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Taking melodramatic media to task

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Don Petersen and Bill Stratton

In Japan’s recent devastating earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant structures remarkably survived the 9.0 quake intact, but suffered major damage when the tsunami destroyed external electrical transmission.
It also topped the seawall and inundated the backup diesel generators that power pumps for cooling water to the cores and adjacent spent fuel storage pools.
It is a severe loss of coolant event. The frantic reporting is reminiscent of Three Mile Island – inflated and misinterpreted.
It is hard to separate the facts from the assertions and the media are not helping, but with each passing day more information relevant to the outcome emerges and the hand wringing of previous days lessens.
The reactors shut down automatically when the quake struck so there is no fission heat involved.  However, decay of fission products continues to produce a little less than a tenth of the heat of an operating reactor.
Cooling is crucial and the problem faced by the Japanese is cooling the reactor cores and the newer spent fuel in the storage pools.  New fission heating is not expected now.


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