pretend it was an attack on the US. Its more commonly a non-accidental thing: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PretextForWar , but it could be used to cover it up the fact that a reactor was stolen by claiming it was a nuclear strike on the us.

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How deep underground is it? Nuclear reactors tend to "runaway" rather than explode, but let's assume we have an explosion.

Most countries these days model their nuclear weapons rather than test them, the one exception being North Korea. That test was 800m below ground, with the shaft "plugged with gravel, sand, gypsum and other fine materials", stopping radiation, fallout etc getting topside.

So, let's assume we have a nice deep reactor (and don't forget 800m is a VERY long way down if you're digging a hole!), we're still going to get a plume of fallout materials coming out of the lift-shafts! And a sinkhole where the facility used to be. And of course the seismic shock wave of the explosion that will be detectable too.

Bottom line, you may be able to hide it from the US public, but most countries will know what happened pretty quickly.

Unless of course, the alien spaceship two floors up absorbs most of the blast!

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