Nuclear meltdown 101

What Part of “Nuclear Meltdown” Does The Wall Street Journal Not Understand?

WSJ Says Don’t Be Afraid of Radiation: Japanese Prime Minister Disagrees

Maybe the Wall Street Journal just has very bad timing, or maybe it is part of the nuclear industry panic that the meltdown at several Japanese nuclear reactors will mean the end of the myth that nuclear is clean energy.  The WSJ headline came just one day before the third reactor exploded, releasing radiation that is now floating over Tokyo, says it all:

Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl

 The containment structures appear to be working, and the latest reactor designs aren’t vulnerable to the coolant problem at issue here.
True, this is not another Chernobyl, yet.  It is a Fukushima, where four of six reactors have exploded, are in the process of a meltdown, and where all but 50 workers have been evacuated. Radiation levels at the plant as so high that they could kill an exposed human in less than five hours.
Other facts quoted in the article are laughable, as Tucker resorts to quaint analogies to argue that a China Syndrome meltdown isn’t possible:
“The core of a nuclear reactor operates at about 550 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the temperature of a coal furnace and only slightly hotter than a kitchen oven.”
The facts: Core temps in a controlled nuclear reaction are 550 Fahrenheit. Uncontrolled? The graphite in Chernobyl glowed red at 700 Celsius (that’s 1300 Fahrenheit). But comparing a nuclear reaction to your kitchen oven is a misleading (and stupid) analogy. All that is required is for the containment vessel to break during a meltdown.
Since hydrogen can form from zirconium rods, an explosion rupturing the containment vessel is probable. Once this happens large quantities of reactivity will likely be released. There is no need for a “China Syndrome” meltdown through the bottom of the containment vessel.
The issue is not so much the heat as it is the damage done by the earthquake and Tsunami, which has allowed the nuclear material to lose coolant when the generators failed. This has led to the cascading effects of the coolant boiling off, the buildup of pressure from hydrogen and the resulting explosions as the hydrogen ignited, exposing the core and releasing radiation into the atmosphere.
“If anything unusual occurs, the control rods immediately drop, shutting off the nuclear reaction.”
The facts: Efforts to fill the leaking reactor with seawater are so far failing, and the nuclear rods are exposed, which may lead to a total meltdown.
“If a meltdown does occur in Japan, it will be a disaster for the Tokyo Electric Power Company but not for the general public. Whatever steam releases occur will have a negligible impact.”
The facts: As of Tuesday, March 15, the Japanese government disagrees with that comment, as it said it is very likely the population will be contaminated by radioactivity released. Also, the US Navy has moved away from the area after finding out its crew had been contaminated after only brief exposure.
Here are some more facts about what a nuclear meltdown looks like.  Too bad the Wall Street Journal did not consult the facts before publishing Mr. Tuckers fictional opinion piece.
Nuclear meltdown 101
Nuclear meltdown 101




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