Sunday, March 13, 2011

What exactly is a nuclear power plant meltdown?

“Given the large quantity of irradiated nuclear fuel in the pool, the radioactivity release could be worse than the Chernobyl nuclear reactor catastrophe of 25 years ago.” said Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste specialist.

What happens during a nuclear power plant meltdown?

The term meltdown is being used often. But what exactly would a meltdown in one of the Japanese nuclear power plants entail? The following is a simplistic description I found at a blog called Modern Survival. It gives a step by step of the process, with the end result being a catastrophic release of radiation into the atmosphere.

It all starts when the cooling system fails as it did as a result of the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake that hit the Island.

How does a nuclear plant meltdown unfold?

Control rods are driven back down into the core upon emergency (if rods don’t make it all the way… trouble)

The coolant (water) could cease if backup systems fail (electricity, pumps, generators, batteries)

Reactor continues to produce heat

Numerous venting valve systems would release pressure above ~1,000 psi into containment vessel

Eventually the uranium fuel encasement metal will melt (2,200 deg F)

Radioactive contamination then released into the reactor vessel

Radiation escapes into an outer, concrete containment building

Radiation escapes into the environment.

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